Training Tips

Training a Puppy You Can Live With…

  • Get pup into a routine right away—they learn best with consistency.
  • Predict. Puppies generally need to potty when they wake up, have just eaten, or have had a period of activity. Control intake of food and monitor intake of water. Do not free feed.
  • Provide cues—designate a certain area as the potty area—it can be a spot with mulch or gravel, etc—the footing and the scent will both act to cue elimination.
  • Chain a command to the act—say a potty word (“Hurry up”, or “Go Potty”) while they are eliminating—eventually you will be able to hurry them along if you are travelling, etc.
  • Teach how to ask to go outside—I hang a bell on a ribbon at the door and dingle it with puppy’s nose each time we go outside. Eventually pup will ring the bell to ask to go outside.
  • Crate training. Take advantage of the natural den instinct with the crate—pup should have just enough room to lie down and turn around—and that should prevent crate soiling. Buy a crate large enough for the pup at adulthood, and use a barrier (sold with many models) or box to block off the back. I feed in the crate to make it a wonderful place! My dogs have always slept in a crate in the bedroom to have the security of “their person” but also safe confinement. During the day when at home alone, the crate is placed in a location where the pup has the company of the adult dogs. I crate until the pup is a year old, or demonstrates trustworthiness—maybe sooner, maybe later!
  • Prevent. When out of crate, the pup must be under constant supervision as “accidents” undermine housetraining effectiveness—attach the handle of a lightweight lead to your belt when puppy is out. As a bonus this tethering also starts the puppy into learning the focus necessary for walking nicely on a lead.
  • Time. Puppy bladder rule of thumb is that they can last “their age in months plus one” hours before they need to absolutely go out.
  • Mealtime can also be training time—lure the pup into a sit, stand and down position with a piece of kibble several times before letting them have the rest of their meal. Lure and cue the command name and feed each time—eventually you’ll be able to give the command first and reward pup for compliance with the food. Also take the bowl periodically and praise effusively when pup allows you to take it; then give it back. This helps to build hierarchy respect and avoid resource guarding issues.
  • Mouthing—these are retrievers so you can expect them to put things, including your hands, in their mouths! Do not mistake mouthing for aggression or biting. A pup uses its mouth the way we use our hands. However, you can easily teach your pup this is inappropriate. I offer to put my fingers IN the pup’s mouth and when s/he chomps down I give a big “YIPE!!!” of a yelp just like a puppy who has been hurt. Pup should immediately spit out the hand. Then I offer the hand again right away. If pup declines to chew my hand, I give lots of praise. Repeat the exercise 2-3 times/day until the pup consistently declines to take the hand in its mouth. If your pup is grabbing at your hands in the meantime do not pull away--instead push your hand in deeper so that puppy will try to spit your hand out. Pulling away only encourages that chase and grab instinct.
  • Chewing. The key to preventing inappropriate chewing is prevention. First, the pup should not be roaming unsupervised where it may find something inappropriate to chew. Be vigilant to build the habit of only chewing on appropriate toys. Second, puppy-proof your home; get down on the pup’s level to identify any hazards or temptations. Remove what you can, and block off access to what you cannot. Products such as bitter sprays will not train your dog not to chew your furniture (some dogs actually seem to come to appreciate the taste!); only your consistent training and a watchful eye will create a reliable, trustworthy dog.
  • Toys. Provide the pup with appropriate, safe toys. For quiet in-crate time the best toys are Kongs (stuff a bit of natural peanut butter into it and it will provide hours of fun!) and Galileo Nylabones. Buy sizes large enough that pup can chew the toy, but not get the whole thing in his/her mouth. Save soft toys, tuggies, and balls for supervised playtime, as pups who chew can swallow large chunks of these toys with terrible consequences. Keep puppy’s toys in a toy basket, rather than scattered about. Really they must be YOUR toys, and you allow pup to play with them.
  • Training. While you can certainly introduce basic obedience and manners at home, it is important for the pup and you to participate in formal organized training. A Puppy Kindergarten, followed by a Basic Obedience class is the minimum you should take. Further classes may be of interest if you decide to pursue dog sports such as obedience, agility, rally-o, or hunt tests. For the pup it allows an opportunity for appropriate socialization with dogs of a similar age and size. It also allows the pup to learn to focus on you even in the presence of tempting distractions. The classes are a benefit to you as well as you will be able to get feedback from a highly experienced person as to where you are making mistakes. They will also provide a structure that will compel you to follow through with training activities! Many classes will allow children to attend with their families. This is recommended as all family members need to be consistent in the commands used with and expectations of behaviour from the dog. Depending on your interests and location I may be able to refer you to experienced qualified trainers. I do not recommend classes at PetSmart or other such locations, as their instructors tend not to have the years of experience and behavioural training that the instructors at private schools may. That said, you also need to be critical in your selection of a private school, as the instructors at many tout a bribe and feed approach that does not create a truly obedient dog. Look for a school whose instructors and students have both titled many dogs in competitive venues, and demonstrate a strong understanding of operant conditioning and clicker training, combined with appropriate (not harsh) corrections for disobedience.

Some fun training games…

Here are some games that can build a bond with your pup and get the start of some basic obedience. You’ll be ahead of the game when you get to that first puppy class!

Learn My Name

Use a portion of the pup’s kibble ration. Say the pup’s name, get their attention and feed a piece of kibble. Continue to say the name and feed for up to 10 reps. Pup will soon look at you in anticipation when s/he hears that name! You can add a “Watch!” at this time, by saying the word “Watch!” when pup looks up at you after hearing his name, and feeding as before.

Puppy Ping Pong

This begins to teach the recall. You’ll need two family members and lots of soft treats (like Zukes Training Bits, or string cheese). Play in the fenced yard or down a long hallway. One person begins holding the pup around the ribcage. The other person is at the end of the hall or across the yard. Person two will get the pup’s attention with ahappy “Hey! Pup! Pup!” Once pup is wiggly and interested, person one lets go and as the pup makes its way to person two they call out “Here Fluffy!” (Use the pup’s name of course!) and feed the treat as soon as they arrive. Then person two holds the pup around the ribcage, and person one acts as the caller. Let the pup do the ping pong 4 or 5 times and break it off. This game can be expanded to include multiple family members once the pup gets the hang of it. For those doing field work add a tweet-tweet-tweet on your whistle once the pup is coming (three tweets are the standard come-in whistle command).

Puppy Retrieve

This is best done in a hallway with no exit. I use a small sock tied in knots or mini paint roller—something soft and easy for the pup to see and pick up. Hold pup in your lap, and wiggle the object around to get their interest. Once they are straining to go, toss it down the hall. When pup picks it up make a big happy fuss and encourage them to return to you (after all, they have no where else to go!) When you get pup back, pick him/her up and praise; allow the pup to continue to hold the object; it is their prize and taking it away immediately will make returning to you less attractive. Pup has to learn that returning and holding on to the object are what is desired. Only do this two or three times a session. Always leave puppy wanting more.

Basic Commands

Mealtime can be training time. Once the pup’s food is measured out I often use some of that food to do a bit of training in the basic commands that make a pup into a dog you can live with. These commands are: sit, stand, down, wait, and stay. Start with one command each feeding session. Training this way will help pup to learn a verbal and hand signal command for each behaviour.

  • Sit is done from the standing position. Hold a piece of kibble just in front of pup’s nose. Move the food up and back right between pup’s eyes. This will draw his nose up and back, causing his bum to hit the floor. Once he has done this successfully a couple of times, add the word “Sit” as pup’s bum hits the floor. Then begin to say the command earlier, while your hand is moving, and as pup’s response becomes faster, say the command before you move your hand. Finally remove the food from your hand, and take it from the bowl to reward only after the command is completed, and gradually require a number of repetitions of a variety of the commands before giving the pup a jackpot of a handful of kibbles.
  • Stand is first easily taught from the sit position. Hold the kibble in front of pup’s nose with your hand closed. Open your hand so that your palm is facing the pup’s nose and at the same time gently lift under puppy’s tummy to encourage him to stand by getting up on his rear feet, rather than walking forward. This will be helpful if you decide to do obedience, where being out of heel position can cost you points. Follow the same process of moving the verbal command earlier in the process as you did with sit.
  • Down can be first taught from the sit. Holding your hand flattish and palm to the floor move the kibble down between pup’s front paws, and then as pup’s nose reaches the floor slide it slowly along the floor to stretch the pup out. This is a hard one and puppies often try to get up and walk to the kibble. If this happens, you may be moving your hand too fast. Slow down and be patient. Once pup is reliably getting flat on the floor, follow the same process of moving the verbal command earlier in the process as you did with sit. You can also do this from the stand.
  • Mix it up. Once you have taught sit, stand and down, mix them up and have pup move from one position to the next randomly.
  • Stay. Start with pup in collar and leash/tab. This time, put pup in a sit, and follow the command immediately with “Stay.” You should be kneeling or standing in heel position. Take a step to the side, return and reward. You can repeat this close movement a number of times, extending how long you remain away each time. You should be in easy reach of the puppy though to keep him from making a mistake and moving. Once puppy will reliably stay when you step to the side, you can begin to change your position gradually and add distance by taking a side step and then pivoting to face the puppy’s side. From there you can then take a side step so that you are in a 2 o’clock position relative to the puppy. From there, you can continue to pivot so that you are standing in front of the puppy. Remember that before you add any distance you must have reliability at your current distance. Return to puppy’s side to reward the stay frequently. The reward needs to happen with you in heel position so that pup begins to understand that the exercise is about staying put until you return.
  • Wait. Wait is a bit different than stay. It is a command that tells the dog, stay here for now, but you’ll be getting a command to move shortly. It can be started once the pup has a grasp of stay. Put pup in a sit wearing collar and a light lead or tab. Kneel just ahead of pup, facing his right side so that you can hold the tab with your left hand. There should be slack. Tell pup to “sit” (which he should know before you start this one.) For this exercise, say “wait” right from the start. Show pup the kibble. If he attempts to move forward for it, say “no” and use light pressure on the tab to have pup sit again. Command “Sit” and “Wait” again. Once pup sits and looks calmly, say “Okay!” in a happy voice and let pup move to get the food. Gradually extend the time pup is waiting calmly before releasing. Make sure pup is reliable though—don’t push to time boundaries too quickly! I reinforce this notion by putting them on a wait in front of their food bowl, and only allowing them to eat after the “okay!” release. It is fine for pup to move to the reward in this exercise because wait becomes the command that is used in the obedience or agility ring before a distance motion command such as a recall or jump exercise. Eventually, once pup does not need the physical restraint to wait, I actually step out ahead of the pup and let them move to me for the reward, and very gradually extend that distance.