Bringing home a puppy for the first time is exciting. You’ve prepared a basket for him to sleep in; puppy food ready in the cupboard; a toy to play with and a new collar for him to proudly wear around his neck. As you cuddle him in your arms and introduce him to the rest of the family, all thoughts of teaching him how to behave are forgotten. Okay, so some things can be left until tomorrow, but there are 5 essential puppy training tricks that you mustn’t ignore even on day one if you want to succeed.
Trick #1 – Decide on the House Rules and Stick to Them
Everyone in your household is likely to have a different idea on what your new dog will be allowed to do.
Will he be allowed to sleep on the bed or jump on the furniture? Will he live in a kennel outside or a cage in the kitchen? Will he be fed before the family mealtimes or afterwards? Will he be allowed table scraps or only proprietary puppy food?
It doesn’t really matter what you decide the house rules are, so long as you set the rules before he even enters.
And you stick to them!
Now this may sound a crazy idea, but my first puppy training trick is not to just decide the house rules, step back and hope it all goes to plan, but to train the whole household on how these rules should function. What I mean by this is quite simple:
- Choose the sequence any command should take, for example: if you want the puppy to sit and wait while you put down its food, make sure the whole family follows the same sequence.
- If you are training with hand commands, make sure everyone in the family positions their hands in the exact same way each time. I have seen a dog, in one family, become very confused with a ‘sit’ command which was given either by pointing a finger, holding the hand palm down or the palm front facing. It’s not surprising he didn’t do what he was told!
- Tone plays an important part in a dog’s ability to understand. So, make sure everyone uses tone appropriately. A rewarding tone should be upbeat, light and congratulatory and should never be used if you wish to tell the puppy off–remember, he doesn’t speak English yet. He responds to your tone.
- Don’t give in to doleful eyes. I had one dog in particular who became an expert in looking sad. If it was slightly cold outside, he would look up at me and whimper, begging me to allow him to stay indoors next to the fire rather than go outside to do his toilet. It’s hard to resist, but if you, or your family, give in to this kind of emotional blackmail, you will soon been cleaning up puddles, or worse, from the floor.
Trick #2 – Choose a Good Puppy Name
The first thing a puppy needs to learn is his name. This makes it easier to catch his attention and make him focus on you. If you have more than one dog in the house, each one needs to be controlled individually and distinctly separate names help you to do this.
There are criteria for choosing a good name. It should be short, end in a strong consonant and be easy to say. Examples are: Max, Jack, Spot, Buddy.
Trick #3 – Keep Training Bite-Sized, Ongoing and Often
Just like toddlers, puppies live in the moment. If they do something good or bad, within a few minutes they have forgotten all about it and have returned to chasing round and round in circles after their tail. So, my next puppy training trick is to change your clock to ‘puppy time’. Respond to their actions quickly so they can make the connections. What this means in practice is that you need to be quick off the mark to reward or punish their actions. You can’t come home to find a mess of torn paper in the corner and immediately reprimand the puppy–it won’t even remember it played that game thirty minutes ago. You need to see the action and make the appropriate response straight away. So, always keep training in mind. As soon as you spot an unacceptable action, like biting or jumping or spraying the curtains, reprimand immediately. In time the puppy will begin to see they shouldn’t be doing this. With my older dogs I walk into the house and say “WHO DID THIS?” and one inevitably looks guilty before I even know what has happened, and for the remainder of the day they are all as good as gold.
Also, be sympathetic to their short attention span. In humans, you calculate the attention span by looking at their age. A 5-year-old child pays proper attention for five minutes, a 10-year-old ten minutes… and so it goes on. Consider your puppy in the same way and don’t try to overload it with information. Only spend a few minutes training it in a task, but repeat that task many times during the day.
Trick #4 – Reward Without Delay
We have talked earlier about a puppy’s short attention span and you will find this can be a frustrating part of training. You seem to be doing everything right but for some reason the puppy just doesn’t seem to get it.
Well it’s really quiet simple. When your dog does something right you need to reward him straight away. And I mean immediately. It is no good giving him the command to ‘sit’ and then when he does it you walking to the cupboard to get a treat–he’s lost the connection. You must have the treat in your hand and as soon as he begins to respond, you need to habnd it over. This is why clickers are so good. With a clicker, you can make the noise as soon as the right action starts and then you can reach into your pocket for the treat. The puppy doesn’t really associate the treat with the action, but he does link the clicking noise. It took me years to discover the clicker and after I did training became so much easier.
Trick #5 – Always End Training on a Positive Note
It doesn’t matter who you are, having someone tell you ‘well done’ always leaves you with a warm feeling and a desire to keep pleasing. Your puppy is no different. So, after any training session give him plenty of cuddles, tell him ‘Good Boy/Girl’, and encourage him to want to please you next time. All dogs like treats, for sure, but they love being loved even more, so be generous in your affection for a job well done.
At the start I wanted to show you 5 essential puppy training tricks and over the years with the numerous dogs I have either owned or fostered, each one has stood the test of time. It is important to start training from the first moment you come home with your new dog. Use every opportunity to reinforce the lessons learned and use plenty of rewards for right action. Consistency is key and it is important that you set your rules and make sure you, your family and your friends abide by them.
A puppy will bring you many years of happiness and the better he is trained the easier it will be to keep him by your side as a constant companion.