Puppy Training Tips From Jill Simmons

Realize that you control all the pup’s resources and rewards, and have tremendous power to instill a great working relationship by using toys, meals, trips outside etc wisely. Rather than have your puppy live in a self-serve world, ask the puppy to do something for you before you do something for her. Maybe that is sit before her meal, maybe that is down before you open the door to go outside.

Socialize your puppy without overwhelming him. Keep a checklist on your fridge and try to meet 100 friendly strangers, walk on 12 different surfaces, ride in an elevator, see umbrellas, kids with backpacks, someone on crutches, mylar balloons- all kinds of things as a puppy. If the pup is worried up something in particular, use a happy vive to encourage “Go See”. Reward investigation enthusiastically, but do not force on the one hand nor baby on the other.

Remember that dogs tend to do next time what they practice/rehearse this time. Humans are smart, and there are many ways to prevent a dog from practicing unwanted behaviors that do not involve punishment. Punishments may decrease a behavior, but that can also damage your dog’s view of your relationship overall.

Follow a pattern that becomes second-nature to the human side of the team.

  1. Give Command
  2. Mark a correct response instantly with clicker or word “yes”
  3. Give reward
  4. Use release word

Fade out treats so you do not become a human Pez dispenser. (Trainer Denise Fenzi says 1 unit of effort gets a treat reward.) If your dog sits effortlessly 9/10, no more treat for that, and we raise the bar to keep the dog putting in effort.

Teach your dog to come when called by having tremendous fun with your puppy. Play “hide n seek” when the pup is distracted by sneaking away, calling the puppy, and giving a huge party with rewards when she finds you. Have two or three people play “post office” by sending the pup from person to person when called and being hugely rewarded. Learn the Find It game, and practice calling the pup back to you in a happy voice. Never chase a dog- turn and run away instead. Try to get your puppy off leash from the get go, so he doesn’t live in such a world of restraint that it becomes like Cinderella at midnight to get back on a lead. Never call a puppy to scold it and do not call the pup when you are fairly sure it is so distracted it will not come to you- go get the puppy!

Use good energy in training sessions and give your dog your full attention even if it is for five or ten minutes. Mix some play into your work- maybe you heel four or five steps, then surprise the dog by suddenly tossing a ball and playing for a few minutes before going back to heeling. This is “Planned Spontaneity”- you plan to play at some point but to the dog it is a delightful surprise.

Here are some helpful puppy books to read:

The Focused Puppy by Deborah Jones

The Puppy Primer by Patricia McConnel: [url=http://www.amazon.com/The-Puppy-Primer-Patricia-McConnell/dp/1891767135/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1385409357&sr=8-1&keywords=puppy+primer+by+patricia+mcconnell]The Puppy Primer: Patricia B. McConnell, Ph.D., Brenda Scidmore: 9781891767135: Amazon.com: Books[/url]

Puppy’s First Steps by Tufts University & Dr. Nicholas Dodman: [url=http://www.amazon.com/Puppys-First-Steps-Well-Behaved-Companion/dp/0547053614/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1385409450&sr=8-1&keywords=puppy%27s+first+steps]Puppy’s First Steps: A Proven Approach to Raising a Happy, Healthy, Well-Behaved Companion: Faculty of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts Univer, Nicholas H. Dodman BVMS, Lawrence Lindner: 9780547053615: Amazon.com: Books[/url]

Jill’s Article For The Downeast Dog News:

The best way for you and your dog to bring out the best in each other is by obedience training from the first possible moment of opportunity.   Society perpetuates many myths about dogs, from the Lassies who seem to be born understanding every nuance of what humans want to the Marleys whose reprobate charm means a wave of destruction at which rueful smiles and shrugged shoulders result.  The truth is, all dog-human teams benefit from obedience training, and the science of teaching dogs has made tremendous advancements over the past ten years.   Obedience training teaches a dog the good manners and savvy to live in a human world as a treasured friend, and prevents behavior problems. There is no greater gift you can give your dog than the time you spend training him to be everything you hoped.

Obedience training is as a lifelong conversation between you and your dog.  From the dog’s point of view, humans can be very confusing with all of our white noise. We say many words that don’t pertain to dogs and we make many hand signals and body movements that do not apply to dogs.  However, when you set aside time to obedience train, you give your dog your total attention, and think about saying a word just once while instilling a complete understanding of that word, about keeping your body more still except for signals that mean something for the dog. Since dogs tend to be anthropologists who study humans, making this space and time to focus one hundred percent on teaching them is a joy for your dog.  Dogs learn differently from humans, and do not generalize well. Because a dog can easily perform a command in the context of your kitchen does not mean they are ready to understand the same command in the context of the dog park. As you obedience train your dog, along the way it becomes fascinating to study up on how dog brains work and that enriches your appreciation of your dog.

Puppies in particular are sponges, and easily master the basic commands like sit, down, front, finish, heel, leave it, give, go to bed, and come, often with the help of a good class. With an enriched environment , good nutrition, vet care, and socialization, obedience training is fun for both baby dog and owner.  Reward-based training is best for this aged dog. Simple strategies like rewarding behavior you like and wish to see repeated while ignoring behaviors you prefer extinguished become second nature.  The obedience trainer’s mantra is that positive training is by no means the same as permissive training. With puppies, effective obedience training means to keep your criteria for rewarding them high enough to be a challenge, but not too low so they get freebies or too high so they become frustrated and shut off. Rather than punishing what puppies do wrong, like jumping up to greet people, obedience training means tutoring them in what you wish them to do in order to be right.  For example, you may teach your puppy to sit or down when a stranger approaches proactively, rather than letting him rehearse jumping over and over and eventually punishing him for it when it is a bad habit. A good time to work with puppies is briefly before each meal.

Obedience training a two way partnership in which your dog offers plenty of signals and signs too, signs that you can learn how to decode through the help of an excellent trainer or through reading about dog behavior.  Through the process of training, you start to notice your dog offering you feedback all the time- a yawn, a moment to stop and scratch, stress signals, or a confident willingness to offer behaviors. It is hard to describe the thrill of a lightbulb/ Ah HA moment when the dog breaks through and genuinely learns to someone who has never obedience trained a dog. These breakthrough moments create a bond between you and your dog that only strengthens as the years go by. Conversely, in the absence of obedience training, you and your dog may misunderstand one another rather than communicate clearly.

When a dog is not guided step by step through the expectations of the culture surrounding him through good training, he may default to what comes naturally in canine culture (digging, barking, jumping!), and that can get him in trouble and harm his relationship with you, trouble he does not understand. Since no dog sets out to be a “no no bad dog”, it is your responsibility to give your dog the tools he needs to be a very good dog in your eyes, so that you may enjoy one another’s company through the years. Through kind, fair obedience training, your dog will become a joyful learner, and learn how to learn, as well as mastering specific commands. Dog training is both an art and a science, and with excellent timing, a few technical skills, and an attentive, forgiving attitude, you can take pride in a dog who is a trustworthy friend and family member.

Group classes for obedience training can be supportive, inspiring, and provide structure to the process when the fit is sturdy between trainer and client. Some trainers excel in a niche defined by breed, dog sport, or philosophy; others devote themselves to behavior rehabilitation, aggressive or reactive dogs, rescue, or prefer to work through private lessons.   Dog trainers should have wide, deep experience with dogs and dog husbandry, and be capable of spotting health or structural problems, offering solutions to typical behavior glitches, and be responsible with their own dogs.  Often good dog trainers will be either certified or active in competition, have good working relationships with vets and other dog professionals, and offer good communications skills with people as well as canines. There is no hard, fast rule about what makes the ideal trainer for you and your dog, but there are some red flags. For example, avoid situations in which someone promises to train your dog for you in seven days of boot camp. As in all things, if it sounds too good to be true, it is.  Educating a dog takes time, insight and skill, and no program of force can excelerate the process to a week or two  without risking harm to the dog in the big picture.

You are your dog’s best resource for a happy life, and the time you spend teaching him he will reward a hundredfold with his devotion.  To have good timing and offer dogs quick feedback commensurate with their attention spans, to carve out the daily time to spend practicing, to be present in the moment with your dog, to blur the line between playing and training. . . that is what it means to teach obedience to your dog. Training establishes a common vocabulary of both body language and verbal language between two completely different species, and is an everyday miracle.  Plus, it is fun.

Jill Simmons owns PoeticGold Farm in Falmouth, Maine. She shares her life with five golden retrievers. Her first word ever was “dog”.