Teaching Your Puppy: Obedience Training Basics
For successful training, practice the following basic training steps with your puppy every day. Keep training sessions short. Your puppy will see everything as a game, so keep him stimulated by changing what he's learning. Do each command for about five minutes and come back to it whenever you can.
Practice the commands in lots of different places — in the living room, garden, hall or kitchen, even out on walks — so that he gets used to responding to you in all sorts of situations. You can use the click technique to help with other aspects of your puppy's training, such as encouraging him to stand still for grooming and getting him used to traveling by car.
Your puppy will learn very quickly and respond to love and affection as well as rewards. Obedience training will help build a lasting bond between the two of you and you'll be rewarded with a happy, well-trained dog.
Giving in to your puppy's every need is not a good thing. As your puppy grows, so will his need to assert himself. Puppies often choose mealtimes as a battleground. But giving in to him is a mistake. You need to make sure he knows that you won't respond to his every demand.
Your puppy needs to learn that people around him, particularly small children, can be a bit unpredictable. But he needs to accept that their unpredictable behavior is not threatening. You can help him do this by imitating a child's behavior. Try stepping quickly towards his bowl — then drop in a treat. Gently bump into him, while he's eating, or roll toys nearby — anything to cause a distraction, but drop a treat in the bowl to reward him for continuing to eat calmly. Do this every so often, but not at every meal. If your puppy freezes mid-mouthful, growls or glares at you, stop and try again another time. If this continues, it's best to seek advice from a veterinary behaviorist or certified dog trainer.
Reading your puppy's body language
Dogs have always communicated with each other by using body language. This involves facial expressions, body postures, noises and scents. Dogs will use their mouth, eyes, ears and tail to express emotions. By learning how to interpret your puppy's body language, you can interpret your puppy's intentions.
Signs of aggression or submission
If your puppy is feeling brave or aggressive, he'll try to make himself larger by standing tall, with his ears and tail sticking upright. He'll also push out his chest and raise the hair on his neck and back. He might also growl and wave his tail slowly.
On the other hand, a submissive dog will try to make himself appear small and act like a puppy. This is because an adult dog will "tell off" a puppy but not attack him. Submission will take the form of a sideways crouch near to the ground, his tail held low but wagging away. He may also try to lick the face of the dominant dog or human. He may even roll on his back.
Your puppy's tail
Most of us recognize that tail wagging is a sign of friendliness and pleasure, but the tail can indicate other moods, too.
The normal way a dog holds his tail varies from breed to breed but generally speaking, a tail held higher than 45 degrees to the back expresses alertness and interest.
If your puppy's tail is waved slowly and stiffly, that's an expression of anger. If it's clamped low over his hindquarters, it means your pet is afraid. An anxious or nervous dog may droop his tail but wag it stiffly.
Your puppy's eyes
If your dog's eyes are half closed, that's a sign of pleasure or submission, while eyes wide open can indicate aggression.
In the wild, dogs stare at each other until one backs down or makes a challenge, so you should never attempt to outstare your puppy, especially if he's nervous.
Your puppy's smile
Submissive dogs and some breeds such as Labradors often open their mouths in a kind of lop-sided "grin", and indeed, it is a sign of friendliness. But when lips are drawn back tightly to bare the teeth, that's aggression, make no mistake.
Wanting to play
If your puppy wants to play, he'll raise a paw or bow down and bark to attract attention. Or he might offer up a toy, or bound up to another dog to get him to join in a chase.
How your dog sees you
Your puppy will watch you to read your body signals more than he will listen to you, and he'll quickly learn what you're feeling even without you speaking.
If you want to improve communication with your puppy, you can improve upon your own body language. For example, crouching down with arms opened out is a welcome sign while towering over him and staring is a sign of threat.
How your puppy learns
Your puppy will learn very quickly, so it's important that he learns how to behave properly right from the start.
Dogs learn by association, so if your puppy does something good, reward him. Then the action is much more likely to be repeated. But the reward must be linked to the action, so he must be rewarded quickly, within a second or two. The reward itself can be a few kibbles of puppy food or praise, or both.
Your puppy needs to be taught what he can and cannot do. Some harmless behaviors can be ignored, but potentially dangerous ones need to be handled immediately by interrupting the behavior with a sharp "no" to get his attention — be sure to reward him when he stops and pays attention to you. Shouting or hitting will not help your puppy learn.
Understanding barking and whining
Barking is a totally natural aspect of a dog's behavior, but you, your family and your neighbors will be happier if you can bring it under control.
It's hardly surprising many people have barking problems with their dogs, since most dogs have no idea whether barking is something good or bad. That's because our reaction to his barking is confusing to the dog. In his eyes, when he barks, he is sometimes ignored, while at other times he is shouted at to stop, and then again he may be encouraged to bark if, for example, there's a suspicious stranger nearby.
To help your dog know when barking is acceptable, you simply need to teach him that he may bark until he is told to stop. "Stop barking" should be considered as a command for obedience rather than a telling off.
Start the training by letting your dog bark two or three times, praise him for sounding the alarm, then say "Stop barking" and hold out a treat in front of him. Your dog will stop immediately if only due to the fact that he can't sniff the treat while barking. After a few seconds of quiet, give him the reward. Gradually increase the time from when the barking stops to the giving of the reward.
If you are concerned about excessive barking that you have no control over, you should seek advice from your vet about next steps, such as specialist training or therapy.
If you comfort your puppy whenever he whines, it may actually make things worse. It will make your puppy think he's being praised for whining, and get him into the habit of repeating it for your affection.
You can help your puppy learn to stop whining by not going to him when he whines. By ignoring your puppy, and only giving him attention and praise when he stops whining, he'll learn that whining and whimperig is not the way to earn your approval.