Training Your Puppy Part 1: Basic Commands
Teaching your dog basic obedience is important for many reasons, some behavioral and others emotional. Beginning simple commands also leads to a puppy ready for a lifetime of advanced training and problem-solving.
Begin a combination of socialization and obedience training with your puppy at seven weeks of age. In fact, if your pup participates in play time with other dogs along with regular training, you'll see better results in as early as two to four weeks. And it’s vital to note, after 16 weeks old, the socialization period ends for pups.
These early days are critical in establishing a positive relationship with your new buddy. The more time you spend with your pup results in a dog who wants more contact with you. And a dog who wants contact with you is more likely to behave.
Set Up a Training Space
To get started, bring a few training tools into a safe, enclosed yard. You'll need to use six components: a dog handler (that's you), a dog, verbal commands, hand signals, a noise, and rewards. Keep in mind, before filling your pocket with a handful of treats, consider what sort of reward reinforces good behavior but isn't so exciting that it distracts your puppy. This can be tough! Try to get treats that don't take a long time to chew, swallow, or are so amazing they forget what you are focusing on. After all, training time is about repeating the lessons quickly enough so that the desired behavior is easily learned. Once you have a solid treat, you can get down to business.
Common commands in training are "come", "sit", and "stay". For the youngest of pups, start by rewarding them every time they respond to the sound of your voice. Right away, you are teaching the dog to pay close attention to your words. Noises are any sound that prompts the dog to pay attention. Some trainers like to use a clicker. The clicker system of training quickly and precisely indicates to your dog what behavior you are rewarding. If you use a clicker, always give the reward after making the click sound.
Let your little guy run loose in the yard. Every time they look your way, give praise, a noise, and reward. If the puppy seems distracted and you cannot get their attention, use a squeaky toy. When they look your way, give praise, make the noise to reinforce good behavior, and lastly reward with a small treat. Repeat these steps often. You are teaching the pup how to respond to their world, and how to communicate with you.
The Power of Verbal Commands
Getting your puppy to adopt a new behavior is faster if you give a reward a few weeks prior to introducing the verbal command. For example, before teaching your puppy the word 'sit,' give a treat periodically when he or she sits on their own. You link the sitting behavior with the treat - and then you can introduce the verbal command. Repeating this over and over along with the signal and a noise produces fairly quick results.
When teaching your puppy verbal commands, begin with “come.” Initially, don't worry about actually saying it out loud. Wait for the pup to look at you, call out their name in a happy and inviting voice, and say “good boy/girl.” Give a reward. If you have a distracted little bugger, get the puppy to chase you, turn around and let them catch up with you. Then, give verbal praise and reward. When you see that the puppy keeps an eye on you because you are the bearer of great rewards, introduce the verbal command, “come.”
When your pup learns that coming and interacting with you leads to a positive experience, they are more likely to move on to new verbal commands. Think of the command “sit” as meaning “watch me.”
At this level, you can pair simple gestures. For example, a hand signal is a visual hint at the motion you want the dog to repeat. For "sit", stand near your puppy and hold your hand above their head, then move your hand in a semicircle. Move the signal down their back, and move to their rear end. Your puppy will follow your hand motion, and naturally sit. Give him or her a treat, and repeat!
Additionally, you can try "sit" by positioning the dog with their back end near a wall. As you signal to sit and they back up, their rear is bumped by the wall. It becomes a reminder of what the verbal command refers to and the pup sits. Any hand signals you use during early training can be decreased or dropped as your dog understands the verbal command.
Recommended between three and four months, add the command “stay” after your puppy has mastered “come” and “sit.” Now that your new pup understands and responds to the command “sit,” they're in the precise position you need to teach them “stay.” The hand signal for “stay” is the same one used by traffic police. Face your hand toward the dog with all fingers together pointing up. The training steps are: say “stay” quickly and firm, hold your hand up, wait three seconds, reward the puppy with a “good dog,” and a treat. Always follow “sit” with “stay” and you will have two verbal commands working in conjunction.
A last note about “stay.” Most commands are about action, and your puppy will associate their name with movement. You should not use your dog's name when verbally commanding “stay.” Since “stay” is often required for safety, like sitting still on the opposite side of the street until you reach your dog, don't confuse them by shouting their name while verbalizing this command.
Tying it All Together
Teaching a puppy commands is really just setting up your own communication system with an animal. Along with commands, consider other phrases you use while talking to your dog. Phrases are another way to build a language and bond between the two of you. They are useful and train your dog to listen intently any time you speak. Examples of common phrases are:
- “Bedtime for (pup's name).”
- “Go for a ride?”
- “Go for a walk?”
- “Need a drink?”
- “Ready to eat?”
- “Where's daddy?”
With a little bit of patience, and a whole lot of love, puppies can be trained in no time. Try to make it a fun experience, and enjoy yourselves, and know this new relationship is developing into a lifelong friendship.
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