Setting boundaries is the most critical part of raising a child and raising a puppy. Boundaries give a framework that can be relied on, and becomes foundational to everything the comes your way over the whole of your puppies lifetime.
Obedience training is the way you can set boundaries with your puppy and whilst it does not solve behavioural problems, it provides a line of communication between you both that is the foundation for solving problems.
You also need to keep in mind that nearly all "behavioural problems" in dogs are actually normal canine behaviour that is happening at the wrong time or in the wrong situation or place.
Even the simplest commands such as come, sit, down and stay can become life saving, literally.
Obedience training must be a fun activity for your puppy and for yourself. Every dog, and different breeds of dogs are able to enjoy different amounts of training time and repetition, so take cues from your puppy and do not let training become unenjoyable or a chore for either of you. It is better to spend 5 minutes training together twice a day having fun than half an hour feeling bored or frustrated. What will also happen is you will reinforce the wrong behaviours without meaning to.
Enrol in a dog training school if you do not understand how to train your puppy correctly. Starting with a puppy preschool will give you a lot of tips and the basics of starting your training and may give you the confidence to work with your pup on your own.
If you have a good training school near you, it will be more enjoyable to attend classes, it will reinforce and expand on socialising opportunities and give you feedback on your progress. Of course you will be practising along with your pup in between classes as well.
Different people also have different needs depending on the social situation, but don't ever feel that it is not necessary to do any kind of training with your pup - do it now whilst he is a pup, rather than correcting the situation later.
The most important aspect of training is REWARD GOOD BEHAVIOUR. Rewards may be in the form of food treats, but praise is nearly always just as effective and sometimes more effective.
The second most important aspect of training is NEVER TO PUNISH incorrect behaviour. Certainly reprimand with a short sharp tone of voice, but this is to obtain the dogs attention. Redirect the dog to something appropriate, then reward when he responds correctly so that he is having the correct behaviour reinforced rather than the incorrect behaviour.
Here is a great example of a 3 month old puppy who has pretty much mastered the basic obedience commands and is obviously happy to engage in training sessions! Notice he is using a lot of hand signals and the puppy is very attentive to his trainer to watch for signals.
the main point in this training is to ensure you do not teach your puppy NOT TO COME
if a puppy (or even as an older dog) is able to not come, they learn incredibly fast that it is more rewarding to them to repeat that behaviour
always reward your dog for coming
never call your dog in order to punish the dog for something else
don't let your puppy learn that coming to you means the end of something it was enjoying
never have your puppy out without a lead unless you have consistent effective recall established (or you will teach your puppy not to come)
This is probably one of the easiest things to teach your puppy and could be the first real task you teach and succeed teaching your new puppy.
If your puppy is food/treat oriented an easy method is to hold a treat above his head so he looks up, then slowly move it backwards, so that he finds himself lowering his behind to the ground. Make sure you repeat the command such as "SIT" whilst doing this. When he is in a sitting position, give him the treat of course.
Another method if you don't want to use treats is to put one hand under the chin and one on the rump. Raise the head whilst pressing the rump down and saying the command.
With either method it is easy as the pup learns the move into a sitting position at your voice to use the raising of the hand slowly into the air as a visual cue. Most dogs learn visual cues even better than auditory ones, and you can soon have your pup sitting for you simply by hand signal. This is effective when out in a noisy environment.
Always praise your pup lavishly when he gets into the sitting position.
The following video was taken at puppy preschool in February 2013, with a 12 week old maremma pup. She had never had any lessons before in how to 'sit', so was a great demonstration pup.
Once your puppy will sit on command it is fairly straight forward to take this to the next level of down or drop.
If you are using treats, get your pup to sit, but instead of giving the treat, praise the pup then slowly lower the treat to the ground in front of the pup and give the command such as "DROP". The pup needs to drop onto the ground for the treat, not stand up and bend the head down.
If you are not using treats, get your pup to sit, then speaking the command, place your hand behind the front paws and slowly pull the forward so the pup slides to the ground.
As the pup learns this command, instead of placing the treat to the ground or bringing the feet forward, do the opposite hand motion to the one for sit - with hand raised, bring the hand downwards, repeating the command.
Always praise your pup lavishly when he gets into position.
Once you puppy can sit and drop, you may wish to add the command to stay.
Have your puppy sit or drop and praise him for doing this correctly
Let him move away
Repeat the sit or drop, but now wait a few second before praising (now you are praising him for staying in position)
Let him move away
Repeat this, but each time wait a little longer before praising
If the dog moves off, make a noise like "aah-aah", let him go, no praise, then repeat again
This may take several sessions before your pup will stay in position until praised for a bit of time, that's fine
Once the pup will stay for 30 seconds or so, begin to add the command "STAY" to the process, holding your hand in the stop position
You are now progressing your pup to learning a new command and hand signal, rather than prolonging the praise on a command that he knew
Increasing Duration, Distance and adding Distractions
This is when the stay command becomes more complicated and I would not expect a young puppy under 4 months old to be ready for this stage, so be patient.
Add only one new variable at a time.
Start with Duration - work slowly and patiently on increasing the amount of time the pup will simply stay
Once your pup will stay for a few minutes at a time, you can increase the distance that you place between yourself and the puppy. Do this slowly, and don't try to continue extending the duration.
Move slowly away from your puppy by taking backwards steps, so that you are not turning and walking away from your puppy, you are simply becoming further away. Don't move a great distance at a time, and slowly increase this distance over a period of training sessions.
Once you feel your puppy is mastering this well, you can move the sessions to a new area where there are some distractions, but ensure you have your puppy on a lead!
Once again keep your expectations small at the first sessions and don't attempt to increase the duration or distance at all, and lavish praise on your pup for the correct behaviour.
When your pup really seems to have this command mastered, you can create a really fun game of putting him in a stay, then going and hiding, and calling out the command to release and the puppy has to come and hunt you out.
We have all marvelled at the dog that will sit outside a shopping centre door and wait for his owner for long periods of time, no matter what distractions are around. Of course your puppy won't do this, but starting the training young, working at it patiently and turning it into a game will allow you to have a mature dog that will be capable of such feats.
Puppy mouthing and biting
Many people use the method in this video of saying "Ouch" in a high pitched voice, but really any high pitched sounds with the 'ch' sound will actually mimic another puppy being hurt even better.
Another great method that I have used with dogs is to teach them a positive command instead. I use tiny pieces of food either in my fingers or on a fork (yes on a fork like you would eat off!). Offer it to the puppy and encourage the puppy to take the piece very gently saying "GENTLE" to them. Only release the piece of food when they are being gentle. The fork is good because it is unpleasant for the puppy to try to grab and bite down on the fork. Once they get the hang of this, if your puppy begins to play rough with you with his mouth, you can pull back and say "GENTLE" and the pup knows the command and can be praised now for being gentle with you.
I have also then used the same idea, using a fork, when a new dog comes into the family. Certainly not until everyone has had good introductions and are calm! Line the dogs up with the sit command. Have some small food pieces in a bowl, then feed each dog in a random order, encouraging every dog to sit still and wait their turn. If they are used to this kind of feeding, they know they will get a share, but they see that the new dog is included and that they have to accept that you are going to feed the new dog this way as well. I have found this a truly helpful method of training some good manners into dogs.
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