Positive ReinforcementWhen your puppy disobeys or does something you don't like, from chewing your shoes to taking off running toward a car in the road, your first reaction may be to react in anger and frustration. Negative emotion, however, will simply set your puppy up for failure. Instead, keep your voice positive and reward good behavior instead of punishing bad. Never use physical force to convince your puppy to do what you want; instead, use step by step processes that teach your puppy the behavior you desire. Try:
- Keeping it simple and aiming for one new behavior or trick at a time.
- Offering treats as positive reinforcements.
- Giving the reward or praise immediately following the behavior. The longer you wait, the less likely it is that your dog will recognize what he's being praised for.
- Keep your commands to a single word rather than making it complicated.
- Use a technique called "shaping," which involves gradually working up to the desired behavior. Teaching your dog to lie down, for example, may involve a slow progression to actually lying on the ground.
It's also important to remember that a puppy's attention span is relatively short. When you first adopt your puppy, you may be able to work with him for as little as 10 minutes before it's time to move on to something else: taking a walk, sniffing a tree, or simply playing together. If you push past the point where your puppy is able to pay attention, it will only cause frustration for both of you.
Basic Training CommandsOnce you get past house training, there are several commands you'll want to teach your dog: sit, stay, lie down, come, and "leave it," which instructs your puppy to avoid a particular item. Training these commands through positive reinforcement may seem difficult, but by following a few basic steps, you can slowly work up to them.
- Hold a treat in your hand.
- Move your hand close to the dog's nose.
- Slowly raise your hand without pulling it away from the dog, gradually raising his head while causing him to progress into the sitting position.
- When you achieve the desired position, say, "Sit!" and immediately give the treat while praising your dog.
- First, train your dog to sit. Make sure he has mastered this command before moving on to "stay."
- Find an enclosed area where you know your dog won't be able to get away from you.
- Give the command to sit, then tell your puppy to "stay." Take a few steps away. If he doesn't get up immediately, offer a treat and praise.
- Slowly take more steps while giving the command to stay.
- Start by attaching a leash to your dog's collar. Make sure that it fits comfortably and that your dog isn't nervous.
- Give your dog the command to sit.
- Tug gently on the leash and ask your dog to "come."
- Reward your dog for coming when asked.
- Work slowly up to taking your dog off the leash before asking them to come. Once you remove the leash, work in an enclosed area where your dog can't escape.
- Tell your dog to sit.
- Holding a treat in your hand, lower your hand to the floor. Make sure your dog smells the treat before you begin moving your hand.
- Slowly move your hand along the floor away from your dog. As his nose follows, if he stays in one place, give the "down" or "lie down" command.
- Offer the treat when your dog is fully in the "down" position.
- Hold a treat in your hand, but don't offer it to your dog.
- Give the "leave it" command.
- Distract your dog with something else.
- When your dog stops paying attention to the treat, offer praise and give the treat.
- Slowly work up to longer periods of time, with the treat more easily accessible, until you can leave it on the table or floor in front of your dog.
Special CasesIn some cases, you may realize that training your puppy yourself simply isn't going to work. While you'll need to devote plenty of time, energy, and attention to the process even if you bring in a professional, there are several signs that you'll need to bring in help. These might include:
- A dog who is aggressive, especially one who is actively aggressive toward members of the family.
- A dog who actively ignores your commands, especially if you're calling for them to come in.
- Your dog is a serious problem to keep up with: he gives you a full-body workout every time you take him out on a walk, he jumps on everyone he comes into contact with, or he barks excessively.
- You're frustrated and feeling as though the training process is going nowhere, or you feel as though you've failed in training your dog.