Before we enter the world of training your puppy it is important to have some knowledge of how dogs develop and how dogs think and learn.
Dogs are born with their eyes and ears closed, they cannot walk and their brain is very fundamental – eat, sleep and poop. Over the next few weeks the brain develops to the stage where they can walk, see, hear and eat but up to the age of 6 weeks the brain is not capable of “learning”.
Then from the age of 6 weeks till the age of 12 weeks the brain undergoes a tremendous development where there are more neurons (brain cells) during this period then there are for the rest of the dog’s life. BUT the body will cull some of the brain cells that have not been utilised during this period.
The pup will learn faster and easier during this developmental stage than at any other time in it life. This is the period when training should start but in a controlled happy way to prevent the development of fear.
Studies have shown that pups learn better between 8 – 12 weeks of age. They also start to relate to humans (human play) around 8 weeks of age. They also start to naturally develop toilet learning around 8 weeks of age – that is learning to go to the toilet away from the sleeping area and the eating area.
Our recommendation is to start basic training at 8 weeks of life.
Dogs learn from humans using 4 different methods:
- Positive reward – this is when the dog is rewarded for doing the right action.
- Negative reward – this is when the dog has some discomfort removed when the dog does something right. A choker chain works on this principle – when the dog does the appropriate action then the chain is released and this rewards the dog.
- Positive punishment – this is when the dog is punished for doing the wrong action.
- Negative punishment – this is when something is removed from the animal to punish it. This is often done with children when we send them to their room for misbehaving.
So now you have the really basic understanding of how puppies start to develop and what methods you can employ when starting to train your dog.
But there are still a few other things you need to understand
- Dogs are not born with the ability to understand English or any other language.
- Dogs work on communicating with body language – they will read your body language and react accordingly – if you show signs of excitement – then they will get excited. If you show signs of fear – they will show signs of fear. If you are happy – they are happy.
- Their ability to associate a reward or a punishment is short. You have on around 15 seconds to reward or punish your dog so that the dog associates the reward with an action.
- They only listen to you for a few seconds – your commands must be short and sharp. Do not give them a lecture because they will have only listened to the first one or two words. You must get your message over in the first 2 words.
- Dogs have very little remembrance of the past and no thought to the future. They learn by repeat training and by association (they associate a command with an action). To train a dog you need to keep your training sessions short but repeat them over and over again.
- Dog need to be shown what is right as well as what is wrong. Too many owners punish bad behaviour but forget to reward good behaviour.
Puppies have a short attention span but training can start as young as 8 weeks of age.
Use of positive reinforcement (reward based training) and being gentle is important.
The training session should be short (5 – 10 minutes) and should be repeated daily.
At an early age – food treats are the best way to initiate training and are given as a reward when the dog performs in a correct manner. By holding the food over the puppy’s nose and then moved backwards will encourage the pup to sit, food drawn down to the floor will get the “down” response, food bought back up should get the “stand” response and food held out at a distance should get the “come” response.
By pairing the command phase (come, heel, sit, down, come) with each action and then giving the food as a reward will assist leaning.
Command – action – food reward – praise or cuddles
It is important to use the command phase BEFORE using the food to move the puppy into positions. Then the food is given to the puppy BEFORE saying the words “good dog” and giving the dog a pat. It is important that the dog learns to associate the praise with the food so that when you stop using the food as a reward in the future the dog still associates the words “good dog” with the reward.
To try to explain this part a little more – the command is the primary act (this is what you want the dog to do). Then you reward the dog for doing that action (by giving food). Now you use words such as “good dog” or give the dog a pat to associate the dog with the reward. Remember that a dog does not naturally pat another dog and a dog does not understand words (as much as lots of owners think they do understand words). So the act of praise or patting is an unnatural act to the puppy and it must learn to associate these words and actions with the reward. In time the words and action (pat) takes the place of the food reward and in some cases the patting and praise becomes more valuable to the puppy than food does. The dog will start wanting to do the actions because of then the owner will pat it and show signs of pleasure.
The food is a primary reward and the words and pats are secondary rewards. The pup will learn in time to respond to the secondary rewards as much as it would with a primary reward.
Keep the commands short and sharp
It is important to say the command word only once and then expect the dog to do the action. If you keep repeating the word over and over before the dog does the action only teaches the dog that it does not need to respond the first time and can do the action at some later date and still get the reward.
Remember – the pup must work for the reward. No immediate action – no reward.
Be firm and keep each session short – after 5 – 10 minutes the pup has lost interest and you are heading for frustration and defiance.
Interval training – very powerful
In time, as the pup starts to respond to each command every time, start to phase out the food reward and only use the secondary rewards (“good dog” and pats). Start to only use the food every 3rd or 5th time it does the action. This is called Interval Training and the pup learns to respond to secondary reinforcements.
Rewards are NOT treats
It is important that the reward food is ONLY used for training and in not used as a treat or as part of the normal food given to the puppy. The pup must learn to really appreciate the reward and associate the reward for doing want is commanded by the owner.
Use the commands as often as you can and in as many different circumstances as you can
It is important that in time you move away from only giving commands in set training times. You need to integrate the commands into normal life – make the pup sit before feeding the pup, ask the pup to heel with each walking session, command the pup to sit before entering the house etc.
It is important that the owner takes CONTROL – the pup will not train itself and if left to its own devises the pup will become uncontrollable.
Before the age of 8 weeks it is hard to toilet train the average puppy. It only around this age that the puppy will naturally want to go to the toilet away for where the pack sleeps, where the pack eats and where the pack drinks. But we must remember that the rest of the world is it toilet area.
Not going to the toilet inside the house is not a natural act and you must now demonstrate to the pup that going to the toilet inside the house is not acceptable.
The first consideration is making sure the puppy has access to the outside every few hours – this does mean that you need to get out of bed around 2.00am and take the puppy outside. Do NOT play with the puppy at this time – or you will be woken up every day for a game rather than a toilet time.
When the puppy does go to the toilet outside – make a big deal of the puppy. Lots of excitement, lots of cuddle and even a small treat. Remember, dogs work off body language – if you are not willing to show excitement then do not expect the dog to be excited.
When the puppy goes to the toilet inside – if you catch it in the act- then you need to show disapproval – usually saying the word “NO” loud and clear and make sure your body language reflects your attitude.
If the pup goes to the toilet inside and you do not catch it in the act – I personally am not going to punish the dog but I am going to show my disapproval by saying the word “NO”.
If you do not catch the puppy in the act of going to the toilet – do NOT rub its nose in the mess, do not punish the pup. Just continue to reward good behaviour and keep giving the pup access to the outside so that it can go to the toilet.
Usually it only takes a few days and your pup will be toileting outside the house.
TEACHING YOUR DOG TO SIT
Using a food treat – move the treat above the nose of the pup. Move it backwards over the top of the head. As the pup looks up at the treat and moves its head backwards then it becomes natural for the pup to sit. It the pup tries to jump up at the treat – you are holding the treat too high.
Once the pup sits – immediately give the treat and say the words of praise (“good dog”) and pat the dog.
Sitting is the most basic command all dogs need to do and it is important for the future training of your dog.
TEACHING YOUR DOG TO LIE DOWN
Start in the sitting position and lower the treat between the front legs of the pup. Normally the pup will follow the treat down and assume the lying position.
Once again the appropriate command and rewards must be applied.
Every time you see the dog about to lie down naturally – try to use the command before the dog actually lies down. Rewards are very necessary.
TEACHING YOUR DOG TO STAY
Get the dog to sit and then use the command to stay. Raise your hand up like a stop sign. You stand still for a few seconds and then step back from the dog one step. Then return to the dog and give the reward. Gradually increase the time and the distance away from the puppy. Proceed very slowly.
Once the dog can sit/stay then proceed to the lie/stay position. Use the same techniques and proceed with patience.
TEACHING YOUR DOG TO STAND
Get the pup to sit. Using the food treat in the palm of your hand – move it away from the pup whilst giving the command to stand. The dog should follow its nose and stand up. Once he stands then give the reward.
The above is only the basics of training and we recommend all owners to come and have a talk to us if there is any issue they wish to pursue. We recommend all dogs are obedient trained at an early age but even dogs who are older can be trained with perseverance and patience.