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 them stimulated by changing what they’re 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 they get 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 standing still for grooming and getting them used to travelling 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 puppies grow, so will their need to assert themselves. Puppies often choose mealtimes as a battleground. But giving in is a mistake. You need to make sure your puppy knows that you won't respond to every demand.
Your puppy needs to learn that people, particularly small children, can be a bit unpredictable and to accept that their unpredictable behaviour is not threatening. You can help by imitating a child's behaviour. Try stepping quickly towards their bowl — then drop in a treat. Gently bump into them, while they’re eating, or roll toys nearby — anything to cause a distraction, but drop a treat in the bowl to reward 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 behaviourist 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, they'll try to make themselves larger by standing tall, with ears and tail sticking upright. They'll also push out their chest and raise the hair on their neck and back. They might also growl and wave their tail slowly.
On the other hand, a submissive dog will try to make themselves appear small and act like a puppy. This is because an adult dog will "tell off" a puppy but not attack them. Submission will take the form of a sideways crouch near to the ground, tail held low but wagging away. They may also try to lick the face of the dominant dog or human and even roll onto their back.
Your puppy's tail
Most of us recognise that tail wagging is a sign of friendliness and pleasure, but the tail can indicate other moods, too.
The normal way a dog holds their 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 hindquarters, it means your pet is afraid. An anxious or nervous dog may droop their 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 they’re 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, they'll raise a paw or bow down and bark to attract attention. Or they might offer up a toy, or bound up to another dog to get them to join in a chase.
How your dog sees you
Your puppy will watch you to read your body signals more than listening to you, and will 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 and staring is a sign of threat.
How your puppy learns
Your puppy will learn very quickly, so it's important that they learn how to behave properly right from the start.
Dogs learn by association, so if your puppy does something good, give a reward. Then the good action is much more likely to be repeated. The reward must be linked to the action, so reward 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 they can and cannot do. Some harmless behaviours can be ignored, but potentially dangerous ones need to be handled immediately by interrupting the behaviour with a sharp "no" to get their attention — be sure to reward when they stop and pay 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 behaviour, but you, your family and your neighbours 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 barking is confusing to dogs - sometimes ignored, other times shouted at to stop, and also 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 barking is allowed till 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 for sounding the alarm, then say "Stop barking" and hold out a treat. Your dog will stop immediately if only due to the fact that they can't sniff the treat while barking. After a few seconds of quiet, give 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 they whine, it may actually make things worse. It will make your puppy think they’re being praised for whining, and get into the habit of repeating it for your affection.
You can help your puppy learn to stop whining by not going to then when whining. Ignoring your puppy and only giving attention and praise when they stop, teaches that whining and whimpering is not the way to earn your approval.