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Teaching A Puppy The Fundamentals Of Obedience

By: Lyn Richards Pawlowski

Obedience training starts in the whelping box. You have to depend upon the breeder from which you purchase your puppy to provide these basics. If you are well acquainted with the breeder, you are more likely to be able to positively affect the early training of your puppy. You will also be better able to make an educated choice of puppy, based on your knowledge of each individual pup in that litter. Since this particular article was written for a Great Dane publication, I will be referring to some specifics that may apply to the breed, but really, puppies are just puppies.

Up to three weeks (21 days) of age, studies have shown that puppies are able to absorb very little in the way of education, they are unaware of much except mom, food and sleep. Elimination is done by reflex at this point. This changes between 21 and 28 days of life. Puppies begin to leave the blankets and look for a corner in which to eliminate. They become acutely aware of their environment, and are extremely sensitive to stimuli. In fact, any experiences at this stage, (to the negative or positive) will more profoundly affect the puppy than at any other point in its life. This is where you and the breeder can help shape your puppy’s mind and life.

Crate training and minor obedience training can actually begin at this age. A large wire crate (big enough to hold all the puppies) padded with blankets is introduced to the whelping box. Papers are layered on the floor around the crate (as they were around the blankets at the beginning). As the puppies explore and roam, they will choose to sleep in the crate, and eliminate on the paper.

Puppies can be handled and stacked at four weeks, and it is great for them to be socialized and handled starting at this point. When stacking, remove a puppy from the litter. Place the pup in position, hold in position gently for just a couple of seconds using the “stay” command quietly. Praise softly and release. Make it a fun, play kind of thing. Calling the puppies as a group, clapping the hands and using a happy voice, is an introduction to the “come” command. This is effective as a pre-training method if the puppies can be induced to come to the caller by a second party urging them forward gently, and if lots of praise is used. They can learn lots of basic skills at 4-6 weeks, which will save the owner and handler (and also the pup) the headaches and frustration that may occur, if taught at a later age.

Some breeds are by nature a more laid back personality type, and are stubborn as well as gentle and sensitive. This must be considered when training any puppy. While there are exceptions, the norm prevails and common sense will serve to guide you. Bear in mind that some breeds grow quickly, some more slowly, so it is vital that the puppy respect the authority of the trainer/owner early on, as well as admire and love him/her. This means that praise and consistency are vital ingredients in the training recipe. The following guidelines will help foster admiration, respect and love in your new obedience pup once you bring him home.

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Basic Guidelines

Do Not Use Punishment:
Punishment as a training aid does not foster willingness to please and excitement for work, which come with positive re-enforcement and treats. Any negative stimuli should be limited to using the word “no” or “uh – uh” and blocking (using the hands/lead) the puppy’s incorrect actions. Hitting and physical abuse of any sort are NEVER used on any dog or pup, and should not be used unless under the most extenuating circumstances in an older dog (to block biting or aggression until further help can be obtained).

Timing and Consistency:
Remember that timing is everything. Coordination of the trainers movements and corrections is directly related to the ability of the puppy to comprehend the lesson he is being taught. It is important to make him understand that the corrections given are a direct result of his behavior, and will not take place if he does as the trainer wishes. For example, if a puppy is given the command “come” while in another room chewing on a toy, he is unlikely to respond. If no one brings him to the trainer on the command “come” he will learn the word “come” is synonymous with “ignore.” On the other hand, the puppy is only told “come” under controlled circumstances, while on leash and in the hands of the trainer. He is gently pulled towards the trainer with praise and learns that “come” always means to approach the trainer, and that to do so brings praise.

Rewards and Praise:
Directly related to timing is praise. If when given the command “come” a puppy responds with the correct action and is not praised, he quickly loses enthusiasm and interest. Conversely, when given plenty of praise and caresses immediately upon correct completion of a given command, he quickly learns that the exercises are fun and profitable. He also learns to duplicate the correct action quickly in order to reap his rewards faster. In this way, praise and treats strengthen the understanding and willingness of a pup to respond to a given command. Never give any command, unless you are able to enforce it. That means, on leash, in a controlled environment. At this stage, not allowing the pup to make mistakes is very important.

Allow the Pup to Think for Itself:
Allow a pup the chance to act on its own before forcing or using corrections. Guiding a pup is more confidence building than using force. When a puppy realizes that the trainer will do the work for him, he has no motivation to perform a given task on his own. Given the choice between being hauled around on the end of a leash and getting a treat at the end, or having to pay attention and work for a few minutes, then getting praised, a puppy almost always chooses the lazy way. Let him work for the rewards and he accepts it as a job he must do. As the pup progresses, he becomes more sure of himself when he does not have to “lean” on the trainer.

Work for Short Periods:
This is pretty self explanatory. Puppies have very short attention spans. Keeping sessions short (10 minutes or less) and doing them frequently (2-3 time daily) ensures that the trainer will have the full attention of the pup, and that the dog will not grow bored. Again, working for short periods will be rewarding, too.

This works hand in hand with working for short periods of time. Do an exercise for as many times as it takes to get it right, or close to right. Once you get it right, STOP. A puppy will learn that doing an exercise correctly and quickly will be a reward in and of itself, because it will not have to keep doing the exercise over.

Patience and Confidence:
Training a pup requires patience and confidence. Puppies know when the trainer is sure of himself and what he is doing, the information travels down the leash to the pup as easily as electricity down a wire. Lack of confidence can be overcome by the trainer practicing and working on his own, but will deter from the pups ability to learn if not dealt with. Patience is not as easily learned, but if not used consistently, impatience will cause fear and lack of confidence in the puppy.

Keep it Simple:
Doing easy exercises one at a time is a much simpler concept for a puppy than learning a whole exercise in one sitting. The sit-stay for example, is not taught all at once, but broken down into its component parts. First a pup must learn to sit reliably, on its own, then the trainer can add movement away from the pup. Once that part is learned, the trainer can make the distance between himself and the pup greater and greater. Then he can add time away from the pup as a factor. Eventually, the pup learns that no matter how far and how long the trainer is gone, he must stay in the position originally placed, until he is released.

Talk to the Pup:
Word of happy chat from the trainer to the puppy insures that the puppy is paying attention. Praise words along with verbal corrections can be given, and the pup will learn to watch the trainer and listen for changes of command given with tone of voice. In this way the pup also learns to watch the trainers face, a great beginning for attention training.

Hands Off:
One sure way to defeat your training ideal, is to constantly touch a puppy while working. This does not apply to the first 12 weeks of life. At this time in his life a pup needs reassurance and cuddles, these are necessary to build trust and love. But, once a pup has started to learn commands, withholding some touching will help the training process. If the trainer corrects a puppy who keeps leaving a sit-stay by using his hands to encircle the body and replace, the pup associates touching as positive reinforcement to misbehavior (Cool! If I move, so and so touches me). Instead, use the leash to replace the puppy into a sit with minimal use of the hands. During training, use the hands only to praise and pat at the end of the exercise. In the same way when a dog comes to the trainer and nudges for pats and attention while relaxing, take this opportunity to train briefly. The trainer must ask the pup to “sit”, or “down” or any other command to reinforce his training, then be generous with hugs and pats once the desired exercise is completed. This serves to build the rapport between trainer and pup and further strengthen discipline.

Please bear in mind that I write these articles from personal experience, as a dog trainer, and from observations I have made while working and training. I have written this article as a tool that you may use to help your own training program, and to embellish what you have already found to work for you. I am a strong believer in NOT using punishment for training except in extreme cases (ie: persistent nipping/biting). This does not mean it may not work for someone else and I will not criticize its use, only give you examples of what I find as better alternate choices to try first. Nothing is written in stone and I would not attempt to be the first to tell you otherwise.

Almost all dog breeds have the potential to be great at Tracking, Agility, Fly Ball, Obedience and Breed Champions too! In future articles I will try to present information to help you make your Dane the best he can be! Till the next time, keep those training session short and happy!

Copyright© Lyn Richards Pawlowski,
Obedience Train Your Dog!
Manchester, NH


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