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Training a Puppy to be Obedient

Training a Puppy to be Obedient

People may have advised you to wait a couple of months before teaching your new puppy to be obedient. This is a big mistake. In that precious time he may have learned to look the other way when called, and he may be pulling on the lead more strongly, especially if he is large.

Instead of starting with a clean slate you now have to undo these bad habits and begin from scratch. Start training your puppy as soon as you acquire him. Ideally, this should be between two and two and a half months of age.

Something else you should consider is that more people are suing dog owners for their dog’s misbehaviour.

I’m not talking just about dog bites or other aggressive actions towards people or their animals, but also things such as the dog jumping up at someone and knocking them down. The sooner you start training your puppy the better, because that means having a controlled dog later on and one you can take anywhere.

Young puppies learn easily, but don’t have the same self-control as older dogs. Begin by teaching your puppy basic and easy, but important things. Think of this early training as laying the foundations for more difficult exercises later.

Training a Puppy To Come

Begin to train your new puppy right away to come to you when called, by playing a game called the name game.

Say the puppy’s name only once, and praise and reward him as soon as he looks at you. He doesn’t have to be sitting first, or standing. He doesn’t have to look directly into your eyes, either. Looking at your face or another part of your body is good enough.

The purpose is for your puppy to look at you when you say his name. Coming when called doesn’t begin with the puppy responding to the word ‘come’. It begins with him turning toward you when he hears his name. Practice the name game in different parts of the house so the puppy learns to respond to his name wherever he is. If he’s far from you when you say his name and he looks, toss the reward toward him. If he comes to you, all the better.

Once your puppy is doing well with the name game – looking at you at least eight out of ten times – begin playing a game called ‘puppy in the middle’. Gather up two or three family members, including you, and preferably members who live daily with the puppy.

Make sure everyone has a toy to reward the puppy. Take turns at calling him over by saying his name and encouraging with hand clapping, whistling, making kissing sounds, or anything that will get him interested in coming. As soon as he gets to the person who’s calling, make a big fuss and use the toy to play with him.

Training Your Puppy Is Rewarding

Make the ‘puppy in the middle’ game more challenging by gradually increasing the distance from which you call the puppy. If he’s still responding well (at least eight out of ten times), move on to playing games of hide and seek. Hide in different places, reward the puppy every time he finds you, and make sure the game is fun for all involved.

Puppy Training on the Lead

Some puppies accept having a lead attached to their collar easily, others start chewing on it and refuse to walk, while others fight it by jumping backward and trying to back out of the collar.

To get your puppy used to the lead, place it on the floor, and give him a tasty food treat just for looking at the lead. Repeat this a few times. Then drag the lead over his body, without attaching it to the collar, and give him a treat. Repeat a couple of times and then continue by attaching the lead to the collar and letting the puppy drag it.

Don’t leave your puppy alone while dragging the lead because it may get caught somewhere and choke him. Once your puppy is confident dragging the lead, pick the lead up by the handle and use your other hand to coax the puppy to walk next to you. You can coax by patting your leg and making kissy sounds. Praise and reward the puppy often while he walks next to you.

Paying attention to you is a handy exercise to teach because you can use it whenever you want the puppy to concentrate on you instead of other dogs, people, or things.

For example, if you’re taking your puppy for a walk and meet a dog that’s barking and lunging at him, he can’t ‘answer back’ if he’s concentrating on you. You may think this is trivial, but many friendly dogs get bitten by aggressive ones if they respond to provocation.

You can use the word ‘look’ for this exercise, but feel free to choose another if you prefer. Put a tasty food treat in your hand; hold it close to your puppy’s nose, then say ‘look’ and move your hand slowly towards your face. As soon as the puppy looks at your face, praise and reward him with the food treat.

Repeat until the puppy never misses looking at your face when you say ‘look’ and use the hand signal. Then, say ‘look’ and use your hand signal, but this time without food in your hand. Don’t change your hand signal – the only thing you’re doing differently is having no food in sight. As soon as the puppy looks at your face, praise and reward with a food treat from your pocket. Practise this exercise in different parts of the house so that your puppy learns to do it wherever you are.

It’s not advisable to get your puppy used to doing an exercise because he’s following food. Think of food as giving the puppy a push in the right direction, and then as a reward. Don’t think of it as a way to get the puppy to do whatever you want.

After the initial push, food should be out of sight so that your puppy concentrates on the task. For example, instead of having food in your hand and showing it, have it in your pocket, or in your closed hand behind your back, and only use it as a reward. This applies to every exercise you teach.

Teaching a Puppy to Sit

‘Sit’ is useful in many situations: while you’re talking to someone on the street, waiting for the light to turn green, sitting quietly instead of begging for food at the table, and sitting to be greeted.

Put a food treat in your hand, palm facing up, and the treat between your thumb and forefinger.

Place your hand in front of your puppy’s nose and start moving it back from in front of his eyes, over his back, towards his tail. The movement should be slow so that your puppy can follow your hand – think of it as a magnet that’s attracting your puppy’s head. In order to follow your hand as it moves over the back towards the tail, your puppy will begin to lower his back legs until he sits.

As soon as he’s sitting, praise and reward. Some puppies don’t get it the first few times you do this – they may jump up at your hand to get the treat, start walking backwards instead of lowering their back legs, or twist sideways to see what’s happening over their back.

If this happens, don’t move your hand back and forth, because you’ll confuse the puppy – your hand will look like a pendulum swaying within the puppy’s field of vision, which won’t get him to sit. Make sure your hand movement is slow, and teach ‘sit’ near a wall so that your puppy can’t move backwards.

Once your puppy is following your hand and sitting in one smooth movement over about six repetitions, get the food out of sight – the push in the right direction is over. Use the same hand signal, but without food in it. If your puppy fails because food is no longer in sight, gradually fade it out – make it less and less visible – by hiding it under your thumb. At this stage, you’ll be doing:

hand signal —» puppy sits —» praise —» reward with a food treat.

When your puppy sits, over about twenty repetitions, introduce the word ‘sit’ immediately before giving the hand signal. What you’ll be doing from now on is:

‘sit’ —» hand signal —» puppy sits —» praise —» reward.

Practise in different parts of the house or garden, to ensure the puppy sits anywhere you tell him to.

The ‘Down’ Command

Teaching ‘down’ has many uses. One of them is getting the puppy settled and relaxed if you want him to stay in a place for a long time.

When you go for a back massage, you’re not asked to ‘stand up and relax’, but you are asked to ‘lie down and relax’, aren’t you? If you want your puppy to remain in a certain place for a long time, he’s more likely to stay if he is in the ‘down’ position than if he’s sitting or standing.

You may want to teach ‘down’ directly from a standing position. I suggest you teach it from a sitting position because puppies become distracted easily and give up if we make things difficult. Going from a sit into a down is much easier than going from a stand into a down. Therefore, teach ‘down’ after your puppy understands ‘sit’.

Start Training Your Puppy Early

With your puppy sitting, hold a food treat in front of his nose, slowly bring your hand down to the floor and slightly away from him. Imagine you’re drawing the letter L. To follow your hand, the puppy will lower his front legs and go down.

As soon as he’s lying down, praise and reward. Some puppies put their bottoms up when the front legs go down. If your puppy does that, gently hold his bottom so it doesn’t pop up. The key word is ‘gently’. Don’t push the puppy down.

As with the ‘sit’, use only your hand signal until the puppy goes into the ‘down’ in one smooth movement, over about twenty repetitions. Once he’s doing well, introduce the word ‘down’ immediately before giving the hand signal. The sequence you’ll be doing is:

‘down’ —» hand signal —» puppy lies down —» praise —» reward.

Training a Puppy to Stay

Teaching your puppy to stay in one place is useful for many things. For example, he won’t run out of your front door, off-lead, onto a busy road if he knows how to stay put.

I like the word ‘stay’, but some people prefer ‘wait’. Choose the word that comes naturally to you. The important thing is always to use the same word for a particular exercise. Don’t confuse your puppy by saying ‘wait’ and ‘stay’ interchangeably.

To avoid the puppy running off, put his lead on when you teach ‘stay’. Kneel down in front of the puppy, say ‘stay’ (only once) and immediately afterwards put your hand in front of his face with palm facing him.

Your hand should be about twenty to thirty centimetres (one to two hands’ width, fully stretched out) away from his face. Hold it there for a few seconds, then take it away, praise and reward. You can also lean your body slightly towards the puppy. This is a sort of body block that discourages the puppy from moving forward.

Because you have your puppy on a lead, you may feel tempted to hold him back with it. Don’t. If you do, his attention will go from the exercise to the pressure he’s feeling on his body. Your puppy can be standing, sitting, or lying down when you teach him to stay. This doesn’t matter because the goal is for him to understand that ‘stay’ means ‘don’t move’.

Gradually increase the time your puppy has to stay in one place by keeping your hand in front of his face for longer. Always praise and reward when the ‘stay’ is over.

Because young puppies get distracted easily, be reasonable when you teach your puppy to stay. A fifteen to twenty minute ‘stay’ is fine for an adult dog, but too long for a young puppy. Settle for a one or two minute ‘stay’.

On the subject of young puppies getting distracted easily. . . keep your training sessions short (five to ten minutes at the most) and always end them with the puppy wanting more.

Teach all these exercises at home, either indoors or in your garden. It’s important to teach your puppy in places with few or no distractions so that he learns more easily. Once he masters the exercises, at this easy level, you should move on to more difficult levels and exercises.

Another important reason for this early training to be taught at home is that your puppy may not have his vaccination programme completed, and will be susceptible to diseases if taken to places where there are many dogs, with the associated faecal residue or flies.