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TRAINING HINTS

The following is an expanded list of training hints (from my 4/27 post, "A TIP for Tuesday: Name Recognition") when teaching any new command.  Hopefully you will find something here that will help you.  Please feel free to add a comment, or ask a question!


TRAINING HINTS FOR ANY COMMAND

  • Remember that puppies have short attention spans, so only work him/her for 10 to 15 minutes at a time.
  • Before teaching a new command, "warm up" with things your puppy already knows.
  • Steps to use when teaching a new command:
    • Give the command, only ONE TIME.
    • Physically show the puppy what you want him/her to do.
    • Verbally praise the puppy.  "Good down!" for example, if teaching "down."
    • Repeat.
  • "Read" your puppy--you must learn to recognize when your puppy is confused, when your puppy is starting to understand, and when your puppy finally performs the command correctly, without your assistance.  Timing of praise (within 1.5 seconds) is crucial!  (See "Definitions" for more on "reading" your puppy.)
    • Be patient when your puppy is confused.
    • Motivate with verbal praise ("That's it!") when your puppy begins to show signs of "getting it."  Slight physical movement, like a head bow, or paw lift, might indicate that the dog is responding to the command--he/she might not know exactly what to do, just that he/she is supposed to do "something."
    • Only use high-level praise (typically physical like petting) when your puppy does what you want him/her to do without you touching him/her.
  • Avoid "programming."  For example, if you repeat "heel, sit, down; heel, sit, down; heel, sit, down," when you teach the "down" command, your puppy might think that as soon as you tell him/her to "sit, he/she should go immediately into the "down."  Mix up the commands to prevent your puppy from anticipating your commands.  Your puppy must understand and respond to each individual command.  (See "Definitions" for more on "programming.")
  • End the training session on a positive, when the puppy does the right thing.
    • If he/she has just learned a new command, give lots of praise the first time he/she does it correctly without your help.  Repeat the command two or three times, and then end the session.
    • If your puppy is "shutting down" before mastering the command, run through some commands your puppy already knows and end the session with successful completion of a known command.  Lots of praise!
  • Remember to give the release command, "OK," when you are finished.  Your puppy needs to learn when he/she is expected to "work" and when to play.
    • At first, your puppy won't know what to do, so make the "OK" a "party!"  Lots of praise and petting!
    • When your puppy starts to understand the release, back off on your enthusiasm.
    • Practice this release anytime.  For example, when taking a walk with your puppy in a "heel," let your puppy "be a dog" (sniff around, etc), then give the "heel" command when he/she is not attentive to you.  Use name recognition before the command to get his/her attention; give a light tug on the leash if he/she does not look at you.  Once in a "heel," walk for a while, and then release your puppy with an "OK" at another location.  Repeat.
  • Give your puppy at least a one hour break between concentrated sessions--otherwise you can work him/her as many times a day as you want.
  • Puppies do not generalize.  This means that just because your puppy can follow the command in your living room, it does not mean that your puppy can do so in the kitchen.  Train your puppy in different settings.
  • Practice progressively.
    • Introduce a new command in a low-distraction setting.
    • When your puppy is reliable (performs the command at once, 80% of the time) in that setting, practice in different settings, with similar, low-level distractions.
    • When your puppy is reliable in multiple settings with low-level distractions, add mid-level distractions.  Start in one setting, and then continue to other settings as your puppy resists the distractions.
    • When your puppy is reliable in multiple settings with mid-level distractions, add high-level distractions in all settings, or move to more distracting settings, such as outside or in public places.
  • Expect to backtrack until your puppy refigures the game.  Be patient.  Count "one one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand" as your puppy thinks through what you are asking him/her to do.

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