Training a Perfectly Polite Puppy
Everyone pictures puppy training as “sit,” “lie down,” and “shake.” And while those things can play a big part in training a well-behaved puppy, there are a few other surprising fundamentals that you’ll want to nail down first in order to have the most perfectly polite puppy possible.
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General Puppy Training Techniques
As soon as you bring a new puppy into your house, he begins to learn new habits. Because of this, it’s important to start training your puppy right away. Waiting a week to allow your puppy to “settle in” gives him a chance to form bad habits that will be more difficult to train out of him.
Every interaction you have with your new puppy becomes a learning session, whether you’re aware of it or not. If you want your puppy to develop good behavior, you’ll need to pay close attention to your every movement and action around him. Reward only the desirable behaviors, and remove reinforcers such as attention, tugging, and play for any unwanted behaviors.
When puppies are first learning a new behavior, it’s important to reward them immediately and every single time they get the task right. Once the puppy knows the behavior well, you can strengthen the behavior even more by going to a variable schedule of reward. For example, sometimes give him a reward each time he performs the behavior correctly, and sometimes reward only every third correct behavior. That way he never knows exactly which time he’s going to get rewarded. This unpredictable schedule of rewards has been shown to be the strongest learning reinforcement technique. In fact, it’s one of the reasons people enjoy gambling!
Teaching Your Puppy to Sit
The first thing you’ll want to train your puppy to do is to sit calmly and look to you for direction. Just as we hope our children learn to say “please” and “thank you” automatically, we want our puppies to sit for everything they want.
Start by standing with your puppy in a small area that has no other distractions such as toys, other people or pets. Hold a treat in your hand, and hold your hand at waist height. Your puppy’s first reaction is going to be to jump up and try to get the treat. When he jumps on you, stand up straight and stay silent so that it’s clear to him that you are ignoring him.
Remember that attention, playing, and sometimes even yelling can be seen as rewards to a puppy, so standing still and quiet is a way of removing all positive reinforcers for jumping up. Eventually he’ll realize that you aren’t going to reward his rude jumping behavior and he’ll sit down. As soon as he sits, bend down and put the treat in his mouth. Follow with several more treats while he remains seated to reward him for continued sitting.
Next, quickly move a few steps away in a playful manner that will make him want to chase after you. Once you’ve stopped, wait until he sits and looks to you for direction to earn another reward. When your puppy can do these repeat sits 5-10 times in a row, you can begin to train something else. This includes training the cue word “sit,” which will likely be your next exercise.
To teach it, just say “sit” an instant before your puppy is about to sit. Do this consistently for a couple of days and he’ll pick up that the word “sit” is related to the action of sitting. Because sitting and looking to you for direction is your puppy’s way of saying “please,” you can use this exercise for all sorts of other things that your puppy considers fun or exciting. For instance, never put down a food bowl or open a door to go outside unless he is sitting calmly.
If you allow him to jump, bark, or act foolishly just before you put down his food bowl, you’ve just reinforced a negative behavior. Make it clear by waiting and rewarding the appropriate behavior that only sitting and looking at you (his way of saying “please”) works to get him what he wants.
Leash Training Your Puppy
For leash training, start with your puppy tethered to you with the leash tied around your waist or attached to your belt for at least 1-2 hours a day. Do this during a time when you’re walking around the house doing other things such as tidying, cleaning, or cooking. Every time you stop or stand still and he sits, give him a treat. This will make the leash a positive experience and your puppy will learn to walk by your side in an environment that he already considers safe. Avoid things with “scary” noises such as vacuums or blenders.
Now you’re ready to try your puppy on a short leash-walk outside. Quiet streets with few distractions are best for your puppy’s first few walks outdoors. Your puppy will likely do one of two things at first, either try to run ahead and pull on the leash, or stand still and not want to walk.
If your puppy pulls, stop and stand stationary before he gets to the end of the leash. This will signal to him that this walk is according to your rules, and he doesn’t get to go wherever he wants. Stand stationary and wait until he comes back and sits in front of you looking for direction. As soon as he sits, give him a treat and start walking again. Do this every time he runs ahead and pulls.
If your puppy is too nervous to walk on a leash initially, bend down and use treats to coax him forward. It’s also okay to use his regular kibble instead of treats, especially if he needs a lot of coaxing. Make mealtime a leash training exercise, that way he’s working to earn what he really wants. After a few walks with good leash behavior, you can start to add distractions and things that may be “scary” such as buses, loud trucks, or other people and dogs.
Puppy Chewing Behaviors
A naughty habit your puppy might be attempting to learn by this time is chewing. Because all objects appear to be toys to a puppy, they love to chew on inappropriate objects such as leashes, shoes, and arms. NEVER let a puppy chew on your arm. While it may seem cute at first, it’s vital that your puppy learns at a young age that humans are not meant to be chewed on.
When your puppy chews on you, try saying “ow!” or “out!” really loud - loud enough to startle him. When he lets go and looks at you, reward him with a treat and then put something more appropriate in his mouth. If the loud sound doesn’t work, shove the treat in your puppy’s face and once he let’s go, put a toy in his mouth instead.
We can train puppies to only chew on the things that we want them to by providing appropriate toys and redirecting play towards those toys. When your puppy is chewing on something that you don’t want him to, wave a more appropriate toy in his face and wait for him to grab it. You can even make the appropriate toy more fun by playing tug of war or by putting treats inside the toy.
Training Your Puppy to ‘Come’
Another important skill that you’ll want to teach your puppy is to come when called. Because puppies like to follow, they often will begin with perfect recall every time. Once your puppy becomes more independent however, he’ll likely no longer care to follow you.
In order to turn your puppy’s follow into a recall, only call your puppy when you’re sure he will come. You may need to do this on a leash if your puppy is already starting to feel independent, that way he has no other option but to come. When he does come, make sure to give him a good reward, whether it’s a special treat or a short round of play time, possibly both.
The ultimate goal is to make coming when called so much fun that your puppy immediately runs in your direction full speed the first time he hears you call him. Once he’s got it down, you can add distractions, like toys or other playmates. It’s okay to attach him to a leash at this point in the training if you haven’t already, that way you can pull on the leash and then run in the other direction once you’ve got his attention. In this way you’re training him that coming when called is just as exciting as playing with other dogs or exploring new things.
Collar Grab Training
Training your dog to accept a sudden collar grab is important because you never know when you might have to suddenly grab your puppy to get him out of trouble. If they aren’t used to having their collar grabbed, many dogs will react to this by becoming scared or thinking that they need to defend themselves.
To train this, grab his collar and gently guide his face several inches towards a big treat. This way, he learns to associate a collar grab with getting a reward and won’t react with fear or aggression. At first, make sure that the treat is fairly close to his head, so he doesn’t have to be pulled very far. When you’re sure he’s comfortable with this, try holding the treat further away, so that you have to grab his collar and move his head further. Once he becomes comfortable with the collar grab, he’ll move his own head to where he thinks you’re holding the treat, despite the fact that you’re grabbing his collar.
Additional Puppy Training Tips
Remember that puppies have a very short attention span. Training shouldn’t just be about food rewards, it’s also about making the exercises feel like play. If you keep the training interesting, you’ll keep your puppy’s interest. If your puppy gets bored, he’ll walk away and seek out something that he deems more interesting, which will often be a bad puppy behavior that you’re seeking to eliminate. It’s also important not to allow for situations where your puppy might get into trouble by being unsupervised or allowed too much freedom.
When not with you, your puppy should be in his crate, tethered away from you in the same room, or in an exercise pen. Training a perfectly polite puppy may take a bit longer than you expected, especially since you’re both learning at the same time.
Additionally, it may take some effort to train all of the human family members in your household to interact with the new puppy in appropriate ways. But if you work at it and make training fun, your puppy will continue to improve. With consistent training, these polite behaviors will become permanent habits.
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