Basic Training

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These ‘rules’ apply to all types of training, and will encourage learning through consistency and trust.

Reward based training relies on the dog believing the reward is worth more to him than whatever else it is he is doing or able to do. This reward should be reserved for training times only, and not given as a general treat, or for general play if a toy is used. That then keeps the item interesting and a high motivator.

Clickers are a great auditory marker, but need careful introduction. Start by presenting the clicker to your pup, and let him sniff it and investigate it. Once he has done so move it to your side and click it, and immediately give him a reward and praise. After a few clicks and rewards, walk away from your pup and let him go about his usual activities. Then interrupt him with a click and a treat. This will only take 1-2 sessions and he will learn that a click means he’s getting a reward, but be aware that over-extending this introduction phase can lead to difficulty in concentration later on in training. Carefully read the instructions given with your clicker, and if needed ask for a demonstration or further assistance if you are unsure.

Train in 5 minute sessions, with many sessions taking place throughout the day. Learning is taxing to a pup, and he may need a rest after each session to begin with. Boredom is also a very real problem if you train for too long or too frequently. Keep your voice happy and encouraging, and never punish, shout at or ‘correct’ a dog if they slip up.

Start training new commands in the house, then the garden and then in busier places such as the road side or park. There are 3 stages to command learning – learning, generalising, and proofing. When a command is in the learning stage, the pup will find it very hard to respond if it is in a distracting place, these commands are learned best in the home. When in this stage, rewards should be given each and every time the behaviour is presented. Once the command is understood in the home, take it into garden training sessions. Gardens are full of smells and other interesting things, so serve as a good transition between the home, and the super distracting outside world! Again during garden training a command just learned should be rewarded each and every time the behaviour is given. This command can then be used in the outside world, but be aware that there are a myriad of interesting things out there, so your pup may be slow to respond or won’t respond at all. If they don’t respond, try again after a short while and remember that praise and a reward should be given each time they respond correctly to the command.

Once a command is being reliably responded to, the reinforcement process begins. At this stage you reduce the frequency of reward, however don’t stop rewarding completely or the command will be ignored. At this stage rewards should be given randomly, in random amounts. For example if you are reinforcing recall reward every second time with a couple of treats, or a longer play session with a favourite toy. This method uses the same part of a dog’s brain that a slot machine uses in ours – we didn’t win last time, we have to win this time! It encourages faster and more consistent responses to the command, because the ‘jackpot’ might be waiting.

Sadly, most people stop at this stage, without proofing a command. Proofing is a hard-mode of the command. Can they sit and look at you when there are balls being thrown around, or there are other dogs playing, or kids running about nearby (but not around, I wouldn’t sit about if some kids were screaming around me in circles, don’t expect your dog too either). At this stage the proofing should happen in short bursts so as not to over stimulate the pup. If they manage to do what they are asking, they need a huge jackpot – after all they are breaking their natural instincts to do what you are asking them, a thank you is the least we can offer them! Once the command is presented with various distractions, it is then proofed. After this rewards only need to be used sparsely, and lower value rewards can be used.

When training try not to bombard your pup with commands- keep it short and simple and don’t repeat the command over and over again if he doesn’t appear to be getting it. If he struggles with any training go back to the previous stage (for example if he struggles with stay at 2 paces, go back to one pace) before continuing. Doing this may seem like backwards logic, but it’s much like riding a bike. If you can’t stay upright without stabilisers, you put the stabilisers back on and try again another time.

If you have any questions at this stage please seek advice before continuing.

How to train basic commands

Teaching their name

Teaching your pup his name is quite important, especially in multi-dog households. It is beneficial for all dogs to understand that their name means them, and when it is used they need to pay attention.

Use your pup’s natural instinct to your advantage – when he comes towards you say his name and reward him for moving towards you. When you want his attention say his name and when he moves his head towards you reward him.

Recall

Recall training is the training of a dog to return to you from a distance when given a particular cue – the most common being “come”. Start training this after your dogs gives you his attention when his name is used- it is very common for dogs to think their name means come!

Start in your house, while your dog is away from you. Call his name, and then say come and make encouraging motions and sounds for him to come towards you. When he gets to you say “come, good boy!” and then reward with lots of praise and a treat or toy.

Then progress to calling from a different room, and then outside in the garden before progressing into the park. When in the park- for hopefully obvious reasons- the best way to teach recall is using a long training lead, of at least 9m length. Practice as you did in the house and garden, however he may become distracted by smells, sights and sounds very easily, so you may need to repeat the command a number of times before he responds initially. Regardless of the time it takes to respond, always reward and praise. It is tempting to shout at a dog that responds slowly, not at all, or becomes distracted halfway but it will only serve to cause fear of you, and anxiety towards the command.

Sit

Sit is one of the most commonly used commands in a dog’s life, so a good foundation is crucial to a lasting response. Start by getting your puppies attention by calling his name and letting him sniff a treat in a closed hand, or see his favourite toy in your hand. Once you have his attention raise the reward above his head just out of reach, as soon as, or preferably the instant before, he lowers his back end to the ground, say “sit” and immediately reward. Continue in this manner for a number of training sessions, before using the cue to ask for the behaviour. Once the verbal cue is understood, you can then add in a hand signal if desired. A common hand signal for sit would be a clenched fist, or open hand, raised from your side to your chest however everyone has a different preferred signal. Never use physical force to put your pup in the desired position- it’s not only highly confusing but can damage leg muscles, tendons, ligaments and even the growth points in joints.

Lie Down

Again, get your puppies attention and let him know a reward is available, ask him to sit. Lower the reward towards the ground between his front feet and slowly move it away from him. Again this may take a number of tries, when his elbows touch the floor say “lie down” or whichever verbal cue is preferred and then reward and praise the behaviour. As with sit, never physically force him into the position!

Release cue

A release cue is a verbal cue that lets your dog know they are finished with whatever they are doing, and is useful to teach in parallel with teaching wait and stay. They are useful for ending training sessions, especially when multi-commands are used and the dog is highly focused on you.  You can use whatever verbal or hand signal you like – mine is “done” with an open hand moved at my side like I’m about to throw an underarm. Common release cues are “okay”, “done” and “gone” but really it is best to use whatever word you feel most comfortable with using, the same goes for hand signals.

Wait

A point to note at this stage is that wait and stay are used for different things. Wait is used when you wish the dog the maintain their current pose, with you in front or beside them, for example when waiting at a kerb, or waiting before a ball is thrown or a lead is removed. Teaching wait can take quite some time, and remember you can only teach patience by showing patience!

Start off small – ask your pup to sit, or lie down, whichever is most comfortable for him and then say wait and offer a hand signal (common hand signals are one finger raised in front of you). After a second, click (if using), reward and praise. Gradually increase the time between the command and the reward, but take your time! Set your dog up to win, and don’t ask too much of him too early – frustration is just as upsetting for him as it is for you!

Once a wait of 5 seconds can be maintained, start introducing the release cue, and give your pup a short break to play with you before continuing.

Stay

Stay is used to ask the dog to remain in the position while you can walk away, turn your back and even go out of eye line. A common hand signals for this command is an open palm towards the dog extended outwards from your body.

Once wait is trained to a reinforcement stage, begin by asking him to wait in a comfortable position. With his attention on you then say “stay”, give your preferred hand signal and take one step back. Immediately reward if he maintained his position, if not have a small break and start again. Gradually increase the distance you put between you and your dog, and add in side steps. If any stage fails, take a small break and try the previous stage again before attempting the harder stage a second time.

Eventually you can ask him to stay and walk in a full circle around him!

Stand

Start with your pup either lying down or sitting in front of you, with his attention on you. Show him his reward and say “stand”, then raise the reward up and slightly away from him (the opposite of lie down) and click (if using), reward and praise as soon as he stands on all four feet. Initially reward all stands even if he moves slightly from his starting spot, eventually you can select only the stands where he doesn’t move from his starting spot to reward.

Toilet Training

All dogs instinctively want to toilet away from their sleeping, eating and drinking areas. To help your puppy do this, ensure he has regular trips into the garden, preferable before any movements begin. Moving a dog whilst it is toileting can cause a fear association with toileting, and can cause strain injuries to their urethra and anus. To begin with, it may seem like your puppy toilets anywhere and everywhere. It is often a case of unfamiliarity, but can also be a sign of being removed from a litter too early without developing conscious bodily control.

Take your puppy outside into the garden at least once every half hour, and give him 5-10 minutes to do the toilet. If he doesn’t take him back in and wait for the next outing. If your dog does have an accident in the house, never tell him off for it! Dogs are incapable of complex rationalisation. You may think you are telling him off for toileting inside, but he will think you are telling him off for simply toileting. If an accident occurs, clean it up calmly, with non-toxic cleaners.

When your puppy manages to toilet outside, make it the most brilliant thing he could ever have done. Give him lots of praise, a reward and make sure he knows you are super proud of him. This way he learns that people like it when he toilets outside and he gets cuddles, whereas if he toilets inside, nothing fun happens. Gross, I know.

Avoid the use of puppy pads, unless you are in a situation where the only outdoor toileting areas are used by other dogs outside your household. In this instance feel free to use them until your dog has had both of its first vaccinations. Puppy pads are best used when placed in the same spot all the time, so avoid putting them in random places as it will confuse your puppy. Have one in each room that the puppy has access to initially, then reduce to only the rooms he often toilets in. If he toilets away from the puppy pad you have placed, place an extra one in that location as he may simply prefer to toilet in that particular spot.

Again, when your puppy toilets on a pad, give plenty of praise and a reward. Once your puppy has been fully vaccinated use the above method primarily, and puppy pads as a ‘back up’.

Correcting behaviours

This will be covered more in depth in another guide, but this should provide a good footing on how to proceed.

NEVER use aversion methods! Puppies are extremely sensitive to fears and fears he develops now will follow him into adulthood and will likely cause other behavioural issues. Aversion methods include water spray bottles, bottles with stones in, physical punishment, vocal punishment, anti-bark collars and devices, shock collars and devices and any other method that causes a break in a behaviour by scaring, startling, hurting or intimidating the puppy.

Redirect behaviours such as chewing and other destructive behaviours onto a suitable toy. Always reward the behaviour you want, whether with play, praise or a food reward.

As mentioned above, this will be covered in a more in-depth fashion in a later guide, but should you need assistance, please get in touch as soon as possible.