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Training Your Puppy

By: Dr. Ilana Reisner

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Even the youngest new puppy can learn to "sit," "lie down," "stay" and "come" when asked. But looking at your innocent new puppy, it's hard to imagine that training would be necessary at all. Of course, it always is. During training, we should view our pets as companions who both understand and respond to us. Training should be considered as a means of teaching pets good manners so that, as our puppies mature into adult dogs, they'll be welcome both in our homes and outdoors in public. For practical purposes, training should be initiated as early as possible.

Reward System

Puppies learn best when they receive exciting rewards for their efforts. Even the youngest and tiniest puppy will be enthusiastic about food treats and will be eager to work with you. Experiment to find your puppy's favorite reward, whether it's food, a tossed toy or a warm word of praise. Only positive, gentle methods should be used – punishment is likely to harm your puppy's confidence and has no place in good training. Puppies, like children and even adult humans, learn best when they enjoy the learning process and receive something in return. In the home or in the park, differences are usually very obvious between reward-trained dogs and those trained by force.

Command System

Training should utilize word cues – "commands" – that will be of practical use to you as your pup's human companion. The most helpful tools are "sit," "lay down," "stay" and "come." It's also important to teach your puppy to walk on a leash without tugging. If you have intentions of enrolling your dog in obedience competition, you will need to train a formal "heel" but this can wait until your puppy is older. For future obedience competition candidates, enrolling your pup in a puppy training class is highly advisable.

Lure System

The most effective teaching method, using "sit" as an example, is to allow your puppy to engage in the behavior on her own rather than pushing her into position. Small bits of food (even your puppy's regular kibble) can be used as a "lure" after offering a few "free" pieces first. With food in hand, present your hand to the puppy's nose and then slowly raise it toward the top of her head, so that her mouth and head are directed upward. In most cases, when the nose points up, the tail end goes down and your puppy's sitting! The food should then immediately be relinquished and the exercise repeated.

Lures can be used effectively to train "down" by having your puppy sit facing you, then drawing the lure from her nose to the floor and then back toward you. When your puppy's sitting or lying down reliably each time you offer the lure, you can introduce the words – sit or down – along with the lure.

Finally, when she's responding like a pro, the rewards should be cut back and given only every other time, then every third time and, finally, only randomly.

Obedience Classes

Lures, rewards, timing and other aspects of positive training are best demonstrated, and then guided, by experienced trainers. If you have resources in your city or town, consider enrolling your young (and vaccinated) puppy in a "kindergarten" training class designed specifically for the young pet. Puppy kindergartens usually include basic, reward-based training, along with plenty of playtime and discussions about care and behavior. Obedience centers also offer puppy or pre-novice training sessions designed to teach on a slightly more serious level. Many dog owners will proceed from one level to the next – first with a puppy, then with an adolescent and later with their young adult dog - who by now is proficient at basic obedience commands. Training should be fun for you and your dog.

A lifetime of good manners can start with training the youngest of puppies. If she's old enough to be away from her mother and littermates, she's old enough to learn simple commands. The result isn't only a well-behaved and welcome canine companion but one whose quality of life is enhanced in the long run. She'll be more likely to accompany you on trips, on visits to friends' houses and, because she'll have learned to come when called, she'll be ready for that great day when she first runs free on a sandy beach.

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