Puppies are empty slates waiting to be filled with information. The information the puppy gets is very important to how the pup will behave as an adult. If you want a dog with good manners, is good around all people and is secure with the environment you need to imprint these behaviors while the pup is very young. The socialization and imprinting phase is from approximately 28 days of age through the 4th month of age. You can teach your puppy obedience skills (basic through advanced), hand signals, tricks, tracking plus much more before the pup turns 5 months of age. When imprinting you do a lot of show and tell, you do not expect that the pup will be accurate just that he gets the skills imprinted. If you wait until the pup is 6 months old you lose the phase of his life when learning comes easy, it is better to instill good behaviors while your pup is young rather than try to solve issues later that should never have been allowed to take place.
To start working your puppy you will need a 6 foot leather or nylon lead, a buckle collar and some treats. I don’t like to use treats for every aspect of puppy training, for obedience work I would rather hand place the puppy so that I get the response to command quickly instead of waiting for the pup to give me the response while being lured with a treat. I want the pup to understand the action with the command word so hand placement is the fastest, easiest way to accomplish this. Plus I want the puppy responding to my praise as a reward not responding just to get the treat. Treats do have their place in training puppies though and will be used when teaching the “Recall” command as well as during socialization to people and environment.
When the puppy has had a vaccination or two you can start taking the puppy out into the environment. If you make it a point to introduce your pup to 10 new experiences a day you will have a calm confident puppy by the time he is 5 months old. These experiences are only limited by your imagination.
Things you could introduce your puppy to are:
Environmental; different types of footing such as grass, concrete, gravel, grates (use caution that the grate is not large enough for a paw to slip through), metal, tile (or other slippery surfaces), water (let pup explore while on lead), cars, trucks (semi, garbage etc), motorcycles, sirens, stairs (both closed and open backed), wind from fans or air conditioners, vacuum cleaners, loud noises such as dropping a metal pan on a concrete floor.
People; men of all ages, women of all ages, children, different skin colors, beards, hats, wheelchairs, walkers, crutches.
Animals; other dogs that are safe for your puppy to be around (you should know the dog personally, don’t trust a strangers dog to be nice to your puppy!), cats, chickens, horses, cows, llamas, goats, sheep, rabbits.
Handling; bathing, brushing, combing, nail trimming, ear cleaning/plucking, sound of scissors, sound of clippers, having teeth looked at or brushed, handling the tail.
These are just some things that you could introduce your young puppy to. If the puppy shows hesitation or fear when seeing something for the first time bring out your treats and see if you can lure the pup toward whatever seems scary. Do not force the puppy up to something he is afraid of but do not let him run off either. When the puppy is afraid or hesitant do not say “its ok” or pet the puppy while he is showing this type of reaction or you will be giving the pup permission to act this way. Think about it, puppy is scared, you pet him and console him; puppy thinks “I am being praised for showing fear so I was right to be afraid of….. Not the message you want to give the puppy! When the puppy gets brave and moves toward the scary thing you can encourage with you voice; “that’s a good puppy, way to go! Good dog! When the pup touches or interacts with the scary thing then you can give physical praise to let him know how proud you are that he is so brave! You will reward with praise and treats all attempts to move toward the scary situation and ignore when the pup tries to flee or hide.
Imprinting obedience is easy when working with a very young puppy as they do not have any bad habits at this point. You will want to introduce the commands of: Let’s go, Heel, Sit, Down, Stay, Come, Wait and a release command such as “Free” or “Break”.
The puppy should be leash broke before starting any commands so we will cover this first. The easiest way to leash break a puppy is to put the collar and lead on him in the house and let the puppy drag the leash around while supervised so that he gets the feel of resistance on the collar when the lead passes around objects. You can pick the lead up and follow the pup for a bit then put a little pressure on the lead and make the pup move towards you a few steps. When the pup will walk with you without fighting you are ready to start training.
“Let’s Go” is a phrase I use when I want my dog to walk with me but not in heel position. The dog is allowed to sniff, walk on either side and does not have to sit when I stop. The only rule to this command is the dog cannot pull on the leash at any time. Your puppy needs to have respect for the leash and the person who is holding it. You are in charge of the walk as far as pace and direction and the puppy needs to learn to respect that fact. If the puppy starts to pull on the lead give a quick tug towards yourself while saying something like “easy”. The tug should be very quick with an immediate release of pressure (do not try to pull the pup towards you or use tension on the leash to restrain him) followed with verbal praise as the lead should now be slack, you will have created that slack by using the quick tug. The puppy will start to understand that every time he pulls out on the lead he gets the quick pop and when the lead is slack you give lots of verbal praise. Be consistent with this correction every time the pup pulls so that you give him a clear message. If you correct sometimes and allow him to pull other times the pup will never learn what you expect.
The “Sit” command is an easy one to teach the puppy. If you have the puppy “sit” for his meals, treats and petting he will soon be acting mannerly instead of jumping all over you for these things. It also teaches puppy that he needs to obey you to get things he may really want. Kneel on the ground with the puppy standing beside you (preferably on your left). Place your right hand on his chest right about the breast bone and your left hand on his croup (just in front of where his tail connects to his body) with your fingers pointing towards his tail. You will restrain forward motion with your right hand as you press down and forward on his croup (like a scooping motion) to tuck his rear under him while commanding “Sit”, make sure the puppy is sitting squarely on his rear, not slouched over on one hip so that he develops good habits now. Say the command one time only, once the puppy is sitting praise for 5-15 seconds before releasing him. If the puppy gets up before you end the exercise simply place his rear back on the ground without saying anything, once the puppy is sitting again you can praise with “good sit”. Release the puppy with a word like “free”, “break”, “at ease” or whatever you choose to be his “release” word, all praise stops when the puppy is released from command. Place the puppy in the sit position 3 times in a row with about 5-15 seconds of praise while sitting before you release. Work on the sit as many times during the day that you have available.
The “Down” is a bit harder to teach to the puppy because they want to be up and active. You will want to work on this command while the puppy is very young as it saves a lot of struggle later once the dog has size and weight to resist. With the puppy in a sit position (you are kneeling on the floor next to the pup preferably with the pup on your left) slip your left hand under his collar at the back of his neck, your palm will be facing up. Slide your right hand behind the front leg closest to you and grasp his left front leg, quickly lift his leg up (his right leg will be draped over your arm) and lower the puppy to the ground. Your left hand on the collar allows you to use your forearm to apply a little pressure to the pups shoulder as you lower him to the ground (See pictures). Give the puppy quiet calming praise for 5-15 seconds then release. If the puppy gets up before you release follow the steps above and place him back down without command, once he is down you may praise with “good down”. Repeat this exercise 3 times in a row each time you train.
Teaching the puppy to “Stay” is pretty easy if you take your time. We do not expect the puppy to stay for long periods of time as his attention span will hinder him in the “remember what you are doing” department! We are just imprinting this command for refining later on so don’t try to get any more than a 30 second sit stay by the end of the first week. The puppy needs to know the “sit” command before teaching the “stay”.
The progression of the “Stay”:
Sit stay day 1: Have the puppy sitting beside you on your left side. Gather up the lead into your left hand, holding if fairly short bring the lead up and angle it slightly toward the puppy’s rear with mild pressure. This angle on the lead will keep the pups head up and his weight on his rear making it easier for you to keep him in the sit position. Make sure there is only mild pressure on the lead, you do not want to cut off pups’ air or he will jump upwards to relieve the pressure on his neck. Bring your right hand across the front of your body, your palm facing the puppy and firmly command “stay”, do not bend over to put your hand in the puppy’s face, give the signal from a normal standing position. Pivot in front of the puppy by stepping across his path with your right foot then pivoting to face him (make sure you keep pressure on the lead toward the pups rear) and count to 5 (a true 5 second count), pivot back to the pups side, wait 2 seconds then release. Work the 5 second stay 5 times in a row each session for as many sessions as you have time for in a day.
Day 2: Start the stays as you did on day one. Do 5 stays at 5 seconds then for every 5 stays you do add 5 seconds until you get to 30 seconds. You will still be standing right in front of the puppy keeping steady lead pressure towards his rear while working on increasing the time. You must pivot back to the pups’ side each time to praise and release. Do not release the pup while you are standing in front of him.
Day 3: Start out as before but after you pivot in front of the puppy you will then take one step backwards. Keep the lead pressure angled toward his rear as before (you may have to stretch forward to keep the lead pressure constant). Because you are taking a step backwards you will drop your time to 5 seconds for the first 5 stays. This gives the pup an easier element; shorter time, with an unknown element; more distance. Add 5 seconds for every 5 stays until you get back to 30 seconds. Remember to return to the pups’ side to praise and release.
Day 4: Start out as before but after you pivot in front you will take two steps backwards. Your arms are not 10 feet long so you can no longer keep tension on the lead so it is now loose between you and the pup. Drop your time to 5 seconds and build back up to 30 seconds as before. Remember to return to the pups’ side to praise and release.
You will continue to take an extra step back each day until you are at the end of your 6 foot lead for 30 seconds, remember to drop the time to 5 seconds and build back up to 30 seconds as you add the extra steps away from the puppy. If the puppy moves out of position use the lead to maneuver the puppy back to the original spot where you told him to stay, place him back into a sit position without command and move away from him again without command. You will start to build your puppy’s memory by not repeating the commands; he will have to start thinking about what he was told to do. If the pup moves 50 times you will put him back in position 51! Remember to return to the pups’ side to praise and release.
Once the puppy is holding the sit stay for 30 seconds without moving out of position much you can add a little distraction to his stay work such as your movement at the end of the leash. When you get to the end of the lead you can start walking in an arc to both the left and right, you can tap your foot on the ground, snap your fingers, whistle etc. The puppy should hold position while you move about or make noise. If he breaks use the lead to maneuver him back to the original spot, place him back in position without command and leave him without command to continue your mild distractions. When he has completed the 30 seconds return to his side to praise and release.
When the puppy is doing a good sit stay it is time to add the down stay. Your puppy must have some experience with the down command before you try the down stay. Place your puppy in the down position following the instructions above then firmly command stay. Move away from the pup a foot or two. If the pup gets up to follow you or comes into a sit position go back and replace him into the down without further command and leave him again without further command. If he stays in the down for 5 seconds return to him to praise and release.
You should be able to get out to the end of the 6 foot lead in a couple of days as your puppy should already have experience in the sit stay. If the puppy will not stay down go back and work on the sit stay for a while longer as well as the down placement. When working on the down placement try keeping the pup in a down with you right beside him for 15-30 seconds before you release. Do this for several sessions then try the down stay again.
The “Recall” (come when called) will take the longest time of all the commands to gain reliability. Remember when working with puppies you are not striving for perfection and reliability at this point, you are only imprinting the skill for ease of perfecting later. When teaching the puppy the recall you will want to remember two rules: 1- never call the puppy to you unless you can enforce that he comes every time which means he will have to be on a leash or long line. 2- Always keep it positive! Never call the puppy to you for what the puppy may feel is a negative. Also, of all the commands you will teach your puppy I feel that this one holds the most importance that you only command it once! If your pup is heading toward danger you may not have time to give multiple commands so teach your pup he will only hear it once and he must respond!
To teach this command you will need your leash and a pocket full of yummy treats. Set up your leash by holding the handle of the lead in your right hand and the rest in your left. Start walking forward with the puppy (you can use “heel” or “lets go”). When you get to the point you want to call the puppy you will do three things simultaneously; 1- pause in your step, 2- say the pups name, 3- let go of the leash with your left hand (you have the handle of the lead in your right). This should take all of 2 seconds. Next give your recall command (I like the command “front” vs come as come is used out of context at times such as “come here” or “come on”) and start moving backwards at a pace that is comfortable and safe for you. While moving backwards you will gather in the lead as the puppy moves towards you (do not drag him to you) and cheerlead him with words like “good dog”, “yippee”, “hurry”, “way to go” or ???, DO NOT say his recall word again as you are backing up! Once you get close to the bolt snap of the lead (from gathering the lead as puppy moves toward you) you will slow down then stop moving. Keep a short hold on the lead as you give the puppy a world of verbal and physical praise (primary praise)! Once you have given praise you can give a treat (secondary reward) then release the puppy with his release command. All we are teaching the puppy here is to turn and move quickly towards you when you give the recall word. You are not making the puppy sit in front of you yet, remember you are imprinting. If the puppy jumps on you when he arrives do not scold or correct in any way as that would be a negative. If the puppy gets really excited and tries to jump on you just hold the lead in one hand at about your knee to keep the pups feet on the ground while you praise.
Another way to teach the pup the recall is to have two people, two lines of 15 feet each, treats and a 12 foot straight line of space (a hallway works great). Hook up the two lines to the pups collar (each person has a line) and separate to approximately 12 feet apart. Take turns calling the puppy to you reeling in the line and cheerleading as the pup moves towards you, praise, treat and release so the next person can call. Each person keeps a hold on their line at all times making sure not to pull on the line when the other person is calling the puppy!
The “Wait” command is slightly different than the stay in the sense that we will want more from the puppy once we walk away from him unlike the “stay” were we will return to the puppy’s side every time that command is given. This keeps it clear to the puppy that he needs to pay attention when given the command “wait” verses he can relax when given the command “stay”.
The “Wait” command is very easy to teach once the puppy understands what stay means. I use the “wait” command in competition when doing the recall, moving stand for exam and retrieves. I use “stay” for the long sit, long down and stand for exam. You will couple the two commands together for a few days so that you don’t have to repeat the steps that you used to teach “stay”. When teaching the puppy the wait place him in a sit at your left side, quietly command “stay” then, using the same hand signal (for now) that you used for the stay, command “wait” in a slightly firmer tone of voice. Walk away from the puppy just as you did in the final stages of the stay work. Turn to face the pup at the end of the 6 foot lead, wait 5-15 seconds then command puppy to “come”. This tells puppy that, like the stay, he must wait where you leave him (he hears the word “stay) but the word he heard last (wait) has a different meaning. He will catch on to this pretty quick. Make sure you do just as many regular “stays” as you do combination stay/waits so that the puppy does not forget the stay work. When you have used the combination command for a few days you can then separate the commands. Stay will mean “do not move position until I return to your side” and Wait will mean: pay attention I will want more from you after I leave you”. When you separate the commands start using your left hand, palm facing the dog and fingers toward the ground, as the signal for wait.
If, once you have moved away from the puppy you cannot remember which command you left him on, error on the side of the stay and return to the puppy. There will be no harm done if you return to him on the wait command but it will confuse the pup if you call him off a stay command.
When you leave the puppy on a “Wait” command you can change his position (IE: from sit to down), call him to you (recall) or release him from a distance. This command is useful when getting in or out of the car, going through doors or gates or going up or down stairs (put pup on wait command until you clear the stairs then release pup to come up or down, this way he will not trip you on the stairs!). There are many more uses of the wait command in and around the home.
"Heel" will be introduced in article # 2.
HAVE FUN IMPRINTING!!