New Puppy Basics

Here are some good things to remember about how your new puppy learns and how to get the best results from training.

1. Positive reinforcement training is the best way to teach your puppy good behavior and develop a great relationship in the process. Puppies learn by the consequence of their actions. That means rewarded behavior gets repeated. Behavior that doesn’t get rewarded diminishes. Attention is one of the most rewarding things you can give your puppy and withdrawing attention is one of the most effective negative consequences you can use to stop undesirable behavior.

2. As you interact with your puppy, you want to think about catching him in the act of doing something good. Reward spontaneous acts of good behavior. As your new puppy is jumping and chewing and biting and stealing, if you provide lots of attention during these episodes, your puppy is likely to find that attention rewarding – even if you are saying no – and he will continue to do these things. Then, when your puppy does get tired and lies down quietly, you think – oh good, let’s leave him alone. These are times that you want to go over and calmly praise your puppy and give him a tiny treat. He may get up and follow you, but ignore that and continue to reward him when he sits or lies down or looks at you on his own. Pretty soon your puppy will start doing these things automatically.

3. Another rule of thumb is to not focus on what you don’t want your puppy to do, but what you want him to do instead. So when your puppy is jumping, instead of saying NO, teach your puppy to SIT and you can teach him that sitting is more rewarding than jumping. He gets attention when he’s sitting, not when he’s jumping. If your puppy is chewing furniture, teach him that chewing a bone or playing with a toy is more rewarding. All of these things will help your puppy choose the right behaviors on his own.

4. As you start to teach your puppy good manners, you need to be aware of his ability to learn in different situations. You want to think in terms of teaching your puppy each behavior first at Kindergarten level and working up very gradually to college level. The factors that determine these grade levels – or degrees of difficulty- are duration, distractions and distance.

When in a familiar or room, it’s easy for your puppy to learn. When there are no distractions, it’s easy for your puppy to focus on you. When you’re close to your puppy, it’s easier for him to pay attention. If any one of these things changes, you’ve just skipped a grade or two. So, if you move into a new room in the house, you’ve just increased the difficulty. If you’re in the familiar room but there are toys on the floor (distractions), then you’ve just made it harder for your puppy. And if you move 5 feet way, its now tougher for your puppy to focus on you. Be aware of these things as you teach your puppy any new behavior and always set up your training to allow your puppy to be successful. Then move gradually from Kindergarten to College by changing just one variable at a time.

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Coming When Called

Getting your dog to come to you on cue is one of the nicest things you can do for your dog. Knowing that your dog will return whenever you want her to allows you to give her freedom to play and go where she wants to — within reason.  The recall, along with a solid “emergency down” may save her life one day, so it’s worth putting some time into training her to respond quickly.

So how to build this solid recall? First, choose a word for the cue.  If your dog is a puppy, you can choose whatever you want, just stick to it.  If your dog is a rescue, you might want to pick something out-of-the-ordinary as your cue.  She might have bad associations with “come” from her previous guardian.  Just test it out, and she’ll tell you.  If she ignores you, that’s okay.  If she runs away, that’s a sign you should use a different word.

Let’s assume that your recall cue is “come.” You want this to be one of the best words your dog knows.  It means, “run to me, there’s a party over here!”  The idea is to never let your dog know that there is something better than coming to you.  So never say “come” when you think your dog may not do it.  The second thing to be sure that you do not do is doing something scary after your dog comes to you.  When your dog comes when you call her, do not do anything that she does not like.  That includes nail-clipping, putting the leash to leave the park, or yelling at her for pouncing on the neighbor’s cat.  The last thing she did was come to you — you don’t want to punish that, you should reward it!  You’ll have to be satisfied with telling her, in a nice, upbeat voice, what a rotten dog she is.

Finally, the last bit of negative advice is to never chase after your dog. You do not want her to think that running away from you is a fun game.  Whether she has a sock, you need to take her out of the park, or you just think its fun, chasing is not the answer.

The major steps in teaching the recall are to introduce the cue and then practice in a huge number of different circumstances. Vary how far away you are from the dog and how many distractions there are.  When you make one aspect harder, make the other one easier.  You might use a long line for safety or as a gentle reminder of your existence, but don’t use it to tug your dog to you.  If you need the line very often, you are pushing her too fast. Set your dog up for success.

  1. Introduce the cue to your dog. Do this somewhere where you know the dog will come to you.  Have a treat handy, behind your back, for example. Have your dog about two or three feet away.  In a friendly voice (not a command or a question, but an invitation), say “Puppy, come” (the dog’s name here is Puppy). Then show her the treat and take a step backward.  Lean away from her, not into her.  Leaning in is doggish for “stop.”  Puppy runs over, gets clicked for showing up, and gets her treat.  Not just one treat, but several, one at a time (only one click).  Make it a real party. If she likes to be petted, now is a good time.  But be careful — she may often like petting, but maybe not all the time.  Watch what she does.  If she ducks away from your hand, now is not a good time.
  2. Practice from further away. Do the same activity from 6 feet away. You say “Puppy, come,” then get her to come to you somehow. She doesn’t fully know the cue yet, so you want to make sure that she comes to you. Legal moves on your part are: waving the food in front of her face and running away; making kissy noises; clucking with your tongue; clapping your hands, etc.  Illegal moves: walking over and grabbing her by the scruff of the neck or in some other way making “come” a scary word.

You don’t have to have a party every time now, but at least twice a day, take a full 30 seconds to reward her for coming to you. Continue that procedure for a long time, at least a few months. On times when you just give one treat, you can practice a few times in a row.  To get her to go away from you, throw a treat and make sure she sees it fly.  Then you can call her again.

  1. Practice not luring her to you. When your dog has a clue about what “come” means, start calling her without waving food around or making smoochy noises, from the same distance as before, or closer.  If she doesn’t start coming to you in a few seconds, make noise or get her attention and run away.  Toss the treat to make her leave you, then call her as soon as she’s gulped it down.
  2. Practice as part of living. Call her to you whenever you are about to do something good to her or for her.  Feeding time is a great example.  If you want to take her for a walk or let her out into the yard, those are good times, too.  If she knows sit, then call her to you, ask for a sit, then give her dinner, let her out, or clip on the leash.  Remember, only call her for the fun stuff, so don’t call her to give her a bath!
  3. Practice from even further away. Work up to ten feet, or fifteen, if she’ll do it. All indoors, with low distractions.  Reward generously.
  4. Practice with distractions, closer in. Now make it harder for her by increasing the distraction level. We don’t want to make it too hard, so have her closer to you, say 5 feet away.   Keep increasing the level of distraction and the distance until you have the recall you want.   Make sure that any time you call her, you are willing to do what it takes to get her to come to you.  This may mean running away (one of my favorites) or running up to her, showing the treat, and then running away (safer method).  It may mean waiting her out, if she’s not entertaining herself by not coming.  When she doesn’t come when you call her, you are simply moving beyond what she is ready for.  Simply make it easier for her in some way and build reliability slowly.
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Introducing the crate to your puppy

In order that your puppy associate his/her kennel crate with comfort, security and enjoyment, please follow these guidelines:


Occasionally throughout the day, drop small pieces of kibble or dog biscuits in the crate. While investigating his new crate, the pup will discover edible treasures, thereby reinforcing his positive associations with the crate. You may also feed him in the crate to create the same effect. If the dog hesitates, it often works to feed him in front of the crate, then right inside the doorway and then, finally, in the back of the crate.


In the beginning, praise and pet your pup when he enters. Do not try to push, pull or force the puppy into the crate. At this early stage of introduction only inducive methods are suggested. Overnight exception: You may need to place your pup in his crate and shut the door upon retiring. (In most cases, the crate should be placed next to your bed overnight. If this is not possible, the crate can be placed in the kitchen, bathroom or living room.)


You may also play this enjoyable and educational game with your pup or dog: without alerting your puppy, drop a small dog biscuit into the crate. Then call your puppy and say to him, “Where’s the biscuit? It’s in your room.” Using only a friendly, encouraging voice, direct your pup toward his crate. When the puppy discovers the treat, give enthusiastic praise. The biscuit will automatically serve as a primary reward. Your pup should be free to leave its crate at all times during this game. Later on, your puppy’s toy or ball can be substituted for the treat.


It is advisable first to crate your pup for short periods of time while you are home with him. In fact, crate training is best accomplished while you are in the room with your dog. Getting him used to your absence from the room in which he is crated is a good first step. This prevents an association being made with the crate and your leaving him/her alone.


Leave the room for short periods of time when he is in the crate. Come back and praise for quiet, calm behavior. Leave for longer periods of time – then vary the times – so he’ll get used to being alone in the crate first while you are home.


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