How your Dog Learns

Teaching your new dog or puppy is all about providing ‘feedback’ to their actions.

If the feedback or consequence is positive, your puppy will tend to repeat the behavior.  If the feedback is negative, the behavior should diminish.   Praise, affection and attention (even sometimes negative attention) are all ways to provide positive feedback.   Withdrawing attention is an excellent way to provide negative feedback.   Negative feedback need never involve any kind of physical punishment.

For your puppy to learn, this feedback must be Immediate, Consistent and Repetitive.

Immediate feedback is essential because dogs truly live in the moment.   Your dog will associate your feedback with whatever happened immediately prior to that feedback.   For example if you are teaching your puppy his name, its important to praise him the moment he responds by looking at you.   If you’re late with your praise, you may end up praising him looking away.   Likewise with negative feedback, if your puppy has an accident in the house, telling him NO minutes later will teach him nothing.  He will have no idea why you’re upset.   Catching him in the act at that moment, interrupting him and getting him outside is what will teach him the right place to ‘go’.

Consistency is equally important.  Dogs have a ‘slot machine’ mentality.  This means that even if they only occasionally get rewarded for certain behavior, they will continue to repeat it.   Jumping is a good example of this.   Any attention given when an adorable puppy jumps up on you is reinforcing that behavior.   So if sometimes you smile and pet your puppy (and who can resist doing this?), and sometimes you turn away, your puppy will continue to jump.

You may have Repeat this feedback multiple times before your puppy or dog ‘gets it’. So its important to be patient and know this is part of teaching your puppy.    You make the rules for your dog’s behavior.   Its not so much good or bad but desirable or undesirable – what do you want to live with?   Dog on the couch?  Its up to you.  But be consistent with your feedback!!   You’ll only confuse your puppy with inconsistent feedback.

One more important note – the feedback or consequence does not always come from us.  There are ‘self’ rewarding behaviors that we must manage.  Whenever your puppy pees, he feels better because his full bladder is relieved – just like us.  If your puppy pees in the house and you’re not right there to provide feedback, your puppy thinks, ‘I feel better now, I guess I can do this again, in this spot’.    Your job is to making peeing outside more rewarding than peeing inside AND preventing the accidents inside because each time that happens, your puppy is being inadvertently rewarded for that behavior.

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Help for ‘Hand Shy’ Dogs

Accept Reaching Hands and Touching

This exercise will help hand shy dogs become more comfortable with being touched. It is important to begin practicing with familiar and accepted adults first. Again, keep in mind that your objective is not for the dog to merely tolerate, but rather to remain relaxed and enjoy the process, and that an inexperienced helper can get bitten if you proceed too quickly without making sure that the dog is truly accepting rather than merely tolerating the touching.
Goal 1: Relaxed Dog will accept face touch from owner and/or helper.
1. Reach toward dog, stop 6 in. from side of dog’s face, treat from other hand.
2. Repeat reach toward dog, stopping 3 inches from face, treat from other hand.
3. Repeat reach, stopping 2 inches from face, then repeat stopping 1 inch from face.
4. Lightly touch the side of dog’s face.
5. Repeat toward chin.


Goal 2: Relaxed dog will accept collar and body touch from owner and/or helper.
1. As you feed the treat with one hand, touch the dog’s head with the other.
2. As you feed the treat with one hand, touch the dog under the ear and on the ear.
3. As you feed the treat with one hand, touch the side of the dog’s neck.
4. As you feed the dog with one hand, touch the collar.
5. As you feed with one hand, touch the dog’s chest, front legs, back, lower back, belly, down the back legs, the tail, and finally the paws.
6. Progress to touching from different positions and at different speeds.

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Playing with Your Puppy

Playing regularly with your puppy will help you form a strong bond. The purpose of play is to develop skills that will be useful throughout their lives, such as impulse control. The more games you play with your puppy, the more he will consider you to be the most interesting thing in his world. Encouraging puppies to play with toys provides a good outlet for their physical and mental energies.

You puppy should have two sets of toys: toys that he can play with by himself and ‘interactive toys’ that he can only play with you. Keep the interactive toys put away so you initiate play and keep you and the toys interesting to your puppy.

Developing interest in the toy
Rather than just offer your puppy a new toy, take it out, play with it yourself, or play catch with another family member and act like you are having fun. Then put the toy away. Repeat this until your puppy is chomping at the bit to join in the play. Keep toy moving/wiggling along the ground. Then select your special toys that you will put away after every play session.

Enthusiasm first, control later
Build enthusiasm for play first, then put in controls like sit and wait later. Keep the games fun!!

Types of Games
Fetch – often preferred by herding dogs, retrievers and hounds
Tug – often preferred by guard dogs and bull breeds
Shake and Kill- often preferred by terriers

Rules of the Games
Invite your puppy to play with you often
With Tug of War, win more often than you lose
Do not play too roughly
Teach him to “Drop It” on command – stop tugging and trade for treat
Stop before your puppy gets bored – play several short sessions per day
Stop playing immediately if you feel any teeth to skin
Stop playing if your puppy begins to growl or gets over-excited
Always put the toy away after the game

Teaching impulse control
Teaching your puppy control during games will help your adult dog maintain control, even in times of stress or excitement. After your puppy has developed great enthusiasm for the games, practice sits/waits, downs/waits and recalls before and during play.

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