As a professional puppy trainer, I’m often asked to try and sum up puppy training into a few golden rules or the real key lessons people need to take in to start making progress. It’s impossible really, but here are some of the foundation principles I teach to everyone on my group puppy courses, or at One-to-One training sessions.
1) Enjoy training.
I promise you that your puppy will enjoy being trained. Being naughty is not in a puppy’s nature. They have energy and bounce and play, but being taught to focus and channel that energy (and getting treats for it) is huge fun to a puppy. But for that to happen, you need to enjoy it too. Your tone and attitude towards the puppy need to be positive, reassuring and happy. It’s a great bonding exercise and it will only strengthen your relationship, making your dog a happier pet who knows their place in the family, and what’s expected of it, so don’t see it as a chore, and don’t get strict or stern.
2) It’s all about rewards.
When a puppy does something you like, and gets a reward for it, it will try to work out what it was rewarded for and it will do it again. If so, then you should reward it again, and you’ll very quickly start to behind a strong understanding in your puppy’s mind. And don’t be stingey. If you reward a sit, and then the puppy gives you another sit, because it’s learning to get rewards from sitting, that’s a BIG deal. That’s the whole point of the exercise. So give it the reward it deserves.
3) Baby steps.
Even if your puppy seems to grasp things well, avoid rushing on and pushing hard for progress. Your puppy is still a puppy, and this needs to be fun. You want to keep the behaviours that you are training positive and happy things for a puppy to do. That means moving on in tiny steps. If you feel like your puppy is getting a little lost, or confused, then you’ve pushed too far. Go back to something you know your puppy has mastered, make it all nice and easy and fun again, and then push on much more slowly. And maybe take a break – learning is tiring and they need regular breaks.
4) Punishment does not work!
This is so important. Whatever you’re training – there will be a good and a bad option for the puppy. If you’re teaching it to sit, then not sitting is “the other behaviour” – so you could call it “wrong”. If you’re house training the puppy then going outside is great, but pooing on your living room carpet is simply the other behaviour. It’s “bad”. But if you punish a puppy that is not sitting, there are several problems here:
- Your puppy won’t understand why it’s being punished – what action actually caused the punishment? Maybe it was standing up, or lying down, and got punished. Is standing up “bad”?
- Your punishment does not show the puppy what you want it to do, or even how to avoid future punishment.
- Your puppy will be unhappy and fearful of you. The puppy is still trying to work out what you do and don’t want from it, so there are much kinder and more effective ways to teach the right behaviours.
Keep these golden rules in mind as you go through your puppy training and you’ll be on the right track. For any further guidance or questions, Puppy Perfect is here to help.