These are my “must do’s” with every puppy that comes into my life, and into my student’s lives. It was really, really HARD to just pick 10, so I may have to throw a bonus in at the end….
- Knowing And Loving Their Name. Sounds silly, right? But the truth is that puppies don’t really know their name, AND, if they do, they sometimes (most times?) hear it said in an angry tone. So basically they learn “When my people say the word “SOPHIE!!!!”, I’d better head for the hills because it usually means something that I don’t like is about to happen.” By just committing to saying your puppy’s name and then following it with something fun and rewarding, you’ll have a puppy who hears his name and comes running to you every time. And that means that even before you teach a formal “Come!” command, he’ll already have the concept of anticipating good things when he hears his name. And since we’re on the subject of coming when called……
- That Coming To Me Is AWESOME. My puppies learn to chase after me to earn tug games, food rewards, meals, and belly rubs. Every time that happens, it’s money in our “come when called” relationship bank. And, when the inevitable time comes that there is an emergency, and I need my her to come to me, guess what happens? She does!
- If I Grab Your Collar, You Can Earn Valuable Prizes! Another important skill to learn! Most puppies have a fight, flight, or fear response when someone reaches for or grabs their collar. Your job is to create a puppy who LOVES to have his collar grabbed and has an expectation of an awesome reward by pairing the grabbing of his collar with feeding him a high value treat, or by having an awesome game of tug.
- Life Is Grand! Sadly, some puppies don’t think so. But they can be converted from pessimistic to optimistic by pairing a potentially scary/unsettling experience with something super rewarding to them. If my puppy was afraid of skateboards, I would NOT go into a skateboard park and sit a few feet away from the skaters, and offer her amazing treats. She might be so stressed out that she wouldn’t even eat! But, I would go to that location, stay in the car with the window rolled down, (or stand outside the car but still be far enough away so that she could relax) and feed her high value treats. At that distance, I know she’d be comfortable enough to take food from me. To maximize my chances of success, Ideally it would be mealtime and I’d have her food with me. Over time, I’d then gradually increase how close I could be to the distraction. And by ‘time’, I mean many sessions and not one, 15-minute period!
- YOU control the rewards! Teach your puppy that he can have his meals, treats, toys, and playtime by earning them through playing games (impulse control, ‘sit means please’, etc.) with you. It’s been scientifically proven that dogs are contra freeloaders, which means that they derive greater joy and value from working for things they love, rather than getting them for free.
- I’m better than your meal bowl. Every day, I hear stories from my students about how excited their puppies get at mealtime when they see their food bowl. And I think, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if your puppy saw YOU and got that excited to “Sit” to earn something from YOU? Which is exactly why I don’t feed my puppies from a bowl, and instead, spend 10-15 minutes training them using the food they would normally get as a meal. Rather than giving it to them for free, I teach them commands, impulse control games, and manners. THAT moves my training forward, and strengthens their relationship/bond with me. So ditch the bowl this month, and see what happens. (NOTE: for those of you who feed canned food, or raw diets, take heart! You can use a spoon to dispense your dog’s mea to him while training!)
- Love Your Crate. One of the most overlooked parts of puppy ownership is the need for the puppy to nap (yes, even when you’re in the house!), and understand that his crate is an awesome place to hang out. Instead of just crating your puppy when you go to bed or leave to go out, you need to also crate him for small amounts of time during the day when you’re home. By giving your puppy “the good stuff” (bully sticks, frozen stuffed food puzzles, etc.) ONLY when he’s in his crate, he’s going to love going there!
- Dogs are fun. But I’m…. ‘Funner’! My dogs love other dogs, but they love me more. A truer statement is that they find me more rewarding than most anything else. That’s because I showed them how much fun they could have with me BEFORE I let them free play with other dogs. Re read #1 and #2, and put those concepts into your daily life. How do you know when your dog is ready to party with his friends? Once he’ll always come back to you when you call him, even when he’s interacting with other dogs (on leash)!
- Good people bring good things! My student Elizabeth coined this phrase for something that I encourage all my students to do. Whenever she goes to someone’s house who has a dog, she always has an extra special, high value treat (cleared by the owner, of course) that she gives him when she comes in. If the dog has training, she asks for a sit. If not, calm behavior earns the treat. It’s an awesome way to create an optimistic dog who expects: 1. New people are cool 2. If you do something for them, they give you something awesome!
- Doorbell/knocking = run to your bed for cookies! Early on in training, I pair the sound of a doorbell to a reward for when my puppy runs to a mat. By teaching this, I acquire a strong “go to place” behavior, all cued up by the sound of the doorbell. That means not only do I not have to tell her what to go to place when the doorbell rings, but it also means that my FAMILY doesn’t have to do it, either, if I’m not home.
BONUS #11 Tug is the ultimate game to teach your puppy. No, it will not make him aggressive. No, you don’t always have to win. No, he won’t rip things from your hands and off your body in order to tug at them. But what he WILL do is learn self-control. And he will have an “on” and “off” switch. If you’ve not properly taken the time to teach this, I would make time to do it today. Like, now! You won’t regret it, and everything else you teach will become stronger and more functional because of this game. Because if your dog can go from calm to – on your command – crazily excited and tugging with you to – on your command – calm again, then you’ll never have an issue asking your dog to sit when he’s excited because guests came to the house.