It is important to teach your puppy and young dog some basic commands that are used in obedience training or just to have a well-behaved dog no matter where you may choose to take your dog. These commands are simple and are not difficult for most puppies and dogs to learn provided they are given lots of practice and time to learn. Remember that each dog, regardless of breed characteristics, is an individual. Each dog or puppy will learn some things more quickly than others, and some dogs, regardless of what the breed is known for, may just not have the characteristic or ability. Keeping this in mind will help owners from being frustrated with their puppy or dog. Look for the things that your dog is good at or excels at and don't expect them to learn every other trick that you have seen a dog of their breed do.
Some of the basic commands are the easiest to teach as they tend to be naturally occurring behaviors in puppies and dogs. The "come" command is one of the first commands to teach and most puppies are naturals at learning this basic command. As they get older they may choose not to respond to "come" when they are out exploring, playing or busy doing something they like, but they still understand the concept. If your puppy or dog does not come on command, go back and re-teach this using NILF training or any other method until the dog or puppy is responding 100% of the time. Once this is under control you are prepared to move forward.
There are several different ways to teach your puppy or dog to sit. The first and most natural way is to simply watch for the puppy or dog to sit without being commanded. If you are using a clicker give a click and a reward, if you are not using the clicker method simply say "sit" and give the reward. The puppy won't catch on as to why they are being rewarded for taking a break, but they will figure it out with repetition. Once the puppy seems to look at you for a reward when he or she sits, start giving the command and looking for the desired response. Reward as soon as the bottom touches the ground in the sitting posture.
If the puppy doesn't seem to understand the verbal cue you can use their own natural instincts to help them remember. Have a very tiny treat in your fingers, something that the puppy knows and loves like a healthy dog treat cut into small pieces. Hold this time just above the tip of the puppies nose and slide it back towards the top of their head, saying the word "sit". As the puppy leans back with its nose to follow the treat, his or her hind end will automatically go down, give the treat as soon as the puppy's rump is in the ground. If the puppy jumps up you are moving the treat too slowly or your hand is too high above their head.
Never, ever, ever, push down on a puppy or dog's hips to make them sit. This can cause serious problems with the hips on some breeds and can also cause the puppy to snap if it is painful.
Once the puppy has mastered sit, stay is the next command. Start by having the puppy sit, say "Stay" and take once step away. If the puppy stays in place for a few seconds, step back and provide a treat. If the puppy gets up, simply have them sit and repeat the process until they stay for just a few seconds. Always step back to the puppy rather than call them to you at least until they understand what stay is all about.
Gradually increase the distance and time you spend away from the puppy before returning for the reward. Once the puppy understands stay and can do so appropriately, you can then start having them come to you. Remember if you have the puppy sit, stay, then come and sit they will assume the reward is for the last action, which is the sit. They may not understand that they are being rewarded for the whole sequence, this is why it is broken down into two different events for initial training purposes.
Teaching your puppy to lie down can be done very much the same as the sit command. You can use the puppy's natural behavior to cue it to lie down, plus use their own natural movement to teach the command. First the puppy must sit on command. Get down on the floor with the puppy and show them a treat in your hand at their nose level. Move your hand, with the treat, down towards the floor and slightly to the front of the puppy, about 2 to 8 inches depending on the size of the puppy. The puppy will naturally move his or her head down and lower the front legs to a down position. As soon as the puppy is starting to move the front legs forward say down, then when they are on the floor completely give them the treat. For some puppies you may have to reward close approximations until they understand what you are requesting.
As with sitting never pull a puppies front legs forward or attempt to push down on their shoulders. Remember to keep pairing the command with the start of the action and the reward with the completion of the action.
To teach the puppy or dog to heel they must be comfortable with the leash and collar and understand the sit command. Start with the puppy or dog sitting beside your left leg. Give a command such as "Fido, Heel" then step off with your left leg. The puppy or dog will usually stand and follow. Stop and praise immediately. Have them sit and repeat this command until they get up and move on command with your verbal cue and the movement of your left leg. Never pull or tug harshly on the leash or try to drag the puppy along. Remember for tiny puppies you will need to start with tiny steps. Gradually increase the length of strides and time that you are walking before providing praise. The leash should be loose but not dragging, and the puppy should be following your left leg. If the puppy starts to go off the other direction or starts to pull, simple turn and walk the other direction, stopping as soon as the leash pulls taunt. This is usually enough correction and the puppy will learn to watch your leg to know where you are going. If the puppy runs ahead, simply stop and don't move until they stop pulling and are focused.
Never use a choke collar or correction collar on a puppy. Heeling is often a difficult concept for many puppies and the help of a trainer at a puppy obedience class is often beneficial for both puppy and owner.
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