New Year's resolutions are often made without really thinking about long term commitment to those goals. Getting your dog into a routine for obedience work, no matter what age he or she may be is a simple and easy New Year's plan that won't take up a lot of your time but will actually pay off in a better behaved, more well adjusted dog within just a few training sessions.
If you have decided to invest in a puppy in the last year, or perhaps even took the ownership plunge as part of a family Christmas present, it is really never too early to start obedience work. Puppies a few weeks old can quickly begin to recognize and respond to their name and some basic commands such as sit and even lie down. They are not likely to be able to develop more complicated routines, but even housetraining is a form of obedience work, as is crate training and providing socialization opportunities.
Getting started on an obedience training routine doesn't take any special equipment or supplies. Ideally a collar and lead will be important, as well some tasty dog snacks to provide as rewards. Healthy options for dog treats that work perfectly as rewards include small pieces of boiled chicken or even all beef hotdogs sliced thinly. If you want a more durable type of treat to carry in your pocket, microwave the hotdog slices until they are crisp. Use only all beef, low sodium hotdogs for the healthiest possible treat.
The area where you are going to work on obedience with a dog or a puppy is not critical, but it should be an area that is familiar to the dog and is relatively distraction free. An area that is familiar to the dog is less likely to draw the dog's attention away from you and a distraction free area helps with focus. Once your dog or puppy has the basics down, you will then want to move him or her to different areas to practice commands and skills even when there are minor and major distractions. This will come with time and is not the place to start your obedience work.
If you have other dogs, it is important to be able to work one on one with each dog. Perhaps another family member could take the other pet to another room or take them out for a walk to give you time to work alone with the new dog or puppy. Of course you can also reverse this and spend some one on one time with the older dog as well, obedience refreshers are important as well as essential even for older dogs.
Never try to work with your dog or puppy immediately upon getting home from work or being away from the house. The dog will be excited just to have you home and will not be able to calm down and focus. Give them some time to adjust, perhaps take them for a walk or a play in the yard to burn off that stored up energy. When they are calm and relaxed, that is the time to get busy with obedience work.
Start with the basic come command. Always say the dogs name, make eye contact with the dog, then give the "come" command. Hold a small treat in sight of the dog or puppy if they don't naturally move towards you. As soon as they get to you give them the treat. Don't hold the treat up or encourage jumping, bend over and have it at the right height for the dog or puppy to easily take. Most dogs or puppies will have a limit to how many times they will repeat the same command before becoming bored, so only do each command once or twice in a row and move on to something else.
Once the dog or puppy is approaching you on command, the next step is to teach sit. Sit is actually very simple if you work with the dog instead of against him or her. As the dog is approaching you hold the treat at the dog's forehead height, just above the muzzle level. When he or she is at the treat say "Fido, sit" and move the treat back to an imaginary spot above the middle of the head between the ears. The dog will naturally trace the movement with his or her muzzle up and back and the hind end will crouch into a sitting position. Immediately give the treat and lots of praise and attention.
By pairing the sit command after the come command is mastered, your dog will always know that the way to get attention is to come to you and then sit. This will prevent the bad habit of jumping from ever becoming an issue.
Once you have sit and come mastered, you can then move on to more complicated commands such as lie down, shake a paw, roll over, fetch and of course heel on a leash. These commands, just like the come and sit command should be taught by saying the dog's name, giving the command, then giving a reward and lots of praise for doing what is asked.
There are some things that people should never do in basic obedience training with a dog or puppy. They include:
Never call the dog to you and punish the dog, this will only confuse the issue with the come command and will lead to a dog that runs when they think they are in trouble.
Never yell at the dog or punish the dog by spanking or hitting, ignoring or a firm "no" followed by ignoring is all that should be required.
Never let a dog get away with something one day and then expect him or her to not try the same thing the next day. Staying consistent will be the best strategy.
Never push the dog beyond their focus and attention ability. Keeping obedience training sessions short but doing them multiple times a day is the best option.
Always provide lots of praise and attention for a job well done and remember that playtime is an important part of rapport building with your dog. Ending sessions on a positive note and then going for a walk, a game of fetch or just a good old tummy rub is often the best and most positive way to make sure your dog keeps looking forward to obedience work.