Teaching a puppy to recognize and obey basic commands is an essential first step toward ensuring a happy relationship between the pet and its owner. Positive reinforcement motivates puppies to learn and follow directions, while it also strengthens the bonds of loyalty between the animal and his human family.
Before effective training can take place, the owner must teach the puppy to pay attention. This begins with teaching the dog to recognize his name. When the puppy first joins his new home, the owner should practice speaking the dog’s name, and then reward the dog immediately when he looks at his owner. This technique helps the dog associate his name with a positive outcome, which motivates the puppy to focus and be receptive to learning basic commands.
Every dog should know and obey the command to sit. To teach a dog to sit, first get his attention by saying his name and showing him a treat. Hold the treat above his head, which will cause the puppy to raise his head to keep the treat in view and lower his bottom to the ground. As soon as the dog assumes the sitting position, give him the reward along with lots of praise and petting. Practice these steps often, until the dog grasps the relationship between the command and the action.
Once the puppy has mastered the sit command, he is ready to move on to “stay.” This command entails a combination of both vocal and physical cues. The owner begins by telling the puppy to sit. Once the dog obeys, the owner extends his palm toward the dog and says “stay” in a firm yet friendly voice. The owner then backs away a few steps. If the puppy stays, he receives a treat. Gradually, the owners backs farther and farther away from the dog. Energetic and excitable dogs may have more difficulty with the “stay” command. Patience and consistency are key to helping the puppy conquer his natural impulses.
“Leave it” is another critical command that both fosters good behavior and serves as a critical safety tool by teaching the dog to stay away from dangerous objects. In addition, it helps the dog gain self-control. The owner begins by holding a treat in his hand and showing it to the dog. He then closes his fist around the treat and says “Leave it.” The dog will probably stare at the owner’s closed fist and may even paw at the hand. As soon as he stops and glances away, praise the dog and give him the treat. This command may take lots of practice before the puppy is able to reliably resist temptation.
Housetraining or housebreaking is also an important component of puppy training. Ineffective potty training can lead to misery for the dog and his whole family. In fact, many shelter dogs were surrendered by owners because of inadequate housetraining. In order for potty training to be successful, owners must have realistic expectations for how long a puppy can hold his bladder. The puppy’s age is a good guidepost. The number of hours a dog can go without urinating roughly corresponds to his age in months, with nine hours as the absolute upper limit.
Owners should give young puppies plenty of opportunities to go outside and answer the call of nature. All dogs should have a potty break when they first wake up and before they goes to bed at night. Establish a regular habit of taking out the dog following meals, playtime, naps and after he has spent time in his crate. Setting a regular pattern for potty breaks reduces the dog’s anxiety and helps him learn to urinate on schedule.
If a puppy has an accident, he should never be punished. Shaming or hitting the dog undermines the owner’s relationship with his pet and can lead to stress and further behavioral issues. Calmly clean up accidents, and try to eliminate any residual odors. If smells remain behind, the puppy may return to the spot again and again to urinate. This habit can be hard to break.
Training sessions should be enjoyable for both the dog and his owner. They provide mental stimulation for the puppy and promote strong emotional bonds with the owner. If the dog becomes overly tired or easily distracted, he has probably reached the limit of his attention span for that training session. Patience helps ensure success and makes the training process more fun.