Treats are wonderful, they both motivate and communicate with our canine friends and when used correctly, are a wonderful tool to help teach.
One of my best practical tips for people with puppies is to use their normal meals as a chance to train their pup. Why just give the food for free and waste the opportunity to teach him something he is going to eat anyway? Using meals as training time makes sure your dog doesn’t get too heavy from extra food, and it helps you find the time to train.
Training at meals can be much more than just having your puppy sit before you leave the bowl on the floor. Here are some ideas to make meal times easy training times:
- Teach your pup his name. Hold a handful of pellets and bring it up toward your chin, as your puppy looks in your direction say ‘Your Dog’s Name’ and then quickly (before he can jump up at your hand) bring your hand down and give him the food. You are trying to create a situation where your puppy looks at you when you say his name and gets a reward. A few days of this and your pup will tune into his name very well.
- Teach your puppy to sit. Take a handful of food and make a fist so your pup can smell the food but not eat it. Lift it about an inch off his nose and push back slightly toward his eyes. If your puppy jumps up your hand is too high. By moving the food back, not up, your pup should put his bum on the ground. Immediately give him the whole handful of food. Repeat the process, saying “sit” as you can see his tail moving toward the floor. Walk back three steps so your puppy runs to you and then ask for him to sit again. Try to get five to ten ‘sits’ per meal.
- Teach ‘come’. Hold the bowl of food in your hand. Have a helper hold your puppy while you walk away a few steps. Say ‘Dog’s Name, Come’ and hold a handful of food down for him. Repeat four or five times, always walking away, and using the same words to teach your puppy to come to you when called. Start going to other rooms so your puppy learns to come to the sound of your voice even if he can’t see you.
(A general note about training: Dogs associate words with the action they are performing. For example, if you take your puppy to the park and scream “come!” each time he runs away from you, you are teaching him that ‘come!’ means run away because that is what he is doing when he hears that word. In order for a dog to learn a word or command, he first has to do the correct action, in this case, come toward you, only then can you teach him what the word ‘come’ means. Another common mistake is to say “down” whenever your dog jumps on you. Your dog will learn very quick that “down” means jump up on people! Much more effective to wait until your dog has four feet on the floor and praise him.)
Young puppies are (normally) very hungry at each meal, so don’t make them work for each individual piece of food, that will take far too long and be frustrating for your little one. With young dogs who still have their baby teeth, I give handfuls of food for each correct behaviour. This way I can get around ten behaviours per meal, which is plenty for a growing puppy. This normally takes between three and five minutes. Those precious few minutes a day with your puppy will help start a relationship with you that is trusting, curious, fun, and loving. The best way to bond with any dog is to train them.
Training, remember, is just another word for communication!
“If you want a good dog you need to be a great owner.”
Karis – aka Rogz Wrangler