You have the leash, the cute toys, and even the puppy.
So now what? From the very first day you need to start training your puppy to become an obedient dog. The optimum time to train a dog is from the moment you bring the puppy home. This lays the foundation for success in owning an obedient dog. It is much like sending a child to preschool allowing the child to get a head start on self discipline.
The beginning of any training program is to organize a set of goals. You start by asking the question, what do you hope to obtain by training your dog? Do you want a well-mannered dog that is polite, or are you merely interested in performing the types of behaviors you see on TV shows? Most people only want the former.
Once you have established the training goals, the first step is to establish a relationship with the puppy. In the dog world there is an alpha or pack leader. This is the person in charge. What you want to establish with your puppy is that you are in charge. There are simple ways to achieve this. For one, pack leaders always eat first.
Most people feed their dog first in thinking that their dog will leave them alone while they eat their own dinner. You should always eat first and then feed your dog after you have devoured your meal. Always walk through a door ahead of your dog. The cardinal rule in establishing a pack leadership with your puppy is not to treat your dog like a king. This is the most common mistake when people get a puppy, treating it like it is a human and answering to it’s every whimper or bark.
Training a dog relies on the principle of positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement has proven to be the most successful in training because it is simple, a child can do it, and it doesn’t hurt the dog. So what is positive reinforcement? In simple terms, positive reinforcement is whenever the dog does the desired behavior you reward the dog with something it likes. For example, if Rover sits, you reward him immediately with praise or a treat. Rover is more likely to repeat the behavior when asked because sitting has caused him a pleasant outcome in the past. Think of all the times you have been positively reinforced in your life--haven’t you wanted to repeat the behavior for which you were reinforced?
Rewards are another consideration in training. In establishing a relationship with your dog you should come to an understanding of what your dog likes best. For most dogs it is a treat, but for others it is a toy or even a pat. Whatever your dog likes best is what you should use as a reward in training. Some dogs are stubborn and you have to lure them with outrageous things such as little bits of hot-dog while training. This is fine for training because a dog should find training interesting and challenging. Think about it, would you want to do something that you found to be a chore or dull?
Once you have figured out what works best for you, you can now start the training process. There are a few basic rules of thumb to beginning that you need to understand. For starters training has everything to do with timing of the reward. A dog lives in the present and only remembers what it is being reinforced for at that instant. So when your dog sits you should be hand delivering the reward at that instant. If you reward your dog when he has his paw off the ground, your dog will soon think that “sit” means sitting down with one paw off the ground. Timing is crucial and is probably the most common mistake new dog trainers make when training their puppy. A way to ensure that you have the timing under control is to establish what experts refer to as a reward marker.
A reward marker establishes a bridge between the behavior and the reward. What you want your dog to understand is that he has done the behavior correctly even if you are sloppy with you reward. A reward marker can be a signal or what is most commonly used is a word. Most people use the word “good” to let their dog know the behavior was done correctly, and a reward will be forthcoming. You need to first establish the word “good” as the reward marker. This is simple. Just say the word “good” and at the same time give your dog the reward for ten or more times. When you think your dog understands the meaning of good the next sequence of events should be giving the dog the command sit. The dog sits, you say “good” and then treat. Soon the dog learns that good is reinforcement all on its own.
Now that you have the basics of training you are now ready to put it to use. You may ask the question, “But what if the dog doesn’t do what I ask?” That is a valid point and you should ignore whatever the dog does and try, try again. Many people have expectations that are far beyond their dog. You have to take small steps in order to work up to the overall behavior.
All dogs benefit from taking a basic obedience class. Your local kennel club or humane society is a good place to start. An owner must remember that training is an ongoing process and doesn’t stop at six or eight weeks of training. You and your dog must practice training skills so that neither of you get rusty on such skills.