Puppies are so much fun, and they are such little sponges. I LOVE working with puppies who soak up everything you teach them. Plus, they are adorable!!
It’s important to start training right away with your little cutie. Puppy training isn’t a whole lot different than how you train adult dogs. Just like with a dog of any age, I keep sessions short and build on success. Adult or puppy, no one likes doing a bunch of repetitions of the same thing. I am generous with my rewards as my puppy or dog is learning a new behavior. I like to teach puppy behaviors through games!
There are a few puppy games that I consider the foundation for training. These games can and should be taught as soon as your little tyke comes home. They are designed to make your life easier and give you something to build on as you continue to train your dog as he or she grows up.
Offered Attention Game for Your Puppy
Whenever I bring one of my dogs out to demo during my class, I get comments on how attentive my dog is. “He looks at you all the time!!” Yes, he does, because I’ve taught him attention! If you have your dog’s attention, you are much more likely to get the correct response to your cues!
So, how do you get that kind of attention from your dog? Teach the offered attention game! The key word here is offered. You don’t ask your pup to watch you over and over while he strains at the end of the leash. You wait for him to offer it, and you reward it. Rewarded behaviors increase – it’s science! Pretty soon, you’ll have given so many rewards for looking at you that your puppy won’t want to look away!
How do you start this amazing game? Toss a treat on the ground next to you. Let your puppy eat the treat and wait. Do not say anything to get your dog’s attention, just wait for him to look at you. As soon as he does, say “yes!” and give your dog a treat. Be sure to mark the behavior by saying “yes!”, then reach out with the treat. We are going to purposely get the dog to take his focus off you so that he can practice refocusing on you.
Throw another treat on the ground and repeat. The more you reward your dog for refocusing on you, the more focus you will get. If your dog is struggling, move to a less distracting environment.
Once your dog is doing well, you can skip the treat-tossing part. When your dog looks at you, mark the behavior with a “yes!” Wait for the dog to look away and reward any time the dog’s attention returns to you.
This foundation game is important for many reasons. It teaches your dog his name and also teaches him to respond to his name, a skill which many dogs are lacking. Warm up by playing the attention game. When your dog is looking at you, say his name and immediately give him a treat. The treat must immediately follow the dog’s name so he connects the treat with hearing his name. Very quickly you should see your dog looking at you when he hears his name, waiting for his treat. Be careful not to overuse your dog’s name during the week, as you don’t want to desensitize your dog to reacting to his name.
Collar Grab Puppy Game
It’s important that your dog is comfortable with someone grabbing his collar and guiding him. It’s surprising how many dogs are very uncomfortable with this, yet it’s something that owners must be able to do. If you need to catch your dog without a leash, or if you need to quickly remove your dog from a situation, your dog must be comfortable with a collar grab. Also, young kids often like to grab the dog’s collar, so they need to associate this action with something positive. This is another super easy game for your dog. You will start by grabbing his collar gently, then giving him a treat while you are hanging onto his collar. After you’ve done this a few times and he seems very comfortable, gently guide your dog 1-2 steps with the collar. When he gives into the pressure and moves, immediately praise him and give him a treat. Continue until he will willingly move several steps with you.
Teaching your dog to target your hand is a great way to get his attention. Because this is usually a game that is played with reinforcement, it becomes a very valuable cue to the dog. If needed, you can use this to call your dog to you and for lots of other targeting behaviors.
The goal of this game is for your dog to touch your palm with his nose. Put your open palm close to his nose and look at your hand. Most dogs will reach out and sniff your hand, touching it as they do so. When you feel your dog touch his nose to your hand, say “yes!” and give him a treat from the other hand. Be careful to pair the “yes!” with the nose touch. Your timing must be perfect. If you are a second late, you will actually mark the behavior of coming away from your hand. When your dog gets the idea, switch hands and start making the touches more difficult. Remember to look at your hand and be sure that you mark the behavior (”yes!”) before you reach for the treat.
When your dog is predictably touching your hand regardless of which you use or where you put it, start cueing “touch” right before you present your hand. Be ready to mark the touch with a “yes!”.
50 Treat Challenge
Like humans, dogs would much rather be told when they are right than when they are wrong. Try this challenge for one week and see the differences in your dog! If the dog likes his food, you can use that for your rewards. Feed him half of the breakfast then put the rest into a bowl on the counter or into your pocket. Any time you see your dog doing something that you like (laying down quietly, offering a sit, etc) give him a piece of kibble or a treat. Do this throughout the day and you’ll notice your dog offering you the behaviors that earned him a reward. Remember: reinforced behaviors increase!
There are so many more things to teach your puppy, but if you start with these 5 games, you will lay the foundation for all the other behaviors you’d like to train and you’ll set your puppy up for success in many different situations!