Puppy Training in Dorset: The Basics

Core Exercises for the Puppy

I meet a lot of new puppies and the trend seems to be improving where owners are getting qualified dog trainer in when they get their new puppy. Many owners seem to think that we need to cram in lots of training in straight away. 

The way I view puppy training is we are trying to establish the concept of training to the puppy so has it gets older training will be seen as rewarding and fun. Perhaps the most important point is trying to get the owner to perfect the techniques and practice them so they are not teaching the puppy the wrong way when I am not there.  Most issues with puppy and dog training lay with the owner!!

puppy training dorset

Any training I am involved in the first thing I do is put in place a line of communication with the dog/puppy.  My personal opinion is there is little point trying to teach a puppy the core exercises I will discuss shortly if you don’t have a way of communicating with the dog. Whilst this may take a little longer at the start the benefits are impressive later when you have an established communication pathway between the trainer/owner and the puppy/dog. This communication is establishing a reward word, I use ‘Click’ which when said will deliver a treat so that you can mark correct behaviour the split second it happens. This is known as classical conditioning.  I also teach what the word ‘No’ means  as there needs to be a way of marking behaviour which you don’t want. This communication is ongoing learning for the dog /owner and needs to be reinforced daily. In my own dog training sessions I also believe the whistle has a huge role to play in communication and I start to establish its use from day one. This will communicate stop and recall, is useful at distance, will remove emotion from the communication and allows consistency of important commands between the owners of the dog.

The First Puppy Exercises

  • The Sit 
    • These are the building blocks for other exercises to be taught. To establish a system where the puppy learns nothing is for free the Sit can be used to earn anything which is rewarding to the puppy.
  • Wait and Stay
    • Again these are the building blocks for other exercises and without them established difficulties will be encountered when teaching recall or a retrieve. These can be used with both the sit and down
  • Loose lead walking
    • Essential this is taught early on to avoid bad habits of a dog pulling on a lead.
  • Recall
    • Perhaps the number one issue I come across with my clients regardless of age of their dog. This needs to be established early on and practised daily for the safety of your dog and others. A dog which cannot be recalled confidently in a moderate distraction environment has no right to be off the lead.

The Sit

  • My reward word would be established
  • Choose non distraction environment such as the house to start this
  • Use a quality treat and start training before a meal time so dog is more likely to be focused on the treats
  • Take the treat in the right hand and move it from the dog’s nose to the back of the head. This action will usually initiate the dog taking the sitting position so it can access the treat.  It might take a couple of attempts to get it right.
  • As the dog is in the process of adopting the position say sit.
  • The moment the dog’s bottom touches the floor say the reward word and give the treat. This has marked the correct behaviour required. Correct timing is vital
  • Repeat above a number of times and do short interval training multiple times a day. Make it fun!!
  • The dog will quickly start to perform the exercise to initiate the reward word, this is classical training working
  • Once the dog is getting the exercise correct I like to refine the hand. Now hold the rt hand palm up and raise it up slightly whilst saying sit. The dog should respond with a sit. Always mark the correct behaviour with the reward word and treat.
  • As the exercise becomes established pause for 1-2 seconds between saying the reward word and giving the actual treat. This should be practised with all exercises using the reward word as it builds in the IOU (I owe you) factor. This allows the dog to learn that if the reward word is said at distance then a reward will be offered when you get to the dog.
  • Given dogs should earn all nice things with a sit this exercise should become established very quickly.
  • Personally at this time I will then substitute the word ‘sit’ with a single whistle and the hand gesture to teach the dog to sit on the whistle. Again use the reward word to mark the behaviour.
  • It is then just a case of proofing this in all environments

The Wait and the Stay

From what I have observed there are differing views on this depending who you are with. The trainer I worked with trained that there is a difference between a wait and a stay command. Her point of view was that the stay command meant you would be away from the dog but would return before giving another command.  The wait command was the dog needs to be aware that another command will be given.  We trained this by getting the dog to sit and gave it the stay command, walking a few paces away, pausing and then returning to the dog to reward. The wait command was the dog had to sit, you walked a few paces away, paused and then called the dog to you and rewarded.  Her rational was that on the stay command the dog could relax until you returned.  On the wait command the dog had to be alert for your next command.

A gun dog trainer I worked with only used the wait command and she would walk back to the dog or give another command. However, a gun dog club I attend I have seen both commands used with the stay command used to hold a dog and then a command is given without a return.

Our own actions are influenced by what we are exposed to and I have reflected on what I now do without thinking about it. It would appear I don’t use the stay command as taught to me by my first trainer experience. I control Henry with a whistle and hand signals from a distance.  As I walk away from him I will tell him to wait and this is reinforced at distance with a raised hand palm facing him or a single whistle if he moves.  I may then return to him, send him out or do a recall. Personally I have not noticed any handicap for not differing between a wait and a stay command.  Another point is I could tell Henry to stay and then go away from him with the intention of returning and then change my mind and want to give him a command without returning to him. Would soon get confusing for him.

In my dog training and puppy classes I do teach the difference between a wait and a stay if the clients wants to command their dog this way.  My reason is a working dog who is trained every day will quickly grasp that the command wait means don’t do anything until I give you the next command.  When I blow my whistle it could mean stop, wait or stay.  It will have the same effect, my dog will not move until another command is given and this could be next to him when I return or at distance.  Most people attending training classes don’t have this type of dog or training regime so it is beneficial for their dog know to understand the commands wait and stay. Teaching a solid stay could have a safety aspect because you might need the dog to sit and stay until you can get to it because it was about to cross a busy road. 


Training the Wait and Stay Commands

  • The purpose of the wait command is for the dog to hold ground until another command is given. And the dog returns to you. The purpose of the stay command is for the dog to hold ground until you return to him.
  • My reward word would be established
  • Choose non distraction environment such as the house to start this
  • Use a quality treat and start training before a meal time so dog is more likely to be focused on the treats
  • Put the dog into a sit position which should now be established.
  • Have no treats on display. With the palm of your rt hand facing the dog say WAIT and take two steps back.  Don’t look at the dog when doing this and keep all hands still.
  • When you stop, if the dog has not moved you can mark the behaviour with the reward word. Now call the dog to you and immediately give the reward. Do not use the reward word to mark the behaviour of the dog coming to you or the wait behaviour reward will be lost and don’t get them to sit when they get to you. Without using the reward method of communicating with your dog to mark the desired behaviour it can be seen that we set the dog up for confusion.  If we get the dog to wait, then call them and give them a treat, what was the treat for?  Was it for waiting or for coming to us? Most likely the latter.
  • To get the dog to stay put them in a sit and tell them to STAY. Walk a few paces away and face them.  Don’t say anything.  Now walk back and stand at the side of your dog and count to 3.  Then say the reward word and treat.  We count to 3 so the dog does not start to anticipate your return as a reward is coming and break the sit.  You can then extend this time. 
  • The objective here is the success of the dog and many people cause the dog to break the wait or stay by going back too far too quickly or making the dog wait too long. Young dogs may get nervous if you are leaving them.
  • Repeat the exercise only extending the time you expect the dog to hold position until commanded when they are comfortable with what you are currently using. Extend the distance and time to wait and the dog gets used to the exercise. If the dog starts to break then go back a few steps and shorten the time. Also if the dog breaks examine the messages you are giving the dog.  Are you looking at them, moving around, have treats visible or moving your hands? If there is a problem then it usually lays with the person stood in front of the dog!!
  • This will need to be proofed in different environments with different distractions with varying distances away from the dog for varied time lengths.

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