Dog Training Tips for Beginners At Home
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Let’s first turn to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior. This group’s mission is to share accurate, science-based education and information with their membership. Their official statement, found here, advocates for positive dog training techniques.
Follow the positive reinforcement dog training guide below for the first steps to take when training the best dog ever.
Table of Contents
When Can You Start Puppy Training?
Your puppy will need some decompression time before you start official training sessions. Even the most confident of dogs will need to ease into its new life.
Because we will be using positive reinforcement training techniques, you can begin sessions when your puppy shows interest in treats. If they aren’t interested in the treats, it won’t be reinforcing. For the first few days home, many puppies may be too overwhelmed to eat much, and that is normal.
What Should I Teach My Puppy First?
Before you start puppy training sessions, it is important to acknowledge three dog facts:
- Puppies/dogs do not speak our language.
- Puppies have short attention spans.
- Dogs, like people, learn better when they are having fun and not feeling stressed.
With these things in mind, we plan training to maximize your success. So the very first training session should focus on conditioning a signal to your dog that will let them know when they have made a good choice.
A marker (either a clicker or a consistent word like “yes”) is a sound paired with something the dog loves–the simplest choice being treats that your puppy enjoys.
Your first few sessions will be less than one minute. The point is to condition the marker so your puppy starts to predict that when they hear the marker, they will get a treat. Simply click or say your word and follow up with a treat. Do this in several short sessions in different locations (including both outside and inside). Want more info on marker training (aka clicker training)? Check out this video by the Fear Free Pets Organization.
Now you are ready to start your dog training games. With each exercise below, I’ve highlighted the desired behavior you should mark (then immediately reward) for easy reference.
Dog Training Games for a New Puppy
How Do I Teach My Puppy Their Name?
This is a great first exercise to start training with your puppy. It is easy, and it will help you practice good timing with your marks and rewards.
- Simply say your dog’s name, and when they look toward you, mark and treat.
- If they don’t respond, DO NOT repeat their name. You don’t want your puppy learning to ignore you. If at first they don’t respond, encourage them to look toward by clapping, making kiss noises, or whistling. Then the minute they look toward you, mark it. With repetition you will be able to fade the extra noises.
Mark and Reward Behavior: When the puppy looks at you. They do not have to give eye contact, just look toward you.
Teaching a Touch/Nose Target
This is a behavior that may make you think, “Why would I teach that?” But it is the foundation for many other desired behaviors. I could write a whole article dedicated to this exercise alone.
And, if you have a dog that likes to mouth your hands, it gets them to interact with your hands more appropriately.
- Put out your palm, facing the dog.
- When you feel your dog’s nose on your hand, mark and treat. Make sure you are not shoving your hand on their nose, we want the dog making the movement. If your dog doesn’t care about your hand, season it by rubbing a treat on it. Try NOT to hold a treat in your hand, as that can become a visual cue to your dog that you will need to fade.
Mark and Reward Behavior: When you feel your dog’s nose on your palm.
How To Teach A Dog “Place”
Teaching a dog to “place” on a mat can be a great management tool.
- At the beginning of the training session, put the mat down.
- Mark and treat any interaction with the mat at first. Looking at it, sniffing it, etc.
3. As your dog starts to catch on to the game, start to expect more before marking. For instance, you might wait until they have one paw on the mat to mark/treat. Then two, etc.
4. Once they start positioning themself on the mat, withhold the mark/treat to build a few seconds of staying on the mat. If they sit or lay down, mark/treat several times in a row, as these positions on the mat are the ultimate goal.
5. When the dog starts to catch on, you can name the behavior. As you put down the mat tell the dog to “place” (or use whatever phrase you want, consistency is more important than the words).
Mark and Reward Behavior: At first any contact with the mat, then when contacting the mat with the feet, then a sit or a down, etc.
Teaching a Puppy To Come When Called
We often take it for granted that our dogs know how to come without us ever teaching it. That is because when there’s nothing else going on in their world, we could say anything to them, and there’s a high chance they’ll come check in with us.
But call them when they are distracted, and your dog will act like they have no concept of “come”. That is because they haven’t attached meaning to the cue.
We need to condition the verbal cue of “come” by arranging no-fail training sessions.
- For three reps, show your puppy a treat, say their name and “come”. Then take 2-3 steps back. As they are coming toward you, mark. Deliver the reward treat as close to your leg as possible.
- After those three reps, fade the food as a lure (but it will still serve as a reward). Stand right in front of your puppy, say your cue and back up. If they follow you, mark and treat.
- If they don’t follow you, try to encourage them with excitement and mark when they commit to coming toward you.
Mark and Reward Behavior: When your puppy moves toward you.
Next Steps in Puppy Training
This is just the start of puppy training. In the future, you will need to slowly add distance and distractions to each of these exercises. But beginning with these steps will lay a solid foundation for dog training success!