Here are some specific steps to help!
Puppies need confidence, structure and repetition of obedience commands to have that balance of fun mixed with setting them up to succeed.
Let’s tackle obedience commands first and things you can do to build a bond with your puppy.
By puppies, I am referring to dogs less than 20 weeks old.
1. Your puppy may need to be taught to WANT to work for periods of time for food so let's start building drive. Many puppies like food and will learn quickly for treats or their dry food, but can they work for 10, 15, 20 minutes straight? Many can’t under 20 weeks and that needs to be practiced and conditioned. Structure helps with that, but the other way is to feed your puppy meals throughout the day by training and then in the evening feed them in a bowl what you didn’t get to during the day (but most is during active training).
2. Really focus on the repetition. If I’m teaching sit and then layering a down, I will lure into 10 sits, then 10 downs, then repeat all in the same short time span of 10 minutes. Then I’ll work on slowing the dog down a bit and having them wait a little longer for the food, but it’s really that repetition that keeps puppies engaged and caring about what you have to say more and more.
- The easiest way to provide structure to obedience using large amounts of kibble (dogs dry food) is “come, sit, break”. First thing in the morning after potty time, take about 5 pieces of kibble and drop on the floor and say “break”. Move just a few feet away. Once your puppy has eaten that kibble, say the dogs name and then “come” excitedly! When your puppy gets to you use the hand with 5 more pieces of kibble to lure into a sit, say “good” and drop the kibble and say “break”. Break is the release word that means do what you want...and it should mean get the kibble! If your puppy isn’t hungry in the morning you might need to use treats and skip breakfast and try again at lunchtime. When you drop the food you double the space from your puppy and call again when your pup eats the last piece. This is a great regular morning routine to get through breakfast quickly, provide exercise and you can build to out of sight recalls...even hiding in the closet!
- The perk about this exercise is you do it every day for a week and the puppy loves it, it makes it so much easier to recall them away from getting into something rather then having to say “no” and go and get them.
3. Teach targeting with place command. Teaching your dog to go to a spot with a dog bed or mat is an easy way to build up to a stay. Dogs love boundaries they can see and feel and will start to gravitate to it. You can find YouTube videos on this easily, just type in teach a puppy place command! The key is to not forget to do many repetitions over and over. So you could mix “puppy’s name come” and “place”. In a 5 minute session, you can get 10 repetitions. In a week your puppy can build to 15 minutes and you are building distance and distractions, but you are getting in 20-30 repetitions. THAT is what builds that incredible muscle memory to have your puppy want to do things easily and look to you for what fun you have in store for them next.
4. When you are working with your puppy, always know when your puppy needs a break and is done or frustrated. Your first day of sessions may be several 3-5 minute sessions. Build up to 15 and 20 minutes of focus before heading outside and trying to do it in a park setting. Signs of this might be a sudden lack of interest in doing anything or things like excess mouthing you or the leash.
Next is providing structure for your new puppy. Structure is a word trainers throw around a lot! What does that even mean and how do we implement that with puppies? Structure is really a puppy's whole life, just like with young children, it is creating that schedule.
1. Crate is the most essential thing. Crate helps teach puppies how to be alone (a skill that does not often come easy to dogs). It teaches confidence allowing them to nap and rest without a person around. It also provides leverage for you the owner. Crate means nap time and then you calmly let your puppy out to play or work. That makes you so much fun and the giver of all things to your puppy. It also prevents your pup from getting into things and teaches bladder control for longer and longer periods of time, starting as little as an hour to an hour and a half in puppies 8-10 weeks old.
2. Crate time is put on a schedule just like potty, work and play. You have scheduled time in crate, potty, work, play, crate. Repeat!
3. The other ways you provide structure is teaching your puppy to wait at thresholds (the back and front door) before walking out, waiting at crate door or their play pen door before coming out, and waiting for their food bowl. This even includes affection. When you have a puppy bouncing in your lap demanding attention it seems cute until they are larger and your frustrated or they are doing it to guests. A way to start early is teaching them to offer a behavior like sit for food and pets before getting attention.
Both of these things, fun obedience work mixed with structure, must work together to build a bond with your dog and provides the building blocks to raise the most confident puppy you can.