So you can’t wait to welcome your new puppy - exciting times! But what about puppy training? Now you’re worrying about all the training that lies ahead, but how much training will you really need to do and where should you start?
Everyone tells you about puppy training, but what is it?
It might sound surprising but the first thing your puppy needs to learn is where her safe place is, that you can be trusted, and where to find her food and water. The important things in life to achieve an emotionally balanced dog are the same things we all need; safety, food, water, and a safe place (this is a universal requirement for all living things). Whilst this is not training as such, it is learning, which is the other half of training. With these foundations, your puppy will be able to learn all the things you may want to teach her. Try not to rush in like a sergeant major issuing orders all over the place. How would you feel if this happened to you?
What kind of puppy training should you do and why?
There is overwhelming evidence that positive and kind methods of dog training work best and without causing stress or fear. Positive reinforcement – a method where a behaviour becomes more frequent because the dog earns something they really want after they do the behaviour – works very effectively if you know how to use the principles. If you are doing this properly, it is not as simple as giving your puppy a cookie when they do the behaviour. You will need to know about timing, chaining, marking, how to teach your puppy the cue for a behaviour, raising criteria, reinforcement schedules, proofing, generalising, fading rewards, and much more. The more you understand about how to use positive reinforcement, the quicker your puppy will learn what to do, and what not to do. Don’t give your pup rewards if she is doing something you don’t want her to do, and remember, rewards are not just treats, a reward can be attention!
What does “capturing“ mean in dog training?
Capturing is a principle in which the emphasis is on LEARNING, not TRAINING. You wait for your dog to do a behaviour you like, then mark (this is a word, or a click you use to let your dog know a reward is coming imminently) and reward with something your dog loves (food, toy, touch, praise, sniffs etc.). The behaviours to reward include when she is occupying herself playing with a toy, when she goes to her bed to settle down, when she stands calmly looking at you etc. Working this way is so easy as the dog quickly learns that when she does certain behaviours, she gets rewarded and develops a love for the behaviour. There is no pressure, and your pup is doing something naturally. She is learning that she can make choices and receive rewards. Dog training in this style means you won’t keep telling your dog how to behave as she will learn to make good choices. The more this happens, the less time she will have to do something you don’t want.
How much time should I spend puppy training?
If you are using the capturing method, this is taking place almost constantly as every good choice gets rewarded. These behaviours are learned very quickly because they are natural to your pup. You then need to shape, proof, generalise, raise criteria, and fade. If you don’t know what these terms mean, then it is a good idea to seek professional help from a properly qualified dog trainer (see www.ABTC.org.uk and search for Animal Training Instructor- this organisation is the Defra recognised regulator for the animal training industry in the United Kingdom).
For teaching, such as sit, down, leave, drop, greeting manners, front door protocols, recall etc) you don’t need to spend hours. Two minutes per task per day is all you need. You can spend too much time training dogs.
Why can excessive puppy training be bad?
If you excessively train your puppy, in my opinion, she will become overly dependent on you telling her how to behave. This means that she is unable to make good choices on her own and you will forever be telling her how to behave. Also, if you are too regimented and expect too much discipline, it is likely she will become frustrated and bored with the training and may then stop doing what you have been trying to teach. Let’s be clear, to quote an ancient proverb “all work and no play makes Jack a Dull boy! Enjoy your puppy and have some fun.
Denise Nuttall B.Sc. (Hons), M.Res.
Full member APBC, Full member TCBTS
Registered Clinical Animal Behaviourist and Animal Training Instructor with the Animal Behaviour and Training Council
Neither Denise Nuttall or Paws in Hand Dog Training and Behaviour accepts responsibility for actions taken as a result of reading this article. This article is not designed to replace professional advice, is for guidance only, and the reader takes responsibility for their actions.