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The Art of Training a Puppy



Training is not just about teaching your puppy to obey commands; there is an art to bringing out the best in your dog through training. Training techniques can be used to teach your puppy skills she can use for self discipline -- important for when you are not around to directly observe her behavior -- as well as for bringing out the best in her personality and the potential that is inherent in her breed.


Why do we refer to training as an art? Because through this process, you are raising a dog that can be trusted to respond predictably to any command or situation, responds confidently and without fear to your commands, and is a joy for you and others to be around. A dog that has had the benefit of being artfully trained is a happy and well adjusted dog that is welcome in any environment where dogs are allowed.


Being able to obey simple commands such as “heel,” “sit,” “come,” “stay” and “down” is not the only basis for rating the success of a puppy’s training. She may be able to obey every single command, but if she is doing it out of fear, then her training has not been a true success. You have raised an obedient but unhappy puppy that fears you, and who will respond fearfully, perhaps even aggressively, to other humans and animals.


Building Confidence is Key


Begin your training with an attitude toward building your puppy’s confidence -- both in her ability to do well, and in her ability to trust you. Of course your puppy must be obedient, otherwise a simple trip to the dog park will turn into a nightmare, but obedience begins with an honest desire to please. A dog that is confident and without fear is happy and eager to obey her trusted master.


Some people actually believe that dogs have a natural instinct to please humans, but this is not altogether true. This kind of attitude is not something that a puppy is born with, nor is it something that can be achieved overnight. Just as with human behavior, a puppy will please others because it benefits her directly to do so. Whether it is because she is receiving training treats -- an important part of the training process -- or because she is reveling in the personal attention and praise from you, she is responding in the ways you want her to because she is being rewarded for doing so.


While training your puppy, you should make it obvious both when you are pleased and when you are displeased with her response. There should not be any confusion on her part. Pleasure can be shown by using enthusiastic and encouraging words, such as “good girl” or “good dog” along with a pat on the head. Most trainers use training treats along with praise, but as the puppy grows older, treats may be gradually downplayed in favor of encouraging the dog to respond for the simple desire of pleasing you. In any case, always reward the dog with verbal and physical praise. Dogs respond best to real and open affection.



Discipline, Not Cruelty


Puppy training should never involve harsh punishments or cruelty. These techniques will only teach your dog to avoid doing something for fear of being severely punished for it. It does not teach a dog self discipline. If your dog makes a mistake or fails to follow a command during a training session, it is enough to give a quick tug, or pop, on the leash while saying “no” in an assertive voice. Do not give your puppy verbal or physical encouragement until she has successfully performed the skill you are teaching her. This technique is designed to get the puppy’s attention without causing pain, and for demonstrating to the puppy that you are the pack leader. This should be able to convey your displeasure in her disobedience without hurting her.


When she does follow your commands successfully, you should praise her immediately so she associates the specific action with your response. Being able to reliably associate your response to a specific behavior will give your puppy the confidence of knowing how to earn your praise and affection. Your pleasure in her good behavior should be evident in your voice and in your body language so that she knows that you are really happy with what she did.


The same is also true when you reprimand your puppy. You must do it immediately after the mistake is made so that she is able to associate the incorrect behavior with your displeasure. It is not necessary or advisable to frighten or hurt the puppy for disobeying, but you will need to use a flatter and deeper voice pitch when speaking, and you must refrain from physical affection until she has performed successfully. While this appears harsh to some people who may feel wary of hurting their puppy’s feelings, it is the only tried and true method for teaching a puppy which behaviors are appropriate and which are not. You are not responding in anger, you are responding with an approach to discipline. Think of yourself as a compassionate military commander, and remember that you want to be able to take your dog anyplace without fear of her behavior.


As the leader that your puppy looks up to, you must be able to give praise and correction accordingly and consistently. There is no room for guilt when training a puppy to be a well received member of both human and animal society. You should also be able to correct your puppy without being too emotional about it, and the only way to do this is to take a no-nonsense approach to teaching your puppy what is right and what is wrong. She is depending on your confidence as her pack leader.


Remember that corrections are meant to guide your puppy towards good behavior, and in the process, you are also learning your puppy’s individual character. Just as you do, she has her own individual personality, and through the process of training, you will be encouraging her to be the best dog she can be while respecting both her potential and her limitations.


You must also remember that your puppy is bound to make a mistake at one point or another, as we all do when we are learning something new. Do not be disappointed. Just continue to be patient, consistent and encouraging, and your puppy will follow suit.


Image: Ginny / via Flickr