Dogs truly are our best friends, and they intuitively want to do the right thing and make us happy. When you have a new puppy, it's crucial to learn to communicate with them in a way they understand. This enables you to train them, and training will help your pup live happily and safely with us in our human world.
Here, I've put together my top tips for puppy training that will help you no matter what you're trying to teach your pup, whether it's to stop jumping up on you, come when called or simply 'sit'. You can get started with this training as soon as you bring your puppy home.
1. Non-verbal signals are important
Gestures and postures mean more to dogs than spoken words, at least initially. This means that hand signals are important and word commands such as 'sit' are secondary to the hand signal.
When you are teaching a new command, start by using a food lure that becomes a hand signal. When your dog is performing consistently with the food lure and hand signal, you can introduce the spoken command on top of the hand signal. This limits the number of things that might confuse your dog when they are starting out on a new command.
2. Word commands should be simple
- Commands should be single syllable: sit, come, stay.
- Keep them simple and don't change them.
- Don't mix meanings - one command should have one meaning only.
3. Clicker training
This is the fastest way to train your pup (or dog). The click identifies the behaviour that you want from your pup and after a little pairing with food (the pup learns that a click means a food reward) it can also switch the pup into a learning state.
Teaching your dog to sit is a good way to start clicker training your pup: Use your hand signal with the food lure in your hand and then as their bottom hits the ground click and reward with food.
The timing of the click is critical – it must accurately mark the behaviour you want so your pup knows what you want it to do. Click the moment their bottom hits the ground. The clicker is a training tool that helps establish new behaviour; you can phase the clicker out once the behaviour is established.
4. Your dog’s name is not a command
- Only use your dog's name to orient your dog to you.
- Keep names short - ideally one syllable (or use a nickname)
- Don't use your dog's name as a command e.g. yelling "Spot!" when you want Spot to come to you. Instead say "Spot. Come!"
- The name just tells your dog who you're talking to (especially if you have other dogs); the command tells your dog what you want it to do.
5. Your body language is important
For drawing commands (asking your dog to come toward you or be with you - eg. "come" or "heel") your body language should be inviting and non-threatening. Use happy tones when speaking.Your body shouldn't be in a front-on posture - instead turn slightly sideways to your dog. Bending or squatting down to lower your body can also help.
Don't stare - smile and be encouraging.
For fixed commands (eg. when you want your dog to stay in one place eg. sit, down, wait, stay) use a slightly firmer tone of voice and have your body square on. Make some eye contact.