Puppy Training 101

I am proud to say that Raven is learning things very quickly. She knows that potty happens outside (not in the house), she has learned to sit, down, off, come, stand, shake, drop it (with regard to letting go of what is in her mouth), don’t touch (50% of the time with regard to food), leave it (70% of the time with the cats…if they are not moving, but close to 100% of the time with other stuff, like electrical wires), and be nice (when taking food from our hands). Today she was doing a nice job with heel with lots of reminders and using a treat. Below are some photos of her during obedience training (photos are clickable to enjoy a larger view):

donttouch0001 “Don’t Touch”

down010001 “Down”

sit0001 “Sit”  – with a little help from Argus

I get asked often how I can train a puppy these basic commands within such a short period of time. It is really not hard to do; it just takes commitment and consistency. I follow Sirius Puppy training techniques, but any POSITIVE training technique which consistently rewards behavior is effective. I don’t use choke collars or prong collars; I don’t yell at Raven; I never strike her. If Raven does something I don’t want her to do, I tell her “no” and re-direct her to something positive that I can reward. I also use a puppy play pen:


Yes, it is ugly, but it is effective. When Raven gets out of control or is not listening, a time out in her pen (with her toys) helps her to settle down.It is not punishment, but re-direction and setting boundaries (just like with kids!).

The basic rules of puppy training are:

  1. Keep it short
  2. Keep it fun
  3. Keep it positive

I use special, yummy treats to train – and later, when Raven has the commands down perfectly, I will wean off of treats and just use praise or play. Raven and I train together every day for very short (less than 10 minute) sessions, 2 or 3 times a day. She loves it because she is spending time with me, she gets lots of praise and we play together in the process. I try to reinforce the training throughout the day by carrying treats in my pocket and taking advantage of those times when Raven does something terrific to reward her (for example, earlier today she walked up to the cats who were snoozing on the rocking chair, stopped, gave a little toss of her head and turned away from them – I rewarded her immediately with a “GOOD leave it!” and a tasty treat). Most puppies will do exactly what you want all on their own at least a few times a day giving you a chance to reinforce positive behavior (example: they will come happily up to you to say hello – a perfect “come” – and even though you didn’t ask for it, go ahead and reward it by saying “GOOD come!” and offering a treat).

Training time is one of my favorite parts of having a new puppy – it is an excellent way to bond with your dog and it can be a lot of fun. I am planning to enroll Raven in a puppy daycare and training class run by a certified trainer – not because I don’t know how to train her, but because it is a good opportunity for socialization with other dogs and people.

If you have some fun success stories with your dog, I would love to hear about it. Please leave me a comment!

butttuck0001 play0001

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    • Sand on April 12, 2009 at 08:45

    A perfect Easter basket for me! I love seeing lots and lots of pictures of your dogs — there’s never enough. I thought Raven was growing VERY fast too — glad to hear you switched to a large breed puppy food. Happy Easter, Wendy!

    • Wendy on April 12, 2009 at 08:49

    Happy Easter to you and yours, Sand! I must have 500 photos of Raven by now *laughs* I’ll be posting more photos throughout the week 🙂

    • Molly on April 12, 2009 at 09:46

    Thank you so much for such a timely post!!

    Our 4 month old lab is finally potty trained – and can sit. Beyond that, we are not faring too well. Right now our biggest challenge is the constant nipping – which I am hoping will significantly diminish once all baby teeth are out and adult teeth are in.

    We also have two older labs who make one-on-one time with Bella difficult. You have convinced me that I need to make this a priority!

    Thanks again — and Happy Easter!

  1. Great tips, Wendy! You ought to write a book. I will be paying close attention to this before too long; Laurie and I are starting the serious talk about puppies!

    • Wendy on April 12, 2009 at 11:10

    Molly: You are welcome! The nipping is always the hardest to deal with – biting is a natural and normal thing for a puppy to do and so what you are really teaching is bite inhibition (ie: how to put their mouth on you without hurting). One way to do this is to hold the puppy and allow them to bite your hand, then when they bite too hard say “OWWW!” in a loud voice. They will immediately let up their bite because this is a universal language (in puppy litters pups will yelp loudly if another pup bites too hard)…as soon as they let up, you praise and reward. Very quickly they learn what is too much and will begin to inhibit their bite on people. This is especially important around kids…most pups (and dogs) when playing do not mean to cause harm, but it can easily happen if they have not learned what is too much pressure. Good luck!!! And Happy Easter to you too!!

    Terri: I am looking forward to hearing about the outcome of your discussions!! Will be happy to advise based on my own learning curve 🙂

  2. You are such a great puppy mom! And gosh, Raven is so cute….I will keep these things in mind if I ever get the chance to have a dog again!

    • Kathy on April 12, 2009 at 12:03

    This is such a great post! I will have to remember some of these tips. Our dog is 13 years old and I think she used some of those same techniques on us – it didn’t take her long to train us.

    • Lisamm on April 12, 2009 at 18:04

    Yikes, he’s going from puppy to PONY so fast! He’s going to be big!

    • Kim L on April 12, 2009 at 18:06

    You make it sound so easy!! We did train our dog, with some help from a puppy training class at Petsmart and we were always amazed at how quickly the dogs learn when they have a patient teacher.

    I felt very triumphant when I taught our dog to roll over because it wasn’t one we learned in class. I built on what they had taught us, and he picked it up quickly!

    • Sheri on April 12, 2009 at 20:51

    My favorite picture is the one where she is sitting next to Argus! 🙂

    I made the HUGE mistake of not socializing Claire in a puppy class. I knew how to train myself (from Tori), so I did it myself. I use the same training techniques that you do. But, because of it, she never socialized right and has issues with other dogs.

    So… the one mistake I made ending up being huge. A good doggie mommy knows better! That’s you!


    • Marcia on April 12, 2009 at 22:13

    She’s so adorable! 🙂 I just wanna roll around the on floor with her. I know I’m a bit behind but congrats on the new family member.

  3. I’ve just been catching up on the Raven posts. She’s adorable and growing so fast! 🙂

    • EL Fay on April 13, 2009 at 08:46

    Awww! What a cute growing girl! Our Sunnie has always had a choke collar, though. I know some people think it’s cruel, but every time we’ve tried a regular collar she ends up breaking it, especially when she’s outside on her zip line and she sees a deer or squirrel. And she’s 10 years old, so I don’t think she’s changing anytime soon.

    • Lisa on April 13, 2009 at 14:31

    I love that stiff legged walk in the last picture. She’s so cute, and better trained than my dog!

    • Wendy on April 13, 2009 at 14:42

    Amy: Thanks – it seems like it is my life right now *laughs*

    Kathy: I think most puppy classes these days teach puppies with these kinds of techniques – and really the pup almost trains his or herself…it is very rewarding!

    Lisa: *laughing* I agree – it is a little scary!

    Kim: I don’t mean to make it sound COMPLETELY easy – it actually takes some patience 🙂 So glad to hear YOUR success story…it is so fun when that little lightbulb goes on in their head and they learn something new, isn’t it?

    Sheri: I like that photo too 🙂 Socialization is really important as you found out…and I think it is more important with certain breeds (like german shepherds) who tend to be suspicious of what they do not know.

    Marcia: Thank you! She would like for you to roll around on the floor with her 🙂

    Tanabata: Thanks!

    El Fay: Some dogs seem to need a little extra – and I am not totally opposed to choke collars, but I have also seen them misused. I actually used a shock collar ONCE on Caribou…but it was for snake aversion training which could have saved her life. We went into wilderness areas for Search and Rescue where there were lots of rattlesnakes and I was always scared she would get bit and not be close to medical care. The shock collar worked – she never approached ANY snake ever after that training. It was the only time I’ve used negative training…but it was appropriate in that case.

    Lisa: I laughed when I looked at that photo…she is so silly sometimes.

    • Tara on April 13, 2009 at 15:52

    Raven is growing up so quickly! And I’m so jealous that her training is coming along so well. My husband and I just got a Westie that we named Buster, oh I’d say 3 weeks ago … and we’re ready to pull our hair out with the house training, lol! I loved reading your suggestions on training, I’m definitely going to try your way to see if it’ll work better than how we’re doing it! Thanks for the great puppy posts!

    • Jeane on April 14, 2009 at 07:13

    Raven is so adorable. I always marvel at how smart dogs are, to learn so quickly (although maybe my cat is smarter for not wanting to do what I say- ha ha). If I ever get a puppy, I’ll come back to you for tips! (My kid and husb really want one, but I’m not quite ready for that).

    • Wendy on April 14, 2009 at 17:35

    Tara: I hope my suggestions help 🙂 In regard to housetraining…the basic rule of thumb is to take them outside EVERY time after: eating, sleeping, or playing. So frequently *laughs* I also attach a word to everything…so I say to Raven: “Hurry up” and when she pees or poops I say “GOOD hurry up!” I did that with Caribou and I could make her pee on command – she would squeeze out a drop if I said hurry up, even if she really didn’t have to go *laughing*

    Jeane: They are really open to learning, aren’t they? But they are also a TON of work!!!

    • Tui on April 18, 2009 at 08:02

    Late to the party but I love her tail on the “sit” photo. I’m also really impressed with her “don’t touch” too…that’s pretty little to have mastered that one. Brilliant, Wendy.

    • Wendy on April 18, 2009 at 08:22

    Tui: *laughing* That little tail is so cute right now – pointed and teeny with all its puppy fur. She just this week started to get some adult fur in a stripe down her back. She learned “don’t touch” really fast (Bou was more resistant to that one!). Down has been the hardest for her for some reason. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

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