Puppy Training and Development: Part 3
The below commands are an extension of part 2. If you have not read part 2 of this series please do before reading the following.
While working on sit you can work on the “here” command. This is very easy to teach a puppy, especially if you already picked a puppy that follows you like I described in the Picking a Puppy section. The easiest way to teach “here” is have treats in hand, let the puppy wander a little, squat down, say “hey hey” or whistle or click your mouth to get his attention, and when he sees that your on his level he will be so excited to be with you and will start sprinting toward you. When he’s headed you direction say “Here, Here” and as soon as he gets to you immediately reward, praise, and pet. Then say “okay” and let him run off. Repeat this process in the house a few times everyday since once he gets a little older and is more adventurous he’ll want to keep playing instead of going to you so the more positive repetitions you can get early the better. When working this in the field or yard I recommend attaching a puppy check cord so you can reel him in when you call him to you. A common mistake I see people make is that they make a dog sit, step back a few steps, then call the dog to them. This is good, but if you do it every time the pup will begin to anticipate the “here” command and breaking from its sit. If you mix up calling it to you from sit and then making it sit, taking a few steps back, then walking back to the pup and then releasing it will balance the commands. If you’ve ever been hunting in high winds you know that having a dog recall to a whistle is a very useful tool. Once you have had some success teaching the “here” command you can teach the whistle the same way. Get the dogs attention, squat down, say “here” and trill the whistle (tweet-tweet-tweet…). Or if you can tell the puppy is heading your way then just trill the whistle without saying anything and reward him once he comes in.
Now that he is learning “Kennel”, “sit”, and “Here” we can now teach “Place”. To do this you’re going to need an elevated platform or a cot style bed. I have seen people build small wooden square platforms with 2X4s or use old tires with ply wood on top. We just need something that is elevated with very clear boundaries. Eventually a soft pillow bed can become the “place” but for training I recommend using one of the “place” platforms described above. Lure the dog onto the place and as soon as all four paws are on the bed, give him the treat! Do this a few times and he’ll be jumping on and off the place platform. Once he’s running to the place bed, say “place” right as those feet are about to get on the bed and then give him a treat. One thing I like to do is when I let my puppy out for the bathroom or he’s just running around the house I’ll walk by the place platform and drop a few treats. I wont say anything but he’ll walk by, smell the treats, and then be rewarded without me having to say anything. Eventually, every time he sees a cot style bed he’ll run and sit on it with his tail wagging. This place platform will be a big training tool for us to spend some time woking the “place” command and getting him to set on it. Another little trick I do is when the pup is sitting on the place platform, and I have a pocket full of treats, I will say the dogs name and hold a treat up by my face. As soon as he looks at me I praise and give a treat. I repeat this process many times and do it about two or three times a week. This does multiple things at once; its giving the dog lots of reward on top of that place bed giving him a positive association, it encourages eye contact with me, and its teaching him that his name means look at me. This way instead of the pup only hearing his name get yelled angrily when he’s chewed up your shoes, its putting a positive association with his name. It doesn’t have to be perfect every time but it’ll make like easier. Also at this point, since he has had some name training the cadence of a command for the dog will be the dogs name followed by the command (e.g., “Tex, sit”, “Rufus, Here”, “Shiner, Heel”).
Once the dog knows what “sit” means and will do it most of the time with low distractions you can start heel work. I start with treats in hand, have the dog sitting in front of me, and then lure the dog with treats to spin around at my left side and sit next to me. If he is where I want I will continue to give time treats then do another repetition. You can also do a pivot heel once his spin to your side has been decent. I use the cue “Heel” to scoot your butt back as I spin to the left, and I use the cue “here” to mean scoot up and pivot with me to the right. This won’t be perfect or pretty the first few times you do this but it will clean itself up over time. Teach him that sitting next to you is a very good thing and will get him rewarded. The pivot heel is a little more difficult for a dog to understand and will feel awkward at first but by luring with treats and patience you both will begin to understand what is desired. I recommend doing many repetitions of this throughout the dogs life because having a dog naturally want to finish a retrieve at heel will look pretty and make life a lot easier. You may be asking “why teach the pivot heel with multiple words and not just use ‘heel’ for all of it?” The reason I teach the pivot heel now is because when you get into wagon wheel lining drills in advanced work and start running multiple retrieves this will be an easy way to communicate with the dog while he’s focused on the bumpers or birds. There are two types of heeling that we want to teach; a sitting heel, and a walking heel. I described above an easy way to teach a sitting and pivot heel but a walking heel can be tricky for some people so lets keep it simple to start. Hold a treat in front of your dogs nose while he’s sitting at you left side, take a step forward and say “heel”. Try to get him to follow you on that side. Start with just one step and reward for being on that side and give multiple rewards if he follows on your heel side and then sits. Once he’s doing one step well then move to two steps, then three, and so on. Another great way to clean up the walking heel is to take the pup for a walk down the street. Grab a pocket full of treats the pup really likes, snap his leash to his collar and start walking down the road. Don’t start trying to jerk him into place, we will be doing that later. All you will need to do is when he starts really pulling on the leash, just stop, get his attention and try to lure him back into a heeling position. Once he’s in the position you want then start walking again. I know this is annoying, repetitive and you wont get very far but eventually it will turn into an informal heel. This is also teaching a loose leash walking which will make life a lot easier for anybody wanting to take him for a walk. One fun thing you can do before feeding time when the pup knows a lot of the above commands is to start by making him kennel, call him to you, make him sit in front, then make him heel, then send him to the kennel again. Doesn’t have to be in that order, but I like to mix up commands and then send him from heel to his kennel. This is one way to get him comfortable with leaving your side, like a retrieve, but takes the actual retrieve aspect out of it.
The last command I like to teach a puppy is “woah” or “stand”. I simply have a pocket full of treats and get on the ground with the dog to play with him. While we’re playing I’ll gently put one hand under his flank and another under his chin and try to get him to stand still. If he does stand still I say “woah” and then reward. I don’t make him stand there for long periods of time, I just like to teach the action and associate the command with that action.
If you’d like to teach the “down” command the best time is to teach it now. I have seen people teach it later in life with force, which causes the dog to lay down when force is applied. One of my biggest pet peeves is when my dogs lay down on force because its a cheap way to turn off the pressure. Start with some treats and get down on your left (or right) knee, hold out the other leg straight with enough space for the pup to crawl underneath. Lure the dog with a treat under your outstretched leg, the only option to get the reward is if he lays down and when he does, say the word “down”and give him the treat. After a few repetitions of this he will begin to understand the game. If your pup is really fighting you on this and its important to you you can lure him down with a treat in one hand, and with the other hand put your thumb between his shoulder blades and push down. They done like it so he’ll lay down pretty quick, and when he does say “down” and reward.
All the commands above are described so that a puppy can learn them and in each section I will review the obedience and how to progress the dog. This starting point will give you an understanding of how we start things in a positive way with a low expectation and then raising the bar until we have a finished versatile dog. Remember, the puppy is never wrong!