Obedience Training for Pups and Young Dogs

By admin Posted in Basics, Puppy, Updated posts /


Obedience Training for Puppies and Young Adults
Owners of medium and large breed pups and young dogs who want to do obedience training with them face a dilemma. On the one hand they want their dog to obey their commands but on the other hand they have a dog that has been running free of any restrictions since birth and has not been forbidden much. These young dogs arrive at dog training clubs and clearly do not like the idea of restraints being put on their behaviour. They do not like to be made to sit still in a special place and/or position. One sees it all the time.
We want the dog to do something, and the dog does not want to do it. Obedience training in this situation means, going against the will of the animal. It’s imposing your will on the dog rather than making it do what you wanted by choice. The dog of course has no clue why it is doing what it is doing. Yet, you have to have your dog under control; you can’t have it running amok. Behaviour problems are the main reason why dogs end up in shelters and also why they do not find their forever home.
These dogs have not yet learned how rewarding it can be to do things willingly for their owner. Many have already grown tough and headstrong before arriving at the club. Their owner now has to be more forceful and insistent in order to get the dog to obey his commands. Instead of learning to become willing and eager, they can become wilful and obstinate. The owner meanwhile still expects his dog to retain its puppy spirit and liveliness. What he has to do is to connect with his dog!
Puppies should in fact start puppy socialising and obedience lessons as early as 10 weeks of age. They can be taught the meanings of words such as, “Sit” and to “Come” etc. At the club they get lots of praise, petted and treated with tidbits for getting things right. Not being petted or played with or fed is their “punishment” for not conforming. All “pops” or corrections (Stop doing what you are doing) must be done without anger or hurts and must be so consistent that the puppy knows when he is wrong and why.
The dog must learn to play before learning to Work.
What an obedience instructor ideally wants is to start working with a dog that knows nothing of obedience but is crazy about his handler and plays with him with intensity and joy.
All puppies love to play. That is how they learn who their siblings are. It is also the way of finding out who is going to be the pack leader. By regularly playing with your dog, you will become the centre of his world and the most important thing in his life. Your dog will learn to enjoy being spoken to and to understand the tone of your voice. What you like and what not. Equally you will begin to recognise the dog’s state of mind. Is he unsure, frightened or willing to play?
However, there is a difference between playing with a dog and play-training him. This can be difficult for beginner trainers to grasp – so they need to go to a club to be taught how to play-train. The main difference is that the dog must be guided to play with you and not against you. Play can often get out of hand and then the handler must start disciplining his dog to retain control. When you play “Tuggy” or have to “fight” to get the dog to release a toy you may be playing against your dog not with him!

When, after playing tuggy for a while, you let go of the tug or ball and the dog immediately comes back to re-engage for the game to continue, then you are playing with him. If the dog runs away with the “trophy” then you were fighting him.
Food can be used in play-training as long as it is understood that it is an aid to verbal and physical rewards. If the dog can see the food, it will happily sit each time. If you tell him to sit, praise him for sitting and then reinforce a quick sit with a tidbit, he will learn to recognise your voice as praise. The longer the dog sees the reward the greater the risk that the he will think he is working for the treat and not for you. This is a very common mistake made in food-training when the dog will only work for food.
Food should be used mainly to get the pup/junior dog to understand a command and the moves or positions associated with it. This work is usually performed at home in a quiet area away from distractions. There are too many distractions when dogs are next to or near each other at the club. The instructor will show you how a command is taught and you must practice it at home.
Food must always follow verbal commands and praise so that the dog will accept praise as the reward. It should be used in three phases; firstly, in sight, then in the hand but out of sight and finally in the treat bag. 1) With the treat in sight order the dog to “Sit.” Praise him and reward him when he sits. 2) With the food in the hand but out of sight order the dog to “Sit.” Praise him and reward him when he sits. 3) With empty hands and food in the treat bag, tell the dog to “Sit.” Praise him and reward after he sits.
I play-train my own dogs
I start my puppies playing with a ball in the kitchen as soon as they wake up. The chase for the ball is on (Prey drive) and we roll it, kick and bounce it against the walls. This we do without fail every morning for three to five minutes. Rolling and bouncing creates speed and enthusiasm. Polo still, now four years old, brings me a toy as soon as she sees me in the morning.
After a break we go into the garden where my puppy chases an old garden glove at the end of a 1m line that is attached to a short stick. This is a most exciting and enthusiastic game for a dog because he chases, turns and jumps to get the prey. Three minutes of all out play is exhausting for any puppy. It is the favourite game of all my dogs.
Our final game later in the day takes the form of “Tuggy” with a sack or bite stick when we wrestle, run, chase and play with a prey item such as a ball on a string or a Kong. After a while it becomes almost impossible to hide an item from a pup or young dog. You will be watched and “attacked” to get at the ball-on-a-string. Once your dog is “ball mad” you do not need food and you have a hard working enthusiastic dog for life.
Ground rules
Before using play to motivate and reward your dog with a ball or toy it is good to set some ground rules. (Handlers may prefer other commands.)
1. “Working” or “Watch” or calling the dog by a different name – means pay attention from now on.
2. “Take it” – the dog may have the ball.
3. “Leave it” “Give” “Aus” – the dog must immediately release the toy.
4. “OK” “Free” – training is over and you need not to be watching me all the time.
These commands and what they mean must be understood by the dog before you can actually teach an exercise. “Take – it” and “Leave – it” must be understood. The dog may only take the toy when told to do so or when it is tossed to him. You can tease him with the toy but the dog may not snatch at it. “Leave it” means that the dog must immediately and willingly release the toy on command.
Attention training
Attention training should be taught at the same time as teaching the dog to play because you cannot teach a dog anything if it does not pay attention. Unfortunately it is a very difficult exercise for most handlers to teach. Because of its distractions the dog training club is the worst place to try and train attention exercises. The best place will be at home in a room, garage or a very quiet place.
Week one
With the dog on leash take him to the chosen training space. Take 15-20 pieces of tiny treats to be used in training. Show him a treat in your hand. Say “Watch me” touch the dog’s nose with the treat and then draw it up to touch your nose. When those brown eyes are looking at you, say, “Watch me” and reward. During the few minutes it takes the dog to eat all the treats you can talk in a happy voice; “Watch, Yes, You are so good, Good boy” etc. Take a step to the right or left and let the dog follow to keep you in sight. Gently tug on the leash occasionally as you talk to the dog. “OK” to end the session. If possible try to repeat this exercise two or three times in a day.
Week two
Continue as for week one but now delay giving the food so quickly. Up to 10 seconds between treats and larger sideways movements can be made. Hide the food from vision. Continue with lots of praise if he pays attention. If the dog looks away, tug on the leash and say, “Watch me” to get his attention. This week the dog must learn that he will get rewarded for paying attention. If the dog looks away more than twice it may mean that there are distractions or the first weeks work was not done well enough. Repeat and end with “OK.”
Week three
Training must continue as before but now 1/3 of the food is in sight. 1/3 in the fist, out of sight, and 1/3 in the treat bag so that both hands are empty. Show empty hands and praise if he pays attention. Now you can move a few steps further left or right or walk further away. I also do about turns. The dog must become confident that if he pays attention he will be rewarded.
If you are happy with the dog’s progress you can move to another room, stoep or quiet corner in the garden or let someone watch you train the attention exercise.
Attention in the Sit and Heel position
Puppies must first be taught to sit then to pay attention. Food firstly is in sight then delays before rewarding followed by distance anywhere up to the end of the leash. Next step is to swivel yourself to the Heel position next to the dog who must “Watch” while you move. As you stop with the dog looking up at you, say “Heel” praise and reward him so that he can learn what you mean when you tell him to “Heel.”
Attention on the move
With the pup/young dog in the heel position, show him your food held in the left hand and say, “Come with me.” Start walking and offer a treat. Keep walking so that the dog stays next to or slightly behind your left side. Treat and praise often. After a distance of 10 – 15 paces make a left turn and keep encouraging the puppy to follow you. Carry on in the same way by walking in an elongated course a few times. “OK” ends the exercise and is repeated often with much praise and reward. The aim is for the dog to get into the habit to walk on your left in the Heel position.
All retrieve is always done in play mode. The ball is kicked gently and the dog is encouraged to chase it. The ball must become a prey object and have “life” as it rolls away. Persist in kicking it for the dog until the pup picks it up at which point you start running and the dog carries the ball. Do not try to take it from the dog just yet because you want him to become possessive over it.
Once the dog is keen to carry the ball you have the main ingredients needed to teach the retrieve exercise. Never ever pick up a ball for your dog! The dog must be taught to pick it up and hold it until you ask for it.
Training field arousal
When my new dog or puppy is ready to take its next step towards formal obedience training I begin training him to see the training field as a place of fun and excitement. Arriving at the field I do not let my dog out of the car to stand around and get bored. If it is a long journey to the field I will take the dog out to relieve himself and then back into the car. He or she waits until I am ready to train and they are then usually very excited to get out of the car. We run onto the field and play-train vigorously, run and wrestle but mainly play with the ball on a string for three or four minutes. After a few weeks of this kind of training, when the dog comes out of the car, he is excited and ready to work and looks at me to start the game. We use this energy to train obedience routines such as sit, down, stand, heel and retrieve etc.

Successful Obedience requires

  1. That you have to put a lot of work into it to be successful
  2. You have to find what works for you – what method, tools, collars etc.
  3. What turns your dog on– makes him react instantly? Tennis ball, tug, Kong, food
  4. When to train? Day, time of day
  5. For how long?
  6. How often?
  7. Do you want him to enter for obedience classes: Special Beginners -, Beginners Class, Novice, Class A,B and C, Companion Dog, Tracker Dog I, II, III, Police Dog, Schutzhund, Protection, Agility, Carting etc.
Your dog’s life is in your hands and he is waiting for you to obedience train him to be a dog that is a pleasure to live with.


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