Category Archives: Training tips

Discouraging biting

All puppies play bite and mouth their owners and other pets in the family.  Discourage it because it will continue into adulthood and become painful and unpleasant.

If your pup bites you too hard, even accidentally, stop playing, say “no” or “ah-ah” and walk away. Allow him to calm down and play more quietly next time. If you are consistent he will learn that the consequence of biting is no playmate.


Good mealtime manners

Manners maketh dog – as well as man! Good mealtime manners are vital to a healthy relationship between you and your dog.

Teach your pup to hold a sitting position while a bowl of food is placed on the ground in front of her. With your pup on a short lead in your left hand, ask her to “sit”. Lower the food bowl in your right hand. At the same time use your left hand to block her moving forward.

If she stands raise the bowl and encourage her to sit again.

Repeat using small movements until she remains sitting while you place the food bowl on the ground.

Loosen the lead and say “free” or “ok” to allow access to the food.

You can also take some food from the bowl to hold her attention and then drop it back into the bowl as you say “ok”.

Remain with her during the meal so that she doesn’t become possessive about food. Place your hand in the food bowl and encourage her to eat around your hand.

Add extra yummy food to her bowl while she is eating, so that having you around while she is eating means added bonuses.

 

Teaching your pup to heel

Walking well on a lead is the most valuable skill your pup will ever learn. Enjoyable outings depend on your dog following you and not dragging you around.

If your dog pulls ahead stand still until the lead goes loose before walking on. Treat him when he stays by your side. Persist, because if you give in and let him pull ahead he will take you where he wants to go, which rewards him with what he wants and ensures that he will do the same next time too.

Call his name to get his attention and make it fun to follow you. Change direction and encourage him to follow with a treat. Every time he stays next to you say “yes” or “good” and give a treat. This makes it clear that you want him to walk next to you.

Next encourage him to sit next to you every time you stand still. Stop walking, say “sit” and give a treat when he sits. Eventually he will sit when you stop even without a reward. This is vital near roads and bicycle paths.

 

Teaching your dog to stay

The key to succeeding with the “stay” command is to make small steps of success and not giant leaps of failure! Break the exercise into three components – distance, duration and distraction. Add one at a time and build on successes.

Start teaching “stay” on lead. Train in a quiet location with no distractions.  Do not move anywhere at first. Ask your dog to stay, place your flat hand in front of him and stand up straight beside him. Count to five. If he hasn’t moved in this time say “yes” or “good boy” and give him a treat. Practise this three or four times before extending the stay to 10 seconds. (Duration 10 seconds, Distance 0, Distraction 0)

Add the challenge of distance: tell him to “stay” and use the same hand command. Take a small step out to the side for one second and then move back in. If he doesn’t move say “yes” or “good” and give a small treat and praise. Practise this three or four times before moving further out. (1sec Duration, 1 step Distance, 0 Distraction)

With your dog on lead gradually move further and further out until you are confident you can drop the lead. Do this in a safe environment in case your dog decides to take advantage of his freedom.

Only progress one of the Ds at a time, so that your dog always wins the game you are playing. Either increase the time he waits or increase the distance between you, but not both at the same time. This seems slow to us but your pup learns more rapidly and permanently through repeated successes and having fun.  Keep your training sessions short and end on a high note so neither of you get frustrated.


How to teach your dog to come to you

Only ever use “come” in connection with a positive experience.  If you punish a pup after saying “come” he will run away instead of coming when you call.

Teach “come” in a quiet, safe place like your backyard or hallway. Start with your pup on lead. Call him when you know he is guaranteed to come anyway, for a meal or a walk. Reward him with treats as soon as he comes.

Next station two people with treats, one up each end of the yard or hall. Take turns to attract your dog’s attention with his name, clicks or whistles. When he looks toward the caller and you are sure he will come towards the caller only, the caller should command him to “come”.  This builds a strong word-action association. The caller should sound excited while the other person remains still and quiet. When he comes show him how pleased you are by saying “good boy” and giving pats and treats.

The next step is to ask him to “sit” when he returns to you.  This gives you added control and stops him jumping up on you.

Practise this back and forth, but end before your dog gets bored.

At the next session run a short distance and encourage him to follow. Only move to more challenging locations when you are sure of success. Try on the oval on lead before you try off lead. A long retractable lead or a long piece of rope increases distance and distraction levels but still guarantees his safety and return. Before you allow him off lead he must feel that coming to you is more exciting and rewarding than playing with another dog or chasing a cat.

 

How to teach sit and drop

Sit

Sitting is a dog’s way of saying “please”. Your dog should sit before a meal or before crossing the road.

Start by holding a small piece of food near his nose so he can sniff or lick but not grab it. Slowly move it above his nose so that his nose is pointing in the air. Move the treat back over his head until his bottom is on the ground. As his bottom touches the ground say “sit” and give the treat. You are pairing the word “sit” with the action of sitting.

If he jumps for the food you are holding it too high. If he walks backwards to follow the treat, do the exercise against a wall.

Use lots of praise and encouragement.

Drop

Once your pup knows the “sit” command teach him to “drop”. Ask him to sit, show him a treat and then slowly lower it between his front paws. As soon as his tummy hits the ground, say “drop” and give him the treat and lots of praise.

If you lower the treat too quickly the pup won’t follow the treat down and will lose interest. If you place the treat too far in front of his paws he will lean forward to get it and stand up.

Extend the period he stays in the drop position by giving small treats while still in the position. Gradually increase the interval between treats. You can use praise and pats in between food rewards. He will soon realise that the longer he lies the more you will reward him.

 

Principles of training your puppy

Training makes your pup an enjoyable member of your family. Build on the puppy party foundation by taking your dog to obedience school or adolescent classes.

Training your puppy should be fun for you both – don’t turn it into a chore. Make it part of your everyday routine. Ask your puppy to sit before meals, before a walk and before a game.

Introduce your pup to a wide variety of places, people, animals and toys in the first few months. This gives him the skills to cope with novel situations and makes him tolerant of the things he will encounter often later in life.

Training sessions must be short, sharp and exciting. Young puppies only have a very short attention span so limit training to five minutes, two or three times a day.

Be consistent with your commands. Pick one word for each action and stick to it. Your pup will find it easier to recognise a single command word rather than two or three combined.

Use your dog’s name before every command to get his attention. Sound excited and happy so that he stops whatever he is doing and looks to you.

Build a positive association between praise and reward by saying “good dog” before giving a food reward.

Say “ah-ah” when he does the wrong thing and do not give a reward of any kind.  For example, if the puppy lifts his front feet off the ground when you are giving a food reward say “ah-ah”, withdraw the treat and wait until the puppy holds the sitting position before giving it.

Remember that actions speak louder than words. Dogs read our body language and tone of voice as well as our words. Always talk to your puppy in a pleasant, friendly tone of voice. Voice tone is as much a positive reinforcement as an edible treat or toy.

Do not continue a training session if you feel cranky or tired, or if the session is not going well. Training should be fun for both of you. If your voice is sharp or stern your puppy will think he has done something wrong.

Find the reward that best encourages the desired behaviour. Most dogs enjoy food treats. Others are motivated by toys or displays of affection.

Most dogs value small pieces of moist meat over dry foods. If you are teaching something new or there are many distractions meat treats are more effective.

Alternate treats with praise, like “yes” or “good”, pats or toys.

Once he has learned a new command or trick, use rewards intermittently to increase his motivation. He will keep hoping that this time he will be rewarded.

 

Your puppy’s first weeks

A puppy’s world is turned upside down when you take her away from her litter mates and parents. Her mother guided her behaviour and her siblings helped her sort out the rules for life. She was used to her environment and had constant companionship.

Now you are that puppy’s world!  You are responsible for her well being and are her prime companion.  She looks to you for guidance and expects you to set the rules.

Your puppy may be living with your family for the next 15 years, and what she learns in the first few weeks will determine her behaviour for the rest of her life.

Start the way you wish to continue, be consistent in your expectations and commands and involve all family members in making and keeping the rules for your pup. Encourage children to be calm near the puppy.

Encourage desirable behaviour with petting and a treat. Reward the pup within one and a half seconds of the desirable behaviour so she associates the behaviour with the outcome. Punishment or scolding is much less effective.

Discourage mouthing or biting behaviour.  It can turn into a dangerous habit in an adult dog, particularly around small children.

Resist going to a crying pup at night. Check that she has adequate food, water and warmth and then ignore her. If you answer her cries she will keep at it. Once she realises that no one responds to her crying she should settle down.

Build your puppy’s self-confidence and ability to cope with the world so that she doesn’t need you by her side all the time. Dogs that are over-dependent on their owners develop unpleasant behaviours.

When you come home from work acknowledge your pup only when she has calmed down and given up demanding your attention.  If she pushes at your hands or jumps in your lap look away, withdraw your hands or manoeuvre your body so that she cannot access your lap. When she calms down ask her to sit then pet her as a reward for the correct response.

As soon as your pup is vaccinated get her out into the big, wide world.  Good experiences with all types of people, animals, situations and places are critical for healthy socialisation.  From 6 to 16 weeks expose her to as many new experiences as possible.  She will be less anxious and more tolerant as an adult if she has already met other dogs, cats, horses, children and other people, as well as had a ride in a car, been groomed and had a veterinary exam.

Some breeds like border collies, kelpies or cattle dogs are very active and need lots of exercise.  Other breeds have to be prised off the couch to play Frisbee or walk to the park. All dogs love a break from their own yard with their carer.

Avoid off-lead dog parks until your pup is confident with other dogs. Introduce her to dogs that are on a lead and under the full control of their owners so that she doesn’t become afraid of other dogs.  Allow your pup an escape route by keeping the lead loose when near other dogs or strangers.  She should never feel cornered as this can trigger aggression or intimidating behaviour.

 

Your dog eats what????? Dogs who eat faeces

Coprophagia is the ingestion of a dog’s own or other pets’ faeces. While offensive to us it is normal for bitches with young pups and pups exploring their environment. It is only dangerous to dogs if they ingest parasites with the faeces. However, coprophagia in an older dog maybe an indication of a physical or behavioural problem and should be investigated by your veterinarian before trying the remedies listed below.

Common causes of coprophagia:

  • Normal maternal behaviour. A bitch licks her pups to stimulate urination and defecation and then consumes their excrement to keep the nest clean.
  • Normal exploratory behaviour in young pups.
  • Boredom.
  • An inadequate diet. A poorly balanced, low calorie or indigestible diet may drive a dog to consume faeces.
  • An excessive appetite because of a disease such as diabetes or Cushings disease, or because of poor digestion and absorption of nutrients, or because of drugs that stimulate  the appetite like prednisolone, cortisone or thyroxine.
  • Dietary preference. Many dogs think cat faeces are a gourmet delicacy.
  • The poorly digested faeces of a companion dog with digestion or malabsorption problems are attractive to some dogs.
  • Attention seeking behaviour if the dog discovers he gains the immediate attention of his owners when he eats faeces.
  • A coping mechanism in anxious dogs.
  • The rare manifestation of a compulsive disorder

Management:

  • Pick up faeces in the dog’s yard promptly.
  • Restrict outdoor access unless the dog has defecated and the area is free of faeces.
  • Walk dogs on a leash to avoid ingestion outside the yard.
  • Move cat litter trays to an area inaccessible to the dog or provide a covered tray (as long as this is acceptable to the cat).
  • Feed an age appropriate, complete, good quality diet.
  • Provide a more stimulating environment including regular human attention, excursions outside the house yard, walks, doggy play dates, food finding games and activity feeder toys, such as stuffed Kongs, treat balls, bob-a -lots.
  • Add vegetable oil or fibre to meals to soften faeces and make them less attractive.
  • Add the meat tenderiser, papain, to the diet to make faeces less palatable or
  • Add pancreatic enzymes to meals to make faeces less palatable or
  • Add pineapple or grated zucchini to meals to make faeces less palatable or
  • Slip some white pepper or hot chillis into faeces to discourage sniffing and consumption
  • Deworm with Drontal, Milbemax or similar every 3 months.

Training techniques:

  • If your dog defecates on a walk give it a food reward to counter condition it to expect food rather than to search for faeces.
  • Teach your dog to come away from faeces with the command “leave it”. Teach the “leave it” command using a head collar and leash. Walk the dog toward an item he likes to pick up, such as a ball or chew toy. As he reaches for the item say “leave it” and turn the dog’s head using the head collar. As his head comes toward you reward him with a food treat and praise.  Repeat until he turns his head before you pull on the leash. Immediately reward him for turning. Progress to rewarding him for turning away from more valued items such as a juicy bone. Gradually phase out food rewards while retaining the verbal praise. Then use the “leave it” command to discourage investigation of faeces. You could use fake faeces from a joke shop as practice. You could reward obeying a leave command and ignoring faeces with an activity ball.

While coprophagia is distasteful to us it is usually not harmful to the dog as long as he is dewormed every 3 months. It is difficult to wean some dogs of the habit.

Reward-based training

Dogs play an important part in many of our lives. With proper training from an early age, they can learn to interact with people in a positive way.

With this in mind the Australian Veterinary Association has developed a set of practical recommendations for vets and dog trainers on training methods based on positive reinforcement.

Reward-based training: a guide for dog trainers outlines the benefits of reward-based training and identifies some of the problems associated with alternative training methods. It also includes a number of case studies, examples of training and comprehensive list of references for further reading on the subject.