Many people over the years have asked me how to start training their puppy. In my years of watching new puppy owners and owners with untrained adult dogs, the most important command is “Come”. For some breeds of puppies and adult dogs, returning to the owner is inbred in their genetic make-up and they enjoy it. For others, training is needed.
So, how do you start? First, you need some form of reward, a treat or toy that your puppy or dog loves. If you are using a treat, make sure your pet has not been fed prior to your training sessions. Also, bring along a leash that will be attached to your dog’s collar.
The best place to start is in an enclosed area with no other dogs in it, such as your back yard or a tennis court. This is for safety and limits distraction. Once in the chosen area, drop the leash and let your dog roam around allowing him to release some energy. Begin by staying close to him. Then, say “Come” putting the food or toy in the dog’s face and backing up about ten feet so he will follow you. Once he follows you the whole way, administer the reward. Include praise as well. Since you may not always have the treat or the toy, you will want to get him accustomed to returning to you without the reward and simply for the praise.
With some dogs, primarily hunting dogs, scents are almost too distracting for them. With these types of dogs, you may have to get a longer leash and grab it when they are on a scent and refuse to return. In these cases, you will have to stand your ground and slowly tug on the leash until you see him make a move in your direction on his own. At this point, you should be very quick with praise. If he stops again, do not give him any time to sniff or goof around, repeat the tugging process again until he returns to you. Then, immediately give him his reward. Sometimes you can hold a treat in your hand so they can smell it but not quite get the whole thing, praising the whole time.
Repeat this process every time you are out with the dog. The distances should only be extended when your dog has been returning consistently. Some will learn very quickly, others may take extra time. The key is to have patience and never call your dog to come when you are angry. If they have been trained and refuse to return, simply approach him, pick up the leash and start from scratch for a few days to get them back into the habit.
The best tip to remember is to have fun, be relaxed, and pick a time of the day when you are not overwhelmed with your own day-to-day issues. What you feel on the inside will reflect how your dog learns and reacts. Your dog will sense if you are uptight, nervous, angry or depressed, and will react accordingly. Taking your dog out should represent a relaxing time you look forward to. Make time for your dog’s exercise; at least 25-minute walks twice a day.