By Natalie Lester, PetSafe Brand Marketing Specialist
Shortly after I got Emma and attended Michelle Mullins’, CPDT-KA, dog training class to understand how my dog learns, I felt I was really ready to begin teaching my new puppy a few old tricks. After all, we needed a few small victories as we struggled with potty training.
I realized through Michelle’s class that positive reinforcement and negative punishment training methods would probably be most effective for Emma. She was, and still is, so anxious for attention and treats. I had read it would be best if I chose one word for each behavior so she could understand easily, so I took a basic list of commands, picked my words, and went to work.
Sit: This was probably the easiest behavior to teach with positive reinforcement. I used a Lickety Stik, which she loves more than any other treat, to control the placement of Emma’s nose. When I held it just an inch above her head, she would lift her head to reach it. As she lifted the front part of her body, her back end would drop. I never let her tongue touch the roller ball until her wiggle butt was on the floor. Now, I hardly even have to tell her to “sit” before she does it automatically. It is usually the other tricks or behaviors that take a little bit longer to perform since she is so used to being rewarded for sitting.
Off: I use “off” to instruct Emma to get off, let go, or step away from anything she is currently on. It may be slightly confusing since it is applicable in so many situations, and I am thinking of coming up with another command for letting something out of her mouth. I haven’t changed it quite yet because I really believe in the consistency of training. Anyway, I used negative punishment for jumping while repeating “off” to her. For example, when I let her out of her house (kennel) when I come home, she used to jump up to greet me. Now, I turn away when she starts to jump and start to go back out the door. Almost immediately now, she will stop jumping so I will stay. It did take a few times for her to really understand. At first, she just followed me to stay in front of me. However, the more I ignored her, the calmer she became. We’re still working on this with guests and visitors in the office. Often other people don’t want to ignore a puppy, so she gets their attention immediately.
Bed: Though Emma sleeps in her house most nights, she does have a bed for lounging in my room. I wanted to train her to go there on command in hopes of connecting that to getting “off” visitors when they come to the door and going to her bed before she can have any attention. I used positive reinforcement by teaching her to sit in her bed for a treat. I would lead her there on a leash and say “bed.” I would give her a treat and say “sit.” Then she got lots of loving and attention. Now she connects the behaviors together as soon as I say “bed.” No luck yet with the command with the distraction of visitors, but maybe we’ll have a chance to practice more soon.
Down: This is one of Emma’s new trained behaviors. I recently decided that she should be able to come lie “down” with me to watch TV and snuggle. Laura helped me with the idea of how to teach her. While I was standing, I had her sit close to my feet and stood on her leash. As I repeated “down,” I would slowly pull her leash under my foot, causing her head to sink. Eventually, she had to lie down. When I took her off the leash, I helped her remember the body positioning by asking her to sit and hiding a treat in my hand. I would bring the hand with the treat to her nose, then to the floor and away from her. As she followed the treat, the front part of her body would come down to level out on the floor with her back end that was already sitting. It is important to bring the treat down first, because if you just bring it out then she will bring her bottom up with the front part of her body to stand up instead of the other way around.
Fetch: I bought Emma tennis balls for her 4 month birthday (we can celebrate every month the first year, right?), and she has been obsessed ever since. Sometimes I’m convinced she is really a cat, because she will hold one toy in her mouth and paw a tennis ball around the room like a kitty would. On a recent visit to the park, I brought the Lickety Stik she loves so much. I know if I have the Lickety Stik she will always return to me – she just can’t resist! I did a few recalls with her and let her run around for a few minutes to expend some of her energy. When she got a little tired where she would let some distance between us, I would toss the tennis ball to her. She would pick it up and want me to chase her down to get it. However, when I brought out the Lickety Stik, she immediately came to me and dropped the ball to lick her treat. I repeated this a few times until she got it down pat. I didn’t have as much luck with her starting next to me and throwing the ball. Most of the time, she would run a giant lap around the ball, not picking it up, and come back to me. I want to go back out and keep working on it, but it has just been too hot! We’ll get there eventually.
If I can train Emma, I’m convinced anyone can work on basic obedience with their dog. How’s your puppy training going? What have you been able to teach your puppy?
Come back soon to read how Laura has been training her older dog Lincoln to learn new tricks!
As the PetSafe Brand Marketing Specialist, Natalie manages The Paw Print blog and generates other brand related content including public relations and promotions. Before PetSafe, Natalie worked in the local media covering politics, education, and religion. Natalie’s puppy, Emma, spends almost as much time in the office as she does.