If you’ve ever brought home a new puppy, you know what I mean when I say it’s love at first sight. Those big dark eyes, the puppy breath, that adorable soft coat, the tiny paws, the little wet nose, and best of all (if you’re like me) those sweet little puppy kisses. Fast forward a few weeks. Okay, maybe a few days. Your little one successfully demolished your new shoes. And left his teeth marks on the kitchen table. And came up with a whole new way of taking out the trash. And several other things you’d rather not think about. So now what? You want a well trained puppy, but you’re not sure those terms even go together. Can your little one be well trained but still be that adorable puppy you fell in love with? The answer is yes. And I promise you that there is nothing more adorable than a puppy that stops what he’s chewing and sits when he hears the word “no.” You may be thinking, “That’s great, but how do I get there?” Let’s go over the basic commands.
Sit. Midnight Schnauzers puppies learn this before they go home, but if your pup needs a refresher course, try this method. The next time the little guy stops his play long enough to run over to you, cup his little face in your hands, look him in the eye, and give the sit command. Gently tip his head back, guiding him into a sitting position. Calmly praise him just as if he did it on his own. Soon he will! Back to what I said earlier, any time you have to tell your puppy “no” or “ah, ah, ah” (when chewing your stuff, going into the wrong area, etc.) have him sit afterwards, and praise him. He’ll figure out that sitting makes you happy, and puppies will usually do anything to make that happen. This concept is very helpful when training your puppy not to jump up to get petted. Try only petting him when he’s sitting. He’ll learn to associate sitting with love and attention. Just a reminder, you’ll want to keep your training sessions short, about 5 minutes, especially at first. Limit repetition of commands to 3 times each. Your goal is to quit while you’re both having fun.
Come. It’s probably the easiest thing for your puppy to learn. I mean hanging out with you is all they want to do, right? To teach this command, you’ll need a treat or favorite toy. Stand a short distance from the puppy. Squeak the toy, hold out the treat, whatever you prefer, and say “come!”. When he comes running, praise him, have him sit, and give him the toy or treat. Soon he’ll come to you with only praise as a reward. Helpful hint: If your pup is busy running around the yard and doesn’t pay attention to your call until he’s good and ready (grrr), resist the temptation to say “bad boy!” when he finally comes. This will only make the problem worse, as he will associate coming with your being unhappy. Go back to using the toy or treat if you have to, but always, always praise lavishly but calmly when he obeys promptly. I’ve found this to be the best cure for a stubborn little guy or gal.
Stay. It’s hard for the same reason “come” is easy: your puppy wants to be with you! Besides that, sitting still is a foreign concept for most pups. So your first job is to get your little guy used to the idea. Have him sit, then give the stay command. You’ll probably need to put one hand on his back and just pet him and talk to him for a minute, repeating the stay command often. Give the release command, “okay” or “come,” and let him go about his business. After he’s used to that, you can try having him stay with you sitting in front of him but without touching him. Then start having him stay while you back a short distance away. Tell him to come when you’re ready, have him sit, and of course, praise him. Move progressively farther away from him with each training session. Soon you’ll be able to back across the room while he stays sitting! Ifyour puppy tends to get up before you say “come” or “okay,” say “ah, ah,ah” in a warning tone and have him sit again. If you do this with a ton of patience, he’ll get the idea with time! Helpful hint: It’s important to establish a hand signal for stay. I like to hold my hand up, palm out, like the traffic directors do when they’re telling you to stop. Puppies often respond to visual cues better than verbal commands. The same applies to sit (hold up your index finger) and come (drop your hand to your side).
Shake. Now for the fun part! Shaking is technically non-essential to having a well trained puppy, but in my opinion, it’s such a big part of your little guy’s happiness that I have to throw it in here. First, have your puppy sit. Hold out your hand, palm up, and give the shake command. If the puppy doesn’t respond, pick up his little paw, shake, and praise him just like he did it on his own. Soon he’ll have no trouble. Come a little closer, and he’ll probably be holding up his paw training you to shake!
I’ve only touched on a few basic training commands. There’s no limit to where you can go from here! We recommend signing up for a puppy class such as Canine Good Citizen by the American Kennel Club. If you have a puppy that really connects with people well, and you’d like to check into therapy dog certification, Therapy Dogs International, Dog Advisor, and Intermountain Therapy Animals (the R.E.A.D. program in particular), are great places to start. Happy training!