Want to make sure your pup is at the head of the class this National Train Your Dog Month? From manners to mealtime, Nancy Schumacher, a CPDT-KA Certified Dog Trainer, and founder of Best In Behavior, talks to us about how to make training your pup rewarding for the whole family. Nancy, a lifelong animal lover, founded her Dog Training and Dog Walking company five years ago. Her expertise led her to establish a company based on a positive reward-driven approach to helping pups live their best lives.
Here’s a glimpse into Nancy’s training style and some professional advice that you can put into practice this month:
Question 1: When should you begin actively training your pup?
“I like to go to the client’s house before they bring the dog home. This allows me to prepare the family for what to expect before the dog has even entered the home, and it gives the family some time to prep their house for the new addition. It’s sort of like house-training for hoomans 🙂
I start with a discussion on where they’ll keep the dog — most families give the entire ground floor of their house to the dog at first. That’s definitely too large of a space. You always want to start the puppy off with a small space, sometimes even the whole kitchen is too much space. An enclosure or play pen is more appropriate for a dog so young. Crate size is also incredibly important. They need to have enough room to move, but not so much that they have room to relieve themselves or play too much.
Once the dog is settled, usually within the first month, I’ll visit the home, especially if there are little kids. It’s usually good for children to have someone that is not their parents explaining who gets to hold the puppy, who can tell the puppy to do certain things, and what the dog’s body language means. That training session is also used to get the puppy accustomed to things like an umbrella opening, its leash, or the sounds of the microwave.”
Question 2: Are there commands or tricks you recommend starting with your doggo first?
“The first thing you should work on is getting the puppy to recognize its name, so there’s always a positive association with their name. You should have the dog in front of you as you hold up a treat. Then, raise the treat until the dog makes eye contact with you before saying the dog’s name. When they make eye contact with you, positively reinforce the recognition of their name with the treat and repeat a few times. Before long, the dog will soon make eye contact when he hears his name, even without luring him to look at you with a treat.
Hand targeting is also very important, sort of a hand to nose boop. Have the dog touch your upright palm with its nose and reward with a treat when the dog does so with its mouth closed, as in no kissing, biting, etc. The puppy won’t get rewarded if its mouth is open. This can later be used for distraction if they get too hyper, for example, when guests enter the home.
Of course, teaching the dog to sit and how to socialize are also important lessons within the first sessions of training.”
Question 3: Do certain types of training methods work best with certain breeds?
“I would say it’s more of a case-by-case basis, more focused on the dog itself. I use treats for positive reward-based training, which obviously you phase out as the training process goes on. Some dogs, however, are not particularly food motivated. These tend to be smaller breeds, like shih tzus or maltese. In these cases, you’ll find that it is more about a squeaky toy or ball that motivates them to learn.”
Question 4: Can you teach an old dog new tricks? What happens if you’ve adopted an older pup?
“Yes! If your dog is older, or you adopted an older dog with bad habits, you have to establish house rules. Dogs love a schedule and dogs are very smart. Especially this time of year, many dogs will be put in kennels or long-term doggy day care centers, so when they come home, they feel like they can run around and act like they did while not at home. Creating a routine and re-introducing the dog back into that schedule is crucial.
Dogs are animals that like to please. Everybody has to be consistent and everyone has to follow the same rules — otherwise, your dog will learn who to go to in order to get what they want!”
Question 5: What should I do if my doggo is taking a while to understand new commands?
“Make sure your commands are short, consistent, and succinct. Dogs don’t speak the same language that we do, so adding in unnecessary words to commands will confuse them. You also don’t always need to use their name when introducing a command, the request is usually enough.
My advice is to say the command once and reward the dog only when they actually are doing it. After they complete the command, say “Yes” once and reward with a treat. Keep everything, including praise, to one word.
We always want to set our dogs up for success, and not expect too much from them. In order for them to understand what ‘sit, stay, or come here’ looks like, they need to be shown examples. Always explain and show what the commands mean, so you can turn large training goals into doable and attainable behaviors.”
Question 6: What’s the one piece of advice you wish you could share with all hoomans in the midst of training their pups?
“My favorite saying, and something I wish all dog owners would realize, is this: A tired dog is a happy dog and a happy owner. For example, when you come home from work, you may be tired after your day, but your dog is probably like, ‘Let’s go play!’ because they haven’t interacted or played with you all day. Dogs need stimulation to use up their energy. Instead of just saying no to the dog, tell them to stop, if needed, and give them another activity to do. If you’re not able to play with them, divert their attention to a specific toy or let them play alone. Redirect that energy and give them something else to do.”