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Training Tips

Copyright © Elena Ralston - 2009 - All Rights Reserved

Build a trusting relationship and convey your role as a leader

My first advise is as soon as you bring your pup home start with building a correct relationship between a pup and all family members of your household. Make sure you convey to your pup that you are a leader of your family/pack. Be always fair to your pup and do not correct, or praise her based on your emotions. The first step towards building a relationship is to spend a quality time with your puppy. Walk with your pup daily instead of letting it roam around in your yard alone. Games like ‘hide and seek’ are excellent for building a great relationship with your puppy and teach her to stay close to you and enjoy your company.

Potty training

Start with consistent potty training regiment. Put a jingle bell on your entrance doorknob and before you take your pup out touch the bell with her paw and then take her out to the designated potty area outside. I have an area in my yard about 8’ x 4’ filled with wood shavings where my dogs go to the potty. While a pup is still learning the potty area you cold have a gate around it. Each time your puppy goes potty in a potty box, do not forget to praise her enthusiastically and give a treat! Remember that in the beginning your young puppy needs to go potty as soon as it wakes up in the morning, or after a nap, after an active game and after its meal. Keep it consistent and regimented and your effort will pay off very soon!

Teach your puppy her place

Teach your puppy her place. If it’s a crate just tell your pup ‘Go to your place’ (or something like this) every time she enters her crate voluntarily, or to get a toy, or a treat that you planted there to lure her there and praise your puppy when she enters the crate with “Good job ~ go to your place!” Pretty soon your puppy will make a connection between her action and words you are saying, and go to crate when you tell her “Go to your place”. If the designated place is a pillow or a doggie bed, do the same thing only when the pup gets on her pillow.

Teach your puppy to understand meaning of human words

Imagine that if you were unable to speak and just got into a home of aliens who speak unknown to you language. Imagine you depend on these aliens for food and water, walks and entertainment. Well, that is pretty close to the environment your pup is in your home. Your task is to make your pup comfortable in your home, teach her your language and encourage a good behavior while discouraging unwanted one. Puppies just like children need established boundaries and clear understanding of their place and role in the family. Make sure that you are consistent and what is not allowed today you don’t permit tomorrow, or the day after.  Otherwise you will only confuse your puppy.

I start teaching my puppies from simply saying words that correspond with their actions. For example, I teach my pups to shake off water when they get wet on command by simply observing their natural behavior and reinforcing it verbally. As soon as I see them naturally shaking after their bath I say: “Shake! Good shake!” and make it into a really ‘big deal’ praising them for doing something very natural for them.  If I have a treat handy I will give a treat. After I do this for a while my pups make a connection between their action and the words that I am saying. To teach a pup to sit on command, or get down I take a very similar approach. There is of course an aid of treats and toys that could be used to provoke a desired action, such as for ‘sit’ lifting up a toy above the pup’s head and move it to the back provokes a pup to look up and drop her rear end to the ground. As soon as I get a behavior that I expect from my puppy I praise it “Yes! Good Sit!” and give a treat, or release a toy.

Teach your puppy to come to you reliably

One of the most important commands to start working on is “come”. Recall training starts on leash, which makes it easy to  help the puppy when she is not coming, or gets distracted. However, I cannot stress enough the importance of off leash training. If recall training is done only on leash, sooner or later your pup will realize that the only control you have over her is when the leash is attached to her collar. Shepherds are incredibly intelligent creatures and they usually realize this pretty soon. I start my off leash recall training as early as possible. The younger the pup the easier it is to convince her that she cannot ignore, escape, or run away from me. My goal is to convey to my puppy that I am in control at all times and can reach her anywhere. This is very easy to do when the puppy is still little and simply cannot run fast yet. I try to make it fun for a pup to come to me so she would prefer coming because it is more fun than any distractions. I always carry treats and a toy in my pocket with me. I avoid running after my pup if she does not come, but run away to provoke it chasing me. If I do have to get my puppy, in case if she is not paying attention and not coming despite all my efforts, I come close enough to get her attention and then call her again to encourage her to come to me voluntarily. After my pup  does first steps towards me I praise her with enthusiasm: “Yes! Come!!!” and when she reaches me I lavish her with praise and give her a treat she loves. The task is here to make it clear to a puppy that coming to you is fun and exciting while not coming is not good and will result in a some sort of appropriate correction. There are times when my puppy gets distracted by a smell (or something else) and ignoring me. In this case I do chase my pup. When I get close enough to get its attention I say in a very strict voice “No!” and simultaneously throw something like a soft ball, or a leash into my pup to get her attention. Usually after a ball, or a leash touches the pup, or lands next to it, the puppy gets amused and stares at me. I immediately start playfully running away from my pup while encouraging her to come to me. After my puppy makes her first steps towards me she gets praise and after she reaches me she gets more of enthusiastic praise and a treat. If all fails and my pup is stubbornly refuses to pay any attention to me, or decide running away, I chase her and apply a mild correction that is very similar to what puppies used to get from their mothers - I grab the puppy’s scruff and mildly shake it while saying in a very low voice “No!”. After that I step back few steps, crouch to the ground and ask my pup to come using an encouraging tone of voice. As soon as the puppy makes her first move towards me she gets praised, and when she reaches me she gets praised lavishly verbally and rewarded with a treat. Pretty soon my puppies learn that coming to me is the best thing in the world while not coming is no fun at all. In other words they learn to respect me. The important thing is never to allow your puppy to ignore your recall from the first command, or not paying attention to you when called. Please make sure that your off leash recall training sessions are in the fenced area until you can trust your dog to come 100% at any circumstances. Otherwise you are risking your puppy to escape from you and get lost.

Learn how to effectively correct your puppy

Be honest with you pup and always let her know when she does something that you are not happy with. I usually say ‘No”, “Stop”, or make a sound ‘ah-oh!” to let my puppy know when she is breaching boundaries. Now “No” will mean nothing to a pup if a pup does not connect it to a disciplinary correction. Please keep in mind that type of correction for a puppy depends on the type of her personality and level of drive. For a soft, gentle pup a strict voice, gentle pop on the leash, or throwing something soft in her direction would be enough to convey “No”, or “Stop”. For an alpha strong headed pup with a high level of drive you might need to use a strong scruff shake, lifting a pup by the scruff with her front legs off the ground and looking directly into her eyes with a low voice “NO!”, or even pinning the pup to the ground and restrict her movements until she submits to your authority. KNOW YOUR PUPPY TEMPERAMENT! It is very easy to overcorrect the puppy and ruin her trust if you do not know exactly how much correction is enough for your puppy. It is also easy to under-correct the puppy and raise a dog who has learned to ignore you, your corrections and convinced that she can do whatever she pleases. Always follow up with an encouragement after applying a correction and getting a correct behavior from your puppy.

Use corrections and distractions to stop unwanted behavior. Example of using a distraction: if a pup grabs a rock you could say “leave it!” and show a treat in your hand which provokes the pup to drop the rock and focus her attention on a treat. As soon as the pup drops the rock say: “Yes! Leave it!” and give your puppy a treat. Example of using a correction: if your pup pulls on the leash you could say “Slow down!” and pop the leash to stop the pup from motion and get her attention on you and then you turn the other direction. As soon as you get the pup’s attention and she stops, or slows down say,  “Yes! Slow down! Good puppy!”

It is also equally important to convey to your puppy when she does something good that pleases you. I give a treat and lots of praise and kisses to my puppy every time she looks into my eyes to reward her attentiveness. I virtually become a treat dispenser for the first six months of my puppy’s life and treat my puppy generously for every behavior I like to encourage. Gradually treats become less present later in the pup’s life and a vocal praise and a game become the main source of encouragement.

Train in games

Train your pup while walking and playing with it. Do not just passively walk, or play with your puppy but observe her actions and recognize natural characteristics that you like to promote in your pup. As soon as your puppy does something your would like to encourage say a word that you want your puppy to remember this behavior by and then “Yes!” and repeat the word associated with the behavior again (repetition is very important for your puppy to memorize commands).  For example, when my puppy is running ahead of me and than decides to stop and look where I am - this is an excellent characteristic that I would like to encourage, so I say - “Wait - Yes! Wait! Good puppy!” - and play with my pup as a reward, or give her a treat.  When my pup runs towards her toy I say “Get it! ” and try to encourage her to brings it to me. As soon as my pup grabs the toy I say “Yes! Get it!” and play with my pup as a reward for getting the toy and bringing it to me.  This is one of the easiest ways to teach a puppy human language and a set up behavioral ‘reflex’ in her mind to respond with appropriate action to the words we say.

Keep training sessions short and fun!

When training your dog always try to keep training sessions short and fun! Drilling and negative emotions are enemies of a good trainer and make a dog to hate what she is asked to do. Even heeling could be fun if treats, or games and toys are used as a reward and motivator. Let your dog to believe that everything is a fun game, and if she plays by your rules she gets what she wants. If you do that, your puppy will love training sessions! For example, I have a brief training session almost every night before my dogs go to bed. I use a string cheese as a reward for this session. It happens that my young pup Joy loves string cheese. If I am busy and decide to skip one session she would come to me and beg for it. It makes me laugh to see her face with a very clear expression of “Well! Are we going to play? Did you forget?” and I usually just give in - set my work aside for 10 minutes and get that cheese.

Read good book about dog training written by successful trainers

My advice before you get a puppy is to buy, or borrow some good books on training from a local library. Remember that White Shepherds are a thinking breed and they need mental and physical stimulation to feel happy. Here is a list that I recommend for my puppy buyers:

  1. BulletLeslie McDevitt "Control Unleashed: Creating a Focused and Confident Dog”

  2. BulletShelby Marlo' "New Art of Dog Training"

  3. BulletMarsha Smith & Shalini Bosbyshell’ - “Building a Bridge From Training To Testing” (if you are interested in competing with your pup in obedience)           

  4. BulletBobbie Anderson’ “Building Blocks For Performance”

  5. Bulletwww.sylviabishopdogtrain.com - DVDs by one of the most respected dog trainer, Sylvia Bishop. I recommend for puppies “LookyLooky, Look It’s Magic!” where Sylvia show how she trains her pup from 11 weeks to 6 months.

  6. Bulletwww.vonfalconer.com - a very helpful website that has extensive information on raising pups from birth to one year of age.

Please do not hesitate to contact me with your questions ~ I am ALWAYS happy to help!

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