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Key Training Principles

By Robin Tierney

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The following training tips and principles are adapted from "What Number are You Wearing" by Professor Rosemine Falck (Dogworld, Dec. 1993).


Problems when few boundaries are placed on a puppy's behavior. They find his antics charming...until six months of age. He wasn't given the ground rules to teach him his place and proper behavior. His instinct was to lead or be led, so he assumed the role of leader when no one else did. He had no one to follow, no one who established his limits, no one who taught him to be submissive (an appropriate animal behavior). To resolve the ambiguity in his life, he tried to teach his pack to be submissive to him.

Training Classes

Training classes teach owners how to teach dog more acceptable submissive behavior -- not cowering, but accepting another's leadership. Obedience behaviors include:

Staying in position in place
Sitting for praise and /or petting
Playing follow-the-leader
Coming immediately when called
Paying attention to his pack leader
Playing no-free-lunch
Learning bite inhibition

These are basic controls that many pups don't get a chance to learn.

Positive Reinforcement

The "no free lunch" concept was developed by canine behaviorist Ian Dunbar. When the dog wants attention of any kind, he must first do something for you -- something you've already taught him -- so he earns his reward. It's never too late to start.

Use positive reinforcement to teach basic controls. Even puppies only 2-1/2 months old can learn, and have fun while learning. This strengthens the bond between puppy and leader.

Use positive reinforcement such as soft-food treats to reward a desired behavior or for each correct response during the initial training. Even the young puppy on a buckle collar will enjoy learning his proper place.

Typically, the older dog has already established his dominance, so he'll take longer to absorb the new patterns of acceptable behavior. But he can and will learn if his leaders send out consistent, strong, fair, realistic signals and commit themselves to help him become a better member of the family.

The Value of Training

Teaching "come" immediately when called may save his life one day. Teaching your puppy manners will make him welcome at more places. Teaching him not to chew or nip people will protect you, others and your dog.

Training Principles

Tell your pup only once what you expect of him. Help him obey your first command; don't repeat yourself.

Use clear, concise words for the very specific responses that you expect from him.

Be consistent. Don't laugh at the dog's antics today and punish him for the same behavior tomorrow. He'll be unable to learn what his limits are.

Don't be afraid of making mistakes. Correct them and do better next time.

Try to work with your puppy at least once or twice every day.

Look for learning moments. When he is coming toward you, say "come." When he starts to sit, say "sit." Use his natural posturing to reinforce your training.

Initially work with him in a quiet setting, then take him outside in your yard, then to a shopping center. Expose him to as many different types of places as possible -- and teach him that no matter where he is, you are still the leader and he needs to do what you say when you say it.