Different dogs have different intelligence levels. Just like humans. Some dogs are a bit, ahem, ‘sharper’ in their earlier months. Some are simply the opposite. But generally, I find that six months old is about the time average puppies start to respond to conditional training. That is, training that uses a repeated reward system to build upon their memory.
In this article, we will be talking about the first round of training where you should focus on the basics. Don’t expect immediate obedience or potty training from this first round of training. Six months is a bit too early for most puppies on that front. But you should be able to get the basics to happen with motivating rewards. Including: sit, down, leave it, and come. This first bit of structure sets the stage for all later training.
Some dog trainers recommend using a clicker to teach your dog. I personally have never used one, but I have absolute success with dog treats. Food is the best motivator to their developing brains.
These simple steps should be practiced every day. It is great bonding time with your new puppy, and really is not very taxing on you (the human). Simply get some soft puppy bites that you can easily break apart. With Mollie, I used Soft Puppy Bites by Wellness. Pinch a few fragments off each chunk, and hold them in your hand. After a day or two of training, your puppy will start to recognize the smell and turn on. Almost like a robot. It’s absolutely adorable.
You can start in any order, but I tend to start with sitting. Your dog naturally wants to sit when waiting for you to hand over the treats. Firmly say, “sit!” Nothing else. Keep the command very clear, but don’t sound aggressive. You don’t want to be perceived as scolding the puppy. When the puppy does sit, make a big fuss. High pitched cheering. And give the pup a small piece of the treat. The fuss is key – really let your puppy know that you’re happy with what you just experienced. This will help the action stick.
Once you are approaching decent results with sit, move to down. Say, “down.” Your dog may sit, to which you take the treat fragment down to her paws, forcing her to lay down to get nose-level with your treat. Give your pup the treat and make a huge fuss.
The next is an important one. Puppies want to eat everything, so if you drop a piece of chocolate, you want your puppy to obey when you say, “leave it!” So, put the fragment of puppy bites on the floor. When the dog comes over for it, use your foot to hold the dog back, commanding firmly, “leave it!” This one often takes a bit longer. But give it a week, and you’ll be amazed at the results.
Calling the dog is almost always the trickiest one. You can yell “come,” to which your dog will almost always come only when it knows you have a treat. But when you don’t have a treat, that command is like hot air. Be patient with this one. The best way I’ve found to teach this is having two people involved, both with snacks in a different part of the house. For example, I would sit in the family room, and my husband would be in the kitchen. We’d each take turns yelling, “come!” Just like ping-pong, your puppy will run back and forth. The word will sink in.
Again, you’ll probably notice this only works once in a while without a treat. But as your dog gets older, you’ll probably want to consider obedience classes. Think of it as your puppy’s college education.
Socializing Your Puppy
This is crucial. Take your puppy everywhere you can. Walk her through a Lowe’s, or take her to a dog park. If you have friends with dogs, invite them all over. The more the puppy becomes accustomed to humans and other dogs at this stage, the calmer they will be as they grow older. This can help curb things like barking and jumping up on guests.
Further to this idea, if you notice your puppy is zig-zagging all over on his/her leash, then definitely consider daily walks and helping your puppy walk straight. This is a good article with 10 tips for walking your dog.
What if you are not having success?
If things aren’t necessarily going well, maybe it’s worth considering help from a dog trainer. Try group classes and/or private lessons. Your local Petco has these classes available. While I have only had to do this once, it was worth it. My puppy was also able to socialize with other dogs and humans.
However, the main reason any training doesn’t work is usually that the owners don’t stay consistent with it. Train your puppy every day. Several times a day if you can. You will be amazed at how little effort on your part can change your puppy’s behavior.
Other useful articles: