In April of this year we added a new addition to our family – a Miniature American Eskimo Dog. We honestly debated which dog breed to get for a year and a half and considered the Portuguese Water Dog, Shiba Inu, Basenji, Siberian Husky, Malti-Poo, on and on. Now that we have our little Maverick, we’re quite happy with our choice. He’s been quick to learn and easy to handle (for the most part), a great size, and we’ve thoroughly enjoyed his companionship.
I’ve had pretty good success training him thus far. The biggest thing I’ve learned: It’s way easier to catch your dog in the middle of already doing what you want him to do and then add the command than it is to try and force him to do something foreign in another situation. (Ie. When does your dog lay down? Is it when he is really tired? Or is it when he relaxes beside you? Or when he’s chewing on a treat? Find the stimulus that produces the action you desire, and in the process of the action being achieved, speak the command and reward when completed).
I’m going to share (maybe more for my own comprehension and documentation than anything else) how I’ve achieved association with his trained commands so far. If you’re here and think you might try the same on your own puppy, feel free to choose to rephrase any of these commands with words that work for you. You can also add hand signals for each, or, as some trainers prefer, use hand signals only.
Just remember – rewards have to be given the instant that the action is performed to build the association. Don’t make your dog wait as you walk over to get a treat; it will be less effective.
Hold a treat and say sit once. Wait until he sits, and when he sits, give him the treat. If this doesn’t work because while you’re waiting you lose his attention, then try this other method. While he’s calm and on all fours, hold a treat close to his nose and push back against his snout while keeping you hand high until his butt plops on the floor.
2. [Your Dog’s Name]
Your dog should look at you when you call his name. Wait until your dog is distracted with something nearby (with a toy most likely) and say his name to get his attention. When he looks at you, offer the treat as a reward.
3. [Your Dog’s Name] Come
Now I don’t use just “Come” as the command, as I say it way too often. Hey baby puppy! You wanna come with me? C’mere boy! And I do this in a playing tone, just seeing if he actually wants to come. The problem is, the more often you say a word, come here, and don’t expect anything from the puppy for it or reward him when he achieves it, the less meaningful the word will become. That’s why I use the specific command, “Mavi Come”, for when I want him to come and I’m not giving him the option.
To teach your dog to come, wait until he is distracted and a small distance away from you. Have a treat ready, and give the command, “[Name] Come”, and hold out the treat the instant you grab his attention. He’ll run over to you, so give him the treat.
Now practice this a few times and after a while, start increasing the distance. Pretty soon he’ll learn that when you say the command, there’s a good reward for him when he comes near you. My dog at 12 weeks understood this and I can say the command from another room and he’ll come running.
Eventually, you’ll have to wean him off the treats (but still rewarding occasionally to keep up motivation). But this is a very important command for a well-behaved dog, so you’re going to want to reinforce this one for a while.
Once you’ve mastered “Sit”, you can teach your dog to stay. This, like most other commands, will be done slowly and in phases.
Have your dog sit, then give him the command, “Stay” (I like to add a hand signal as well), and take one tiny step back. If your dog stays, release him (I like to say “Okay”) and reward him. (The release command is important because you may want to train him to stay seated for longer periods of time, perhaps when you’re not even in the room, so he will need to know that he shouldn’t move until you say so).
When you can see that your dog is understanding the command and not moving when you take a step back, try taking two steps back instead of one. If he messes up, say “Whoops” or “Nope” (try to reserve the word, “No” for very inappropriate situations – like biting, peeing in the house, or eating something toxic) and try again until he gets it. If he stays, release him and reward. Keep doing this, moving further and further distances away, until you can move out of sight. Keep extending the time away or the time he has to stay seated. It will probably take a while until a puppy can stay for an extended period of time, but by teaching him this when he is young, it will build a really great foundation.
5. Leave it
This is a fun one for me to watch because my pup bounces back from his treat now like it was poison, but in addition to being fun, this command is also extremely useful for keeping your pup in control when he’s interested in something that he shouldn’t be.
To start, have one treat hidden in one hand while holding another treat in your other hand with a closed fist. Hold the closed fist hand out to your puppy. Let your puppy notice the treat in your fist and approach it. He’ll probably sniff and want to get at it, but keep your fist closed. The second he begins to pull away from the treat in your fist, say “Leave it” and reward him with the treat hidden in your other hand. (So as to not create mixed messages, it’s important to have the second treat ready and not give him the treat he pulled away from.)
Do this with a closed fist until he gets the concept and consistently backs away when you give the command. Then try advancing from the close fist to only cupping your hand around the treat and giving the command. Keep the treat away from him if he lunges at it. Your puppy should only get rewarded (with a bigger or better treat from the other hand) when he moves away from the treat in your cupped hand. If he doesn’t have the self-control to pull away from the cupped hand, try using a slightly opened fist instead. Once he can complete the action for you when your hand is cupped, you can hold the treat out in your opened hand and, again, when he goes to approach it, give the command. Depending on the mindset of your dog, once he is able to back away from a treat in your opened hand, he should be able to back away from a treat on the ground. You can practice this as well if you’d like.
Now if an occasion occurs in daily life where he’s approaching something that you don’t want him to get, say “Leave it”, and he should be able to back off. Just be sure to reinforce with a higher-reward treat from elsewhere when he obeys (there are literally bags of treats all over my home!). After some time, you can wean him off of receiving a treat every time he complies and maybe try giving him praise instead. Just make sure to reward with treats occasionally so as to keep up motivation.
Get either a toy and a treat or two toys ready. When your pup has the toy in his mouth, grab the toy in your hand and give the command, “Give”, while either exchanging the toy in his mouth for the other toy (if you shake around the second toy excitedly, he may drop the first toy) or if that doesn’t work, exchange the first toy for a treat. The idea is to find something that causes your dog to release the toy in his mouth, so that the releasing action is associated with the command, “Give”. Keep doing this command with the incentive of another toy or a treat for a while. It’s a tough thing for a pup to learn to relinquish a toy simply because you asked. Do it enough times, and it will become ingrained. Once ingrained, you can phase out the motivator.
Drop is similar to give, but demands that the toy is dropped on the ground instead of released to your hand. This might be handy if you have your hands full or are at a distance and you want your pup to drop whatever he has. In the same way as the give command have either two toys or a toy and a treat ready. Knowing what motivates your dog to drop the toy in his mouth (either waving around another toy or offering a treat), and when your dog has the toy in his mouth, use the motivator to get him to drop the toy in his mouth. The instant he releases his grip, say “Drop” and reward.
There must be a yin and yang to dog training. For every action that you teach, you should teach the opposite action. Getting your pup to take a toy, shouldn’t be hard to do. Wave it around excitedly until he grabs it. The second he grips it in his mouth say, “Take” and reward (probably with praise so that he doesn’t have to drop it again to eat a treat).
Our vet recommended getting the pup used to having his mouth handled. This is just a good thing to do for future vet visits, teeth cleaning, or if you need to put your hands in his mouth for whatever reason–you want your dog to be used to and comfortable with this type of handling. I started this training by simply holding my dog’s snout and gently pulling his mouth open while giving the command, “Open” and then rewarding with a treat. I didn’t hold it open for long to begin with. Then you can start rewarding after adding a second or two with his mouth open and promptly reward upon completion. If he struggles, pull back and make the time shorter. If your pup struggles even when you go to hold his snout, begin then by even just rewarding for letting you touch his snout without struggling. The idea here is that you’ll raise a dog that is calm and patient when having his snout and mouth handled.
10. Up & Down
I taught both up and down for different scenarios using the same command. I started simply by teaching him to jump up and put his front paws on my knees while I’m seating on a stool. Creating the motivation for this was simple. He’s a small dog, so I simply held a treat by my knees and enticed him to come get it. The second he jumped on me to get it, I said, “Up” and rewarded by letting him have the treat. He would stay up waiting for more, so I quickly would pull out another treat and say, “Down” while moving my legs to the side so he fell to all fours and rewarded with a treat when he came to the ground. Then I started having the treat further away from my knees while giving the command, and he’d jump up to get it. And I’d stop moving my knees to make him fall when I said, “Down” and just wait for him to obey the command and get down on his own.
The point of “up” and “down” isn’t so much to teach the ‘up’ but to train the ‘down’. You’re probably going to want your dog to get down off things a whole lot more often than you’ll want him to be up. But how is he going to learn down if he hasn’t been taught up?
The second scenario is up and down off the couch. Again, his natural tendency has been to get up on the couch on his own, but if I’m always pushing him off saying down, it becomes a negative experience. To make it positive, I teach both up and down and teach him that I’m the one in charge of what he gets to do. The strategy for teaching this is the same. Find a time when your pup is interested in being up on the couch with you. Get him down on the ground and with a treat handy, lure him to jump up. When he jumps, say, “Up” and reward with the treat. You can also add the hand action of patting the couch cushion to indicate that he’s allowed to come up. Now that he’s up with you, use a treat as a lure to get him to hop down. Put the treat in front of his face to get his attention and move it so that you’re holding it close to the floor. With any luck, your pup will follow the treat and jump down to the ground. When he jumps down, say the command, “Down” (I added the gesture of pointing to the ground) and reward with the treat and praise when he gets down. If you want him to wait on the ground until you give the next “Up” command, put him in a sit and stay.
The key to all this training is short, consistent sessions. You never want to lose the interest of your dog during a session, so keeping them short is key. I usually do about five minutes at a time with my puppy. And even if he’s really interested, I still stop at five minutes and then start up again after a short break. I’d rather stop than risk losing his interest during a session and having a failed command. Your goal here is to teach your puppy to obey you through repetition, even when he doesn’t feel like it. If you’re letting him walk away from a training session out of boredom, you’re reinforcing that he really only has to listen to you when he feels like it, not when you want him to.
And always end with a success (let’s say he’s just not getting what you want him to do, but you know that you can get him to sit, end with a sit and reward). This keeps the dog feeling confident that he understands you and can please you. The feeling of confidence that comes through understanding your communication is essential to building a bond between you and your dog.