Episode 9 - How to Begin Training Your New Puppy

Corey McCusker  00:03
Hello dog lovers, and welcome to Muttz with Mannerz™ Canine Academy Podcast, where we’ll share dog training tips and educational information to help you raise your pup, young or old, so they can be a loving part of your family and your community for life. I’m your host, Corey McCusker, Canine Coach. Along with me, I have my co-host Diane Purser, Canine Educator.

Diane Purser  00:26
Hi, everyone. Thanks for listening in today.

Corey McCusker  00:29
We have a passion for pups and we thank you for joining us today. Today we want to talk about puppies and how to begin their training. We get calls and emails from excited owners who are picking up a puppy soon to bring to their forever home, and they ask, ‘When do I start the training?’ The answer is – as soon as you enter your home.

Diane Purser  00:50
Hey, Corey. Before we get into that, let’s just take a little step back. Why don’t you talk a little bit about when puppies actually start learning.

Corey McCusker  01:00
That’s a good point. Puppies actually start learning from the moment they’re born. And by eight weeks, which is normally when they go to their forever home, they’re well on their way. They’ve learned to socialize with their siblings, their mom has probably taught them a bit about proper play, and some may already be crate-trained or potty-trained – it all depends. The goal is to start out simple with house training and get them familiar with their new family, home, and routine.

Diane Purser  01:29
You know, Corey, before we get into some of the detail, the one thing that I always like to make sure people realize and take into consideration is that training needs to be positive, and it needs to be gentle. You’ve got to keep these training sessions short and sweet as your puppies attention span is limited. Just think of a little toddler and how they would do. You know puppies usually love treats. And that’s a great way to learn them to do things and assist with the training, right? Treats entice their dog to follow their nose into the position or the command that you want, which is typically like a sit, a down, a stand, or a stay. So Corey, how does the new owner actually start training?

Corey McCusker  02:17
That’s a good point. Training is very overwhelming and one thing that puppies usually like is a treat or a toy. So you need to find a motivator for them to want to learn. Diane, you mentioned that treat and that you getting them to lure, but as I said it could even be a toy that motivates a puppy. So you have to find something that gets the puppy excited. And that motivating treat or toy that creates that excitement, you can use it as a lure. A lure to teach them the task that you want them to learn. So by showing the puppy the motivator – the treat or the toy – what you can get them to do is you can just show the behavior. So if you wanted to do is sit, you would take that liver treat, you would hold it over the puppy’s nose, get them to smell it, and then you move your hand slowly upwards and backwards just over their head and that should create a sit response. When you want to do the down, you would take the food or the treat and you would hold it at their nose and then draw it right between their paws to get them into the down position. Then when they’re down, you can bring that treat back up and get a stand. And if you wanted to start even with the heeling or the walking nicely beside you, you can just put that treat right beside you at their nose and start walking and getting them to follow you. So that is the steps and by practicing the task or let’s say the behavior such as a sit or the down without the word at first helps them understand what you want them to do.

Diane Purser  03:56
Corey, just a quick question because treats are a big discussion point. Would you treat after each time they get into the position you want?

Corey McCusker  04:08
So for example, if we were doing a sit, so you’re asking do I give them a treat? So yes, I would be giving them. So say you have the treat at their nose and their butt hits the ground. I would mark it with a yes. And then I would give them the treat immediately. And so I would be giving lots of treats – and I say to people when they come to our classes, make sure you bring lots of treats. Some will bring three or four we’ve got a 45-minute class to an hour, they’re going to be getting lots of tiny treats because you don’t want to give them too much. But yes, you would be giving them lots of treats. So what I want to make sure I’m pointing out here is understand they do not understand the human language. So we have to show them in a way that they’ll understand when they do something right they get a reward. And when we practice a task or behavior which without using the word at first, they will start understanding when they put their butt on the ground, they get a reward. And then what we do is, we’re going to add that command with each time we get them to sit down. And we’re going to mark the behavior when they do it immediately, with a – I use, ‘Yes!’ and the reward is given whenever they give you that appropriate, sit, down, whatever they do. And after some repetition, your puppy’s just going to learn the meaning of each command. And when they hear that, ‘Yes’, they know – ‘oh – I’m successful’, and then they get their reward. You know, the ‘Yes’ command I use, some people will do clicker training. And I just want to touch on that, because I get a lot of owners asking me about clicker training. Clicker training is a great way to train your dog because they’ll start associating the click with when they do something, right. I find that if you’re training and say you’re using a leash, because you want them to stay close, you’ve got a treat in your hand, you throw a clicker in there, that’s a lot of stuff in your hand to think about. So we just try to make it simple. And we use the ‘Yes’ as that click – that’s what we want you to do. Does that make sense? 

Diane Purser  06:10
Yeah, and I think that’s the point. The main thing is to mark it, and in a way that they get that they’ve done what you asked for.

Corey McCusker  06:19
If we think about us, we want to know if we’re learning a new skill. ‘Have I done it right?’ And so us saying that ‘Yes’ tells them, ‘Yes, that’s what I wanted you to do’. And tone of voice is something too, but I’m going to do another podcast on that. 

Diane Purser  06:33
Okay. So, you know, this comes up a lot. We see this with new owners. How often should someone give the command that they want, like a ‘sit’ once your pup gets to that point?

Corey McCusker  06:48
Well, Diane, I think you can vouch for this, because I think both you and I have seen this. People want instant gratification. And we think the dogs can understand what we’re saying. So we’ll say sit, they don’t sit, because they haven’t understood it yet. We’ll say, sit, sit, they still haven’t sat. We’ll go, sit, sit, sit, and you’ll hear me in class – ‘How many times have you said that?’ So saying the command when they don’t understand and they’re not motivated, can actually become a nag. And they can actually tune you out. Or they can learn that I don’t sit until they say it the third time. So you might say, sit. They don’t sit. You say sit. They don’t sit. You say sit, they sit. You give them a reward. They go, Oh, I have to wait till that third time. So it’s really important that you are kind of starting with the basics, getting them to understand what the task is that you want, then you mark it with the ‘Yes’. And then you add in that command so that they understand when you say that one word, or maybe it’s two depending on what you’re doing, but it’s short and sweet, that they will give you the sit, and then you mark it and give them the treat.

Diane Purser  08:02
Perfect. Yeah, we don’t want to be nagging these poor little things.

Corey McCusker  08:05
No, we don’t. And you know what? It’s patience. And a lot of people… I know I don’t have patience, and I have a new puppy right now. But it is really patience, patience, patience, and making sure that we’re doing it slow and steady. We want to make sure that, one, we do it right – and I can’t stress that enough – that we are the ones, we’re the teachers right now. So you new owners that have your puppy, you’re the teacher trying to teach your puppy in a language that they don’t understand what you want them to do. So that motivator is key because they will – most dogs do love food, but some dogs don’t. So I want to just bring up that point, too. I’ve had dogs that we’ve worked with that you know what’s more important to them is the play. Play with a certain tug toy, or a certain squeaky toy or my dog – a ball. You throw a ball, or you’re going to throw a ball, she’ll do whatever it takes. So you have to find what that motivator is, and understanding that you can use any word, but making sure that you’re consistent. So you could easily teach your puppy to sit with the word car, because they don’t know the english language. But they’ll start learning when you say something and you do the repetition, that they’ll associate that task with that word. And they will wait – well, they might not wait – but they’ll hear the ‘Yes’ and then they know that the treat is coming. So the key is to associate the word with the action. So say we were saying ‘sit’, the action of them placing their butt on the floor. That’s when we mark it, give them the word. So consistency is key and using the same command each time. Keep it simple. A singular word is best too.

Diane Purser  09:52
Perfect, perfect. You know another thing that causes a lot of discussion around training is the fact that – and more so with treats or rewards that are food versus, say a toy – when and how should you phase out a lure, or a food reward when you’re training your pup, and they’re starting to come along with their commands?

Corey McCusker  10:16
That’s a really good point, because I do get questioned about that. ‘Okay, am I going to be giving my dog treats the rest of their life and everything?’ Well, I don’t know, I have potato chips every Friday night or something, but anyhow . . . But you know, what, I do understand that we are going from phases. So when we’re teaching, we are luring them to do what we want to teach them and they don’t understand. So that’s where the lure is needed. Once they do know, you know, you might not need to give them a food every time. You might not need to even have a treat with you. But you might be able to just mark it and give them praise. I mean, a lot of dogs love good, a nice pat or a nice, like, you know, walk or whatever, you know, the reward could be. The scenario that I use is the slot machines. So if you were to go to a casino, you might put in, say, a toonie, a loonie, I don’t even know how much it is. You put in your money, you’ll pull the slot. You’re not really sure when you’re going to win or if you’re going to win. That’s how I look at the treats. Once the dog has been trained and understands that you know what, you’re going to get a treat some time, but you’re not sure when you’re going to get it or when the owner is going to give it. So they’ll give you a lot of the good behavior, the sit or whatever, and then all sudden, they get a treat and go, ‘Yay, okay’. So they’ll work for it, hoping to get it. And I as I said, I always will be using treats with my dogs. I mean, I get rewarded. I also like to use the analogy, and I think you and I’ve talked about this, Diane is, you know, when people go to work, they go to work for say a week or two, and then they get their paycheck. That’s kind of what the food reward is. You know, you get your paycheck after you’ve done your exercises or your routine. So . . .

Diane Purser  11:54
Right, or even a bonus, right? Like employee of the week or . . .

Corey McCusker  11:58

Diane Purser  11:59
You just did a good job. So here’s a coffee gift card or whatever.

Corey McCusker  12:04

Diane Purser  12:05
And it motivates right. 

Corey McCusker  12:08
And that’s where you might give them a new toy, who knows. But I mean, the part about the learning, the training… you want to make sure that you’re giving the rewards at the right time. In the beginning at least. And you want to make sure you know, you’ve mentioned, I mentioned the marking. That word, ‘Yes’. And then the ‘Yes’, or you know, the, ‘good dog’, and the affection of the pat, they become reinforcers just to let your dog know it. And when you pair that with a treat, it just takes on more meaning and it reinforces the training. Just remember those reinforcements are needed when you don’t have a treat. So you know, even the praise with your verbal praise or your petting, those are reinforcers. And the treat training is really beneficial – but your goal is that your puppy is going to perform a task without it in the future. So that their reward is the praise and affection. But as I said, I think the treats can be used throughout their life. It doesn’t have to be used every time after they’ve learned it. We call that the proofing. You know, that’s where you’re building that commitment with your dog. they want to please you so they’re giving you the behavior you want and you’re giving them the reinforcers, the verbal praise and the the physical praise with your hands. I’m going to touch on briefly, but I think this is going to be another topic that we’ll talk about in another podcast. Hand signals combined with the word command can really also help your pup with the communication tool because understanding the verbal isn’t always that easy. So you know, when I do a ‘sit’, I will hold my palm upwards for the ‘sit’. And if I’m doing a ‘down’, I will point down. Or if I have my hand, I might tap my thigh to get them into position for a walk. So that’s another topic, but I just wanted to mention it. The other thing I want to mention too, when we’re training, it’s best to do it in a non-distracting environment. And, Diane, you know what distractions are. 

Diane Purser  14:08
Like another dog sounds. 

Corey McCusker  14:10

Diane Purser  14:11
Kids playing.

Corey McCusker  14:12
I was going to just say kids, because that’s where you know, if they’re distracting, and say they’re playing the dogs going to want to play. So I think it’s best to do in a quiet room. Get them to understand what you’re teaching them and then once they do understand, then you can add distractions, move into different locations. And I think you and I have talked about this before, but the motivation . . . So if you’re in the house, low distractions, you could even just be using kibble if it’s a chocolate lab, because they’re just so food motivated. But when we go into higher distracting environments, they might need a better motivator. So they might need, if you’re using kibble, maybe you go to a Benny Bully or something, or if it’s a toy that they love. So you have to really think about, and here’s where I talk about currency as an example. If you have a toonie and $100 bill. What are you going to work harder for? You’re going to work harder I would hope for the $100 bill. So if you want to motivate your pup, if you’re using kibble, that’s like your toonie. Your liver treat is like your $100 bill. So you really have to up your game when you go into those other distracting environments.

Diane Purser  15:25
Yeah, that’s, you know what, that’s a great topic. And I know it can be a discussion for, in many ways, in different directions, so that’s a good overview. So the the other thing that I think gets people a little anxious is how much time they should spend training their puppy. And should it be every day? When they’re already busy with other stuff.

Corey McCusker  15:49
You know, what, thank you for saying they’re already busy with other stuff. When we do classes, we will teach a few things. They go home, we say practice it, and they come back the next week, and they say, ‘Okay, I haven’t done my homework.’ You know what I always say, keep it simple. Life is busy. Your schedules are probably busy. And I want training to be part of your puppy’s daily routine. So there’s two things I think everybody does with their dogs. One, they feed them every day, I would hope – and they walk them every day. Use those as training opportunities. So when you’re walking them, you’re probably going through a door and you’re going to be outside walking along a street or pavement or whatever. So have them sit before they go through the door. If they kind of are rushing a little bit, do a little recall, when they’re on walk to see if they’ll come back to you and encourage them to come back to you. So you’re working on your recall. When you feed them, make them sit, but also make them settle. We do something with their food bowl, what we do is we make them sit and settle – meaning just hold for a moment. So just leave it or wait. And then we’ll release, and say, ‘Okay’. So that they can go eat. So that’s learning how to just settle and not just gobbling up their food. I say keep the training sessions to a very short time period, five minutes, be very focused, try to work on one thing at a time till they get it. And practice when you’re teaching the command three to five times, then take a break because the puppies can get bored really easily. And if they’re not getting it, you might be getting very frustrated, which is going to impact your training. So it’s good to take a break and come back to it when both of you are able to focus, have fun, because they’re not going to understand it right away. And the more you do it, the more it’s going to sink in. And I can’t stress enough to try to make it fun, lots of praise, lots of fun, yes – lots of treats. And just make sure that you also, if you’re in a family, try to get everybody involved. And maybe even giving each of them something that they can teach so they have ownership of it. 

Diane Purser  17:58
Okay, so, wow. That’s all great information. And I know that, that we’re just scratching the top again, but, so talk for a minute about group classes. And do they help? And are they always necessary for everybody?

Corey McCusker  18:14
I, okay, I teach them – so I’m going to say yes. The benefits of a group class is, one, the pet owners, especially if you’re a new pet owner, and you’re beginning the training, you’re going to learn the simple steps. And it takes repetition, it takes time, it takes perseverance for the puppy to learn – but it also takes support. And I think that’s why the group classes are really beneficial. One, you have a an experienced trainer that’s going to support you on how to teach the pup. They’re also going to help you if you’re having any, you know, questions through the training. They’re going to also allow your puppy to meet other puppies and other people so you’re really helping them with the socialization part. And the other thing is, you’re going to be able to work with your pup with really high distractions or real life distractions, I should say. So it gives you an opportunity to practice what you’re doing at home in that quiet environment back into a real life environment with people and dogs around so that they learn how to focus on you. So I think the classes are really beneficial. And as I said, the one main thing I think especially when you’ve got a new young puppy is that socialization piece.

Diane Purser  19:33
Great. Great. The primary socialization period for dogs ends around 12 weeks. Right? Puppy socialization classes are really – and always that’s the one thing I love – are so valuable for puppies 8 weeks of age and older, because you really want them to be comfortable with their world, whatever that is, by what, about 16 weeks or so about 3 months. Right? 

Corey McCusker  20:02
That’s when their brain fully develops. 

Diane Purser  20:04
It’s a short period of time, but there’s lots of ways that you can use it really effectively. So anyways, all great information, Corey. Well, everybody, once again, we’ve just scratched the surface. And given some new puppy owners, just some tips and some examples on when to get started. The time you spend training your puppy will definitely pay off when you have an adult dog. You really need to be patient, as you’ve said, and start now. To have a well-trained dog, you need to be committed to reinforcing the training tasks on a daily basis, multiple times a day, all through their first years. And the more that you teach and supervise your puppy, the less likelihood that your puppy will start to develop improper behaviors, and be well-mannered, and a loving dog for their life. Right?

Corey McCusker  21:01
Yeah, definitely. And you know, the other thing I just want to mention, too, is so we talk about the first year of their life. And that’s what we really are trying to provide the owners listening today. The one thing too about the classes that I didn’t mention is accountability. When you go to a class, I don’t know about you, I mean, I’ve got a new puppy, I’m a trainer, I’m still going to a class because I want to be accountable for her. I want to make sure that I do my homework during the week and go and show what we’ve done during the week. So I think that’s one thing I want to mention. But you know what you said, Diane, it really does pay off when you spend the time training your puppy. And it’s, you know, we’re Muttz with Mannerz™, and that’s what we want to help your puppy be a well-mannered dog in the community. So we want to thank you for joining us today to discuss this important topic of how to start training your puppy. And if you would like to learn more, or listen to our other podcasts, please visit our website, www.muttzwithmannerz.com. We hope that Diane and I have provided you with some great tips and we hope you enjoy your puppy for the rest of their life. So thanks everyone for joining us. 

Diane Purser  22:09
Bye everyone.

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