Puppy training tips - work on one behavior at a time

If you ever feel frustrated or overwhelmed by your dog's behavior you should focus on one or two behaviors at a time. This will help focus your attention on behaviors that your dog is exhibiting at the present time. I always have a "checklist" in mind when I am working with my client's dog. When I am working with a young puppy, the list might include behaviors like jumping, biting, grabbing objects off the ground on walks, leash walking, come when called, sit, down, stand, etc. Each walk or training session I recommend focusing on one or two behaviors that are most important at that time.

Priority Training Goals

 While you are thinking about your overall training goals, I always recommend keeping two or three behaviors at the top of the list that you always work on at any point during training. If your puppy exhibits any of these behaviors, you should stop working on what you are doing, and focus on curbing the inappropriate behavior. Examples of inappropriate behaviors that might occur at any time during training include biting, jumping, chewing on furniture or jumping on furniture or picking up objects outside.

Training Examples

Let's assume that you are teaching your puppy to lie down and things are going well. Then, out of nowhere the little bugger bites your leg. It doesn't matter whether it is playful or not, biting is not appropriate and makes working on other training goals frustrating or impossible. If you focus on being the most effective teacher with each interaction you share with your puppy you will always be working towards your goals of teaching all of the items that are on your list that I mentioned earlier.

In this example when your puppy bites you, you should emit a very high-pitched "Ouch!" -- this might happen naturally, with razor sharp puppy teeth. 

Yesterday I was with a client and this topic came up. Their little 7 month old Duck Tolling Retriever has a tendency to be a major sidewalk vacuum cleaner and pick up all kinds of random objects including sticks, berries, leaves, rocks and garbage. My clients were getting a little frustrated because they wanted to work on loose leash walking strategies but their puppy would not stop foraging for anything he could get into his mouth.

I suggested that they stop walking and work on a very well-conditioned "Leave It" cue so they could eventually get their puppy to leave anything that he is interested in. You can also use "Watch Me" to mean the same thing. All it means is "Turn your head around and look at me when I ask". This is called an incompatible behavior in dog training. A dog can't forage for objects on the ground when he is looking up at a person. Incompatible behaviors are an important strategy to understand and are used to direct a dog's behavior into an appropriate behavior when his normal behavior is unacceptable.

We worked on "Leave It" for a few minutes in one spot and then continued our walk and their puppy did great!

Final Thoughts

The main takeway I want you to remember from this post is that if you try and do too much at one time, it can be very difficult to do anything well. Work on your priorities first, get those under control, and then add behaviors one at a time until you are able to comfortable move between training multiple behaviors in one session.

Happy Training!

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