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Teaching commands

sitting dog looking intently at human holding dog treats

Here's a step-by-step guide to teaching your puppy all the commands he should know.

Dogs are used to living in packs with other dogs. So a strict hierarchy is completely normal to your puppy. If you treat him as a partner with equal rights, you may give him too much freedom. This will only confuse him, because a dog needs clear rules. There must be a leader of the pack.

You don't need to shout to let your puppy know what you expect of him. The tone of your voice is much more important, and will help your puppy understand whether you are praising or scolding him. The words you use are of secondary importance. You should choose short, one-word commands, not long sentences. "Come here!" is actually too long, "Come!" is the right length.

Even though you may be very polite, your puppy cannot understand "please". Of course, every now and then you may feel uncomfortable being so authoritarian with the sweet little fellow, but be assured that this is the only way the communication between you and your dog is going to work.

From the very first day, your puppy is going to look for his place in the hierarchy of his new "pack". This gives you the chance to start with little games to train him. You should start with short playful exercises. Never cut an exercise short before your puppy has succeeded in doing it, and don't forget to praise him every time. Limit each exercise to five minutes, and exercise for no longer than 15 minutes per day.

Make sure you are the one who decides when the game or exercise starts and when it ends. Even if your puppy brings you his complete collection of toys, you ought to say "No" every now and then, as this will strengthen your position as pack leader.

Come!

Begin training your dog indoors. First of all, it's important that your dog react to you and come to you when you call him. Use the same word always, such as "Come", possibly coupled with his name. After you have called him once or twice, he will probably come running to you. Praise him lavishly, or even spoil him with a little treat.

Sometimes your puppy may have something more important on his agenda than coming to you. If he doesn't come to you after you've called him twice, get him and carry him to the spot where you called him from before. Repeat the exercise right away. If you are walking your puppy, and you call him and nothing happens, you may start a wild chase if you try to get him. Your puppy may consider this a wonderful game. This will not make for a successful exercise, though, which means you have to use another method outdoors. If your puppy doesn't come to you when you call, just turn around and go away. In most cases, he'll come running after you so he won't lose you. Of course, don't leave him too far behind. On your first walks together, he should not be away from you for more than a few yards. If you are in an open area, always keep your puppy on a leash until he is fully trained.

No! Stop!

Every puppy is a little discoverer who wants to get to know his environment in detail. Your puppy will therefore gnaw at things to find out how they taste. This may be annoying to you and even dangerous for the puppy. Some indoor plants, for example, are poisonous (African violet, pointsettias), or may cause injuries (cactus). Keep these plants out of the puppy's reach.

If you catch your dog gnawing at your shoes, offer him something more suitable such as a chew. Praise him if he accepts it. This way, your puppy can satisfy his need to chew without destroying your possessions. No matter how sweet it looks to watch your puppy disappear with one of your slippers, you need to be consistent from the very beginning. Remember: the larger your dog becomes, the bigger his teeth. You certainly won't want all your shoes to be chewed up by those big teeth.

Sit!

"Sit!" is another exercise you can start early in the game. Later on you will add "Down" and "Stay". These commands will enable you to keep your dog under control. Even in unusual situations, you'll be able to call and make your dog sit down; for example, if you want to stop him from running after a cat and getting hit by a car.

What does it take to succeed? Treats will be a great help in the beginning. Hold the treat above your dog's head and say, "Sit!" Because your puppy wants to get that treat, he will probably sit down. Praise him for that, and give him the treat. If your puppy refuses to sit down, make him do it by pressing his back gently. Give your dog the treat only if he has sat down. Never give up, because if you do, you'll be teaching the dog the wrong lesson: "If I am really stubborn, I am going to get this treat anyway."

Your dog has now learned the basic commands. Obedience classes can help perfect what your dog has learned, in case he's somewhat obstinate, or simply because it's more fun learning in a group. Another important aspect of obedience classes is the regular contact with other dogs. This will teach your dog to stand his ground and/or surrender, if necessary. Especially for puppies that act shy around other dogs, this is a good opportunity to develop self-confidence.

  • The Serious Benefits of Play

    dog carrying a frisbee in its mouth

    Playing and having fun helps to eliminate stress from your life—and the same holds true for your dog. In fact, incorporating various forms of play into your dog's daily routine is vital to helping him develop a healthy, loving personality.

    The benefits of play

    Here are some of the ways that playing and having fun is important:

    • Physical health. Active play helps keep your dog's heart healthy, keeps the joints lubricated, and improves his overall balance and coordination.
    • Mental health. Games with rules force your dog to use his brain, not just his body. This can help keep his mind sharp and focused.
    • Social skills. When your dog plays with other dogs and other people, it helps improve his overall social skills. He learns basic rules and how to play by them.
    • Bonding. Even if it's only for a few minutes a day, playing with your dog helps strengthen the bond between you.
    • Your health. What better way to alleviate the stress of a busy workday and get a bit of exercise than to come home and play with your dog? It's a win-win for both of you.

    How to play with your dog

    There are right ways—and wrong ways—to play. The most important thing to remember is that you're the boss. You decide what games should be played and you set the rules. This helps establish your credibility as the pack leader. It also helps keep your dog from getting overly excited and out of control while you play. If your dog does become difficult to manage, simply put a stop to the game until he calms down again.

    When you're teaching your dog a new game, reward him when he does well. Remember, rewards don't have to be just treats. You can also reward him with his favorite toys or lots of hugs and praise.

    When you start out teaching your dog a new game, keep it simple and go through the game slowly, until your dog fully grasps the rules. Also, wait until he fully understands one game before you teach him a new one, otherwise it will end up confusing him.

    Playtime tips

    • Avoid games like keep away, wrestling, or tug-of-war. Those games encourage biting or dominant, aggressive behavior.
    • Stay in control of the game at all times. Show your dog that you're the pack leader, not just another member of the pack. Retrieval games are good at teaching control.
    • Don't include your body or clothing as part of any game.
    • Incorporate the SIT or DOWN and STAY commands in every game.
    • You decide when it's time to end the game, not your dog. The best time to stop the game is when your dog is still eager to play.
    • If, for some reason, your dog doesn't seem to understand the game at some point, go back to the beginning, or simply leave it and try again a few days later. Don't get angry if you're dog isn't "getting it" right away. Remember it's supposed to be a fun experience for both of you!

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