Nine Easy Behaviors to Teach Your New Puppy
Here are NINE really easy, fun behaviors you can teach your puppy immediately. There are tons more, but this may be a good start for you!
1. The "EYE CONTACT GAME."
You are teaching your dog to "check in" with you. And you're doing it in a way that is so reinforcing, that soon the behavior of turning his head to look at you will become part of his muscle memory. It will become habit.
You can then make the eye contact game become also a "Name Game". If the dog learns that each time he hears his name, it means to stop and look to the person calling that name, then you'll have less worry about him bolting across a busy road and getting hit when he hears his name called.
He'll listen for the *next* cue word which will tell him what to do. His name, by then, will mean "Stop, look, listen to human for cue of what to do next." The next cue might be "Sit" or "Down" or "Come" or "Back." His name is his cue to look to you for the next cue. His name only means "give human the attention."
One way to teach the eye contact game I particularly enjoy (I think originated with Chris Bach, but I've been unable to confirm this) is to hold your arm out at your side, at shoulder height, with a really good treat in your closed palm.
When the dog stops focusing on the treat in your hand and looks up at you, click and give him a treat. Repeat several times.
Turn around. Do the same thing facing a different direction. Repeat several times.
Move into another room. Do the same thing in every direction.
Once you can hold out your arm and the dog instantly makes eye contact, you're ready to add his call name just before you click. This will pair his name with giving you eye contact in his mind. Be careful not to reward moving toward you, only looking at you. Be very accurate in your clicking and catch him just as the head swings to you and the eyes touch yours.
2. "THE SIT GAME"
Go to the bathroom and sit down on the built-in seating. Close the door. Sit looking at a magazine or otherwise just ignoring your dog. Wait for dog to stop pawing at you for attention, to tire out just a bit and put his hind quarters on the floor. The moment that butt hits the floor, click and give him a treat from the pile you have on the counter.
After treating, go back to ignoring dog. Watch from peripheral vision and as soon as dog starts to sit,--( and he will. You're the most distracting thing in that tiny room and you're pretty boring when you're ignoring him)--CLICK while he's on the way down. You want to clearly mark the moment for him to remember that SITTING is what is making you click and treat him.
Or you could do the same thing with "Down". Just pick any behavior he offers and start to "shape it", by clicking when it happens.
Do it on the couch watching TV, do it in the kitchen making coffee, do it in the bathroom, the bedroom, outside on the porch. Out in the yard.
Extend the time he holds that position by holding off on the click just a second or two at a time. It adds up quickly. Extend the time and add a distraction by taking a step backwards before you click (release) and treat him. Say nothing. Don't coach the dog verbally or with your body language. Let the clicker speak. It will.
If you add body language and verbal or expressive coercion, you are also teaching your dog to watch your body for cues of what to do next, and dog's are masters at reading human body language and verbal tone. You, the teacher, have to become nearly "invisible" and let the clicker be the "bridge", not your raised eyebrows, your leaning shoulders, your wigging fingers or twitching lips.
This is one of the most effective ways of getting a longer and more reliable behavior (sit-stay, down-stay, stand-stay, etc.)--just neutralizing your body language and letting the click speak for you.
3. "TOUCH" or "TARGET" with nose game
Grab an object close to you. Say, an ink pen. Roll up a wad of masking tape into a little ball, and shove it on the end of the pen. Rub something smelly-good the dog really likes on the end of the tape ball.
Hold the object (called the target stick) out in front of you. Wait for your dog to come sniff it. When he extends his neck to sniff,--while he's moving toward that ball, CLICK and treat.
Repeat several times, and begin altering the height of the stick randomly. Hold it a few inches higher, lower, to the right, to the left. Turn around, do it in a different direction. Take it into other rooms, and practice getting the dog to touch the tip of the ball in each direction you face.
Broaden your movements, slowly pulling the target stick across the room as your dog follows, as if a magnet were pulling him.
Why this crazy behavior? It's easy! It's fun! Puppies LOOOOOVE it! And it is the base, most important behavior you can teach for quickly learning many advanced behaviors down the road. You're teaching muscle memory now to your puppy. Teaching him to target and move with the target.
This is also really helpful to keep the dog working for the CLICK instead of being lured with the food. Food is great, and it is a great lure, used properly. But, often unskilled handlers tend to over-lure, fade too slowly, and the dog has the real opportunity to become treat-dependent, or overly focused on the food.
You can use this to teach many new behaviors: sit, down, crawl, finish, front,--all behaviors a puppy is perfectly capable of offering. But first, you have to teach him to target that stick. It will take very little time to do this! It's one of the most fun games of all for beginning dogs.
Work on really rapid reinforcment, a phrase you'll read here a lot. This means, right after you click and treat, immediately hold the stick out again and let your dog move to it. Click and treat. Move your body a little bit. Repeat.
4. "LICK YOUR CHOPS!." (lick lips on cue)
Get a dab of peanut butter and put just the tiniest bit on your dog's nose. When he licks at it, click and treat. Repeat.
Once he begins offering the behavior without the peanut butter, you can begin to attach the cue by saying "Lick Your Chops" just before you click, as the behavior is happening.
5. "LEAVE IT" (leave food or any object and look to you for direction)
Start with two piles of treats: one really high-value pile, like liver bits or cheese, and one low-value pile, like dog biscuits or plain cracker bits. Put the HIGH valued treats on a table in back of you. Hold the LOW value treats in your hand.
Hold out your hand to the dog. Let him mug it and just keep your fingers closed around the treats so the dog can't get any. The moment he backs off, looks away, or ignores the treat even for a moment, click and give a treat from the back of you, the really good high powered treats.
Repeat this until each time you hold your hand out with the low value treats, the dog quickly ignores them and looks to you or steps away or looks away. This is what many clicker trainers call "Doggie Zen", meaning the dog learns to give something up he values to get something of even better value.
Work toward opening your hand up to expose the treats, and having the dog ignore your hand. He turns away, you click and give a GOOD treat.
Move your hand to different heights and repeat the exercise.
Put a high valued piece of treat in your hand. Be ready to close your fingers if the dog mugs at your hand. As soon as dog looks away, click and give a couple really high powered treats from the table in back of you.
When the dog is routinely ignoring the treats, add the cue word "leave it" just before you click, just as the head is turning away from the hand full of treats.
When the dog is responding to the cue word, start lowering the low value treats to the floor and repeating the exercise.
Add a high powered treat to the pile you are asking the dog to ignore. Build up to all high powered treats.
When this is reliable, put treats on pile on floor and walk dog by it on leash, cueing "leave it" just before you get to the treats. Reinforce the moment the dog looks away with a click and treat.
6. WAVE (with paw)
Tickle the hairs on one of the dog's feet, and when he moves the foot just a bit, click and treat. Repeat rapidly until the dog starts to pick up his foot without prompting by the tickle. He will.
Keep reinforcing the foot lift, gradually and incrementally clicking at the highest part of every lift.
Once dog is lifting paw each time at chest height, add cue word "wave" or "high five" just before clicking, while the paw is in the air.
7. BACK UP (move backwards)
When dog is in front of you, walk toward him. Catch the first step me makes backwards, and click and treat. Gradually build up steps, a step at a time. Add cue once dog is reliably quickly moving backwards when you start stepping forward.
8. RECALL GAME (teaching dog to "come")
Have a family member or two help you. Sit in a big circle on the floor, with everyone holding a clicker and having some treats securely in a pocket or in a pack in back of them. At first, let one person tap on floor to coerce puppy toward them, and when the puppy begins moving toward them, have them click and treat when the puppy gets to them.
Let each person in the circle take a turn doing the same thing.
When the puppy is doing this quickly, begin adding the recall word, "Come" or "here" or whatever is chosen. Say the word AS the pup is moving toward the person, just before the click. Best not to have family members use the dog's name for this exercise, as there's not enough time to get in the name and the cue, and it only confuses the dog. You want the dog NOT to move when he hears his name, only when he hears the recall cue word. The name recognition should be for attention only, for safety reasons.
9. WAIT AT DOOR (stop walking and pause until cued to move through the door)
This is a GREAT safety behavior, and one all dogs should have. Then you won't have to worry about forging at the doors, or her slipping out. Just make it a habit to always pause and CUE dog before moving through the door, never letting him go out before you give the cue.
If you have rapidly clicked and treated, the dog will quickly come to realize a click means "treat is coming". Look for the muscle twitch of the head, that little head jerk so subtly given, that indicates he recognizes the click means something good is coming.
At that point, You just jump in and start clicking when the dog offers a behavior you like. Work on only one behavior per very short 1-3 minute session. Don't overdo it. You can do as many sessions as you want through the day, but make each session at first working on just one behavior.
Sorry to make this so long, and I hope some of these ideas help you get started with your new pup.
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List and Site Owner: Melissa Alexander, mca @ clickersolutions.com