It’s an absolute joy to have an obedient pup, and we want our puppy owners set up for success!
Puppies are not naughty, they are learning. It’s usually us who are the ‘naughty’ ones, unknowingly making the mistakes. Puppies are complete babies and it’s up to us to shape their behaviour.
It’s really important to remember this does not happen overnight and requires time, consistency, and routine to achieve. It is not difficult if you take the time in the beginning to establish the foundations, which we are going to explain.
Labradors are willing to please, so learn easily and quickly. Shaping their behaviour and responses is critical to creating a stable, well-mannered, well-tempered dog.
In our Puppy Handbook, we comprehensively cover the foundations of obedience training. Here, we will just discuss some of the basic principles and we’ll talk about crate training.
Brain development stages
Dogs go through brain development stages, beginning in puppyhood through to adulthood. To make the best of training your labrador, it’s important that you understand these development stages, which help you tailor your training and understand why the puppy is doing certain behaviours.
Neonatal Period 0-12 Days
The puppy responds only to warmth, touch and smell. Eyes and ears are closed. He cannot regulate body functions such as temperature and elimination.
Transition Period 13-28 Days
Eyes and ears are open, but sight and hearing are limited. Tail wagging begins and they begins to control body functions.
Awareness Period 21-28 Days
Sight and hearing function well. The puppy is learning that he is a dog and has a great deal of need for stable environment.
Canine Socialisation Period 21-49 Days
Interacting with his mother and littermates, the pup learns various canine behaviours. He is now aware of the difference between human and canine societies.
Human Socialisation Period 7-12 Weeks
The pup has the brain wave of an adult dog. The best time for going to a new home. He now has the ability to learn respect, simple behavioural responses. Housebreaking begins. He now learns by association. The permanent man/dog bond begins, and he is able to accept gentle disciple and establish confidence.
Fear Impact Period 8-11 Weeks
Try to avoid frightening the puppy during this time, since traumatic experiences can have an effect during this period. As you can see, this period overlaps that of the previous definition and children or animal should not be allowed to hurt or scare the puppy – either maliciously or inadvertently. It is very important now to introduce other humans, but he must be closely supervised to minimize adverse conditioning. Learning at this age is permanent.
This is the stage where you wonder if your dog is going to be a woosy butt all his life. Also introducing your puppy to other dogs at this time will help him become more socialized. If available in your area, a doggy puppy school is great for this.
Seniority Classification Period 13-16 Weeks
This critical period is also known as the “Age of Cutting” – cutting teeth and cutting apron strings. At this age, the puppy begins testing dominance and leadership. Biting behaviour is absolutely discouraged from thirteen weeks on. Praise for the correct behaviour response is the most effective tool. Meaningful praise is highly important to shape positive attitude.
Flight Instinct Period 4-8 Months
During this period puppies test their wings – they will turn a deaf ear when called. This period lasts from a few days to several weeks. It is critical to praise the positive and minimize the negative behaviour during this time. However, you must learn how to achieve the correct response. This period corresponds to teething periods, and behavioural problems become compounded by physiological development chewing.
Second Fear Impact Period 6-14 Months
Also called, “The fear of situations period”, usually corresponds to growths spurts. This critical age may depend on the size of the dog. Small dogs tend to experience these periods earlier than large dogs. Great care must be taken not to reinforce negative behaviour. Force can frighten the dog, and soothing tones serve to encourage his fear. His fear should be handled with patience and kindness, and training during this period puts the dog in a position of success, while allowing him to work things out while building self-confidence.
Maturity 1-4 Years
The average dog develops to full maturity between 1 ½ to 2 years and three years of age. Sometimes there is a renewed testing of leadership. Regular training throughout this testing period, praise him for the proper response. The dog should respect you and have good grounds to further his training, maybe with areas such as competitive obedience and retrieval trials. This keeps his mind and body active while continuing to affirm respect and obedience.
As the breeder of your puppy, we have worked through the first four stages of brain development and into the fifth, which is where you now become most important in the puppy’s life (one of the reasons we carefully select approved homes).
Socialisation is going to be very important. Create socialisation scenarios for your puppy that are positive, fostering a kind and calm experience. Frightening experiences are traumatic and imprint permanently on the puppy between 8-12 weeks old. He will remember anything associated with a negative experience as a cause for fear in the future.
The tools for training
We have already been working on the creating the foundations for training in your puppy from the day he was born. You will have seen in photos and videos some of the positive experiences we have created for him. We have been establishing routine and respect with him, paving the path for ongoing training by you.
What tools do you now need to continue his training?
Respect – you have to respect the puppy to earn his respect
Your voice – trusting and calm
Your body language – non-threatening, encouraging, calm, and highly consistent
Understanding your dog’s body language – something most people are not aware just how important this is
Positive reinforcement – the modern method of training we use and obedience schools use to shape behaviour
You’re probably going to ask How do I respect my puppy? Good thing you asked. Have you ever respected a teacher or manager that did not respect you? You respect your puppy by being fair and showing him you’ll always be fair to him, providing highly consist responses, and trusting him that he’ll do his best.
Consistency means you respond the same way each time to him. For example, don’t let him on your bed this time and then next time growl at him for getting up on your bed. That’s unfair. You have to establish that your bed is no-go-zone anytime, if that’s what you want to teach him.
Your voice is an important training tool. Initially he does not know what words mean. After (only after) he learns a correct response to something he is shown to do, you can associate a word with this. Whilst he may not know what words mean (initially), your puppy can understand deviations in the tone of our voice.
We have been working on establishing an understood ‘marker word’ with your puppy. A marker word is a word we say to ‘mark’ a correct action or response. Our marker word is a one-syllable excited ‘Yes!’ to mark a specific action or response that is desirable, good or correct. Avoid saying too many words like ‘Good boy’. You just want a one-syllable positive marker word. ‘Good boy’ can be used at non-training times.
Your Body Language
Dogs communicate with each other mostly through body language. Which is why they watch and read our body language so well, more so even than our verbal language. Our movement, posture, and glances tell a dog a lot about what we are thinking or feeling. Their responses to our body language have taught us that our dogs feel that our movements and gestures contain important cues as to what will happen next in their world. Dogs have a superior ability to read human signals. The importance of our body signals in training our dogs cannot be understated. If your body language is unintentionally intimidating, erratic, or contradicts the request or message you are trying to give, the result can be a very confused, uncertain, frightened or even agitated dog. A disconnect between what you want to ‘say’ and what your body language actually expresses can be quite threatening to some dogs.
Understanding Your Dog’s Body Language
This is something that is ‘assumed’ people know, but this is incorrect. Most people do not know what our dogs are telling us through THEIR body language.
For example, did you know that when your dog turns his head away from you, it is not a sign of disrespect. It signals ‘peace’ and ‘no intention of conflict’.
The importance of understanding their body language cannot be overstated.
We need to study their body language to learn to read them.
A good online resource for understanding dog body language and for training tips can be found at Positively Victoria Stilwell Canine Body Language.
Training and learning resources
Joining your local dog obedience club will be beneficial to socialising and training your puppy, starting as soon as he or she is fully vaccinated (after they have had their booster vaccine at 10-12 weeks old). Check out the qualifications of the trainers, what breeds they are particularly familiar with, and whether they have any training specialties within the club in case you want to ask specific questions or receive specific advice.
If you find your local dog obedience club does not accommodate life schedule or needs, you can engage a private dog trainer. Once again, be sure to evaluate their training qualifications and experience. Private dog trainers do one-on-one private sessions or small group sessions, which some people find more suited to their dog’s training needs.
A lot of people are visual learners. You can learn much from watching professional trainers and adopting training methods, with tailored adjustments to shape your dog’s behaviour and manners. Dog trainer Larry Krohn is purely a positive balanced trainer who demonstrates training techniques on his Youtube site, specifically his Free Advice for Dog Owners playlist.
Ensure your dog trainer has professional qualifications, ask to see them (and look them up), evaluate their level of experience, ask around, consider feedback and reviews, and continue to re-evaluate if your needs (you’re a learner too!) and your dog’s behaviours and training is being shaped in a positive manner and making progress.
Positive reinforcement training, also known as reward-based training or force-free training, is a positive method of training dogs and shaping behaviour.
If you give your dog a reward (praise, treat, toy, play) when he responds to you or offers an action or behaviour that you like, then that behaviour is likely to be repeated.
If you reinforce your dog’s desirable behaviours, there is less of a chance that he will indulge in other behaviours you do not like. In positive-reinforcement training, decision-making is influenced without the use of force or negativity, and the dog’s trust in you is not violated through threatening treatment.
Connecting with your labrador through positive techniques to shape his behaviour and responses strengthens the relationship because it fosters mutual trust, provides affection, and encourages cooperation. Dogs that are taught using positive reinforcement are more tolerant, self-controlled (because they learn to make the good decisions themselves), and behave more predictably in different situations.
The first qualification you need for teaching your dog is patience. It takes repetition and consistency to teach any dog something.
Gain his trust and respect by respecting him and showing him fairness.
Always SHOW him what you want him to do. Reward him for desirable response or attempts. Once he is conditioned to think this way he will respond quicker each time.
Training is always step-by-step starting with showing him what you desire him to do, helping him do it (by signalling him with your hand or body language), and then ‘marking’ the desirable response with ‘Yes’ and immediately rewarding him for his effort. Do this every time he responds appropriately to a command. You want him to connect the behaviour he performed with a reward from you. This of course means you’ll have to have treats with you whenever you give a command in the beginning. After he has really mastered a command and is consistently performing it correctly, gradually back off the treats and treat every second or third time he does it right. But reward verbally every time.
Keep training sessions short and fun. For a puppy 5-10 minutes is all that’s needed for a quality training session. Puppies cannot concentrate for very long so do not exceed their concentration span or your training becomes ineffective as they cannot absorb what you’re teaching.
What to use for treats
The ideal treat is about pea to almond-sized. No bigger or you’ll fill him up too quickly and he’ll stop trying hard to get the training right.
All too often at obedience training classes people are seen using the dog’s usual dry food for treats. That’s not a treat! That is the dogs food he usually gets, and he knows it!
A treat should be a high-value reward – something the dog will do absolutely anything to get.
Remember treats are just treats – they dont get them all the time.
We’ve have found that ‘wet treats’ are far more valuable to the dogs we’ve trained than dry treats, and they’ll work extra hard for wet treats. These include boiled liver, frankfurts, Ingham’s chicken roll (yes, not too healthy, but as we said, a small treat), and roast chicken or pieces of meat. Dry treats they love include dried chicken liver pieces and Ivory Coat Gourmet Succulent treats.
Before you even start training a command, you have to condition the puppy’s thinking for training.
First establish a ‘marker word’. We use a short one-syllable ‘Yes!’. To establish a marker word, just say the word and treat him immediately. He’ll learn that the praise word ‘Yes’ is followed closely by a food reward. Initially he doesn’t have to do anything for it. Just say ‘Yes’ and treat him.
Repeat this a lot until he fully comprehends ‘Yes’ means a treat is following.
Follow your hand
After marker word is established, get him to follow your hand with a treat in it. Walk him around, do circles, circle him around you – as long has he follows your hand with his nose basically on it. Say ‘Yes’ to mark the fact he is following your hand and release the treat immediately after the marker word.
Repeat this for several days. NOTHING ELSE.
The only thing that needs to be established here is: following your hand, marker word, treat.
Get another treat in your hand, once he starts to follow your hand, maker word and treat. Get another treat in your hand, lead him with the treat for a bit longer. Another treat, lead his nose up and down slowly. Another treat, lead him around onto your left side then release the treat.
This is the groundwork. No need for sit, drop, stay yet… Trust me, this will all come very easily so don’t rush past the groundwork.
First commands to teach
Once we feel the groundwork is well-established and consistent, we like to teach sit, wait and look. These teach the dog to be calm, focus and be ready for what is next.
The way we teach new commands is a sequence of highly consistent behaviours from us, so the dog always know how this is going to work out: he learns a new behaviour and knows exactly what we want from him.
Show him what you expect
Mark and reward for correct responses (though initially even attempts get rewarded)
Add a precise hand signal and do it exactly the same way
Repeat until correct response from the puppy is consistent
Add a word to associate to this newly-learnt behaviour (notice associating a word comes last in the teaching sequence)
Victoria Stilwell’s Positively Training Basic Cues teaches the basic commands with written and video content to demonstrate the lessons.
With a treat in your right hand, slowly raise your hand closely in front of the puppy’s nose and slightly above the puppy’s head. This will show him into a natural sit position while he leans backward into his rear end to sniff for that treat in your hand. As soon as his rear touches the ground, mark and reward.
Repeat this until his sit is solid. No saying ‘sit’ yet.
Once he is sitting every time, start to be more precise in your hand signal. We use a closed fist with pointer finger up (like when you say ‘shhh’ holding your finger to your mouth).
Once he is consistently sitting to your hand signal, then you can start to add the associated word ‘sit’ to this newly-learnt behaviour. Wait until his rear is ON the ground and say ‘Sit!’ just as soon as this is achieved. Mark and reward.
After learning sit, wait is not too difficult. ‘Wait’ is an invaluable lesson in impulse control that can be useful in many situations. You’re teaching him that he needs to control his impulse to do something that he wants when you have asked something of him.
We use meal-time to teach this one initially. Puppies are usually greedy and will want to go for the food immediately so here is a good time to teach him that he gets the food when you say its ok.
Place food bowl down slowly, covering the bowl with one hand. He might try to lunge at the food bowl, do not remove your hand. It’s YOUR food until you say it’s his. Once he backs away, reward him from your other hand with a small treat or something from the bowl of food.
Once he has figured out that he has to wait, he might even naturally go into a sit position to wait for his meal, if not, ask him to sit and reward him when he does.
Like with sit and other commands, don’t put a word to this waiting until he is actually already doing it.
Translate ‘wait’ to mean much more than just wait for your food. You can place treats on the ground in front of him, covered with one hand and ask him to wait for it. You can also make him sit at the door, wait until you pass through the door, then ask him to follow you through the door. This is the ultimate aim of the wait command, having a dog that can be asked to perform any other command (sit, drop, down) and wait in that position until you release him.
Dogs should be taught to wait at the door, wait at traffic lights and street crossings, wait for people to pass by first, wait in the car until you say he can get out (not just jump out the second the door opens). Wait is a universal ‘pause as you are’ command letting him know that you need him to wait until you release him from that position.
Wait command is not the same as ‘stay’ (stay means the dog stays there until you return to him). The dog can be released from a ‘wait’ when you give the command (from any distance). Stay means to remain there until you return to him.
We also appreciate this alternative method of teaching the puppy to wait for his food bowl: Teach Your Dog to Wait for the Food Bowl
The closer you are to your dog the quicker he will learn this one. While either sitting or standing in front of your dog, look at your dog and hold a treat close between your eyes. This sets him up for success by training his eyes to where you want them looking. As soon as he makes eye contact with you, mark and reward. Sharpen up your hand signal (point to your eyes), and then add in the command word. Once his ‘look’ is solid, start doing it in more places with more distractions. Make sure you also practice by placing a treat or toy on the floor and then ask him to look up at you before giving the ok to grab the treat or toy.
Your puppy is familiar with a collar. Leash training starts when you take your puppy home.
Everyone wants a dog who walks calmly beside them, not pulling on the leash, not yanking their arms off, and we are here to tell you this is achievable!
In obedience training, when the dog is at our left side we call this the ‘heel’ position. You will see in obedience training the dog is taught to ‘heel’ – walk, sit and drop on your left side all on loose leash.
For an enjoyable walk, you don’t necessarily need (or want) the dog to be obedience trial/competition-style heeling, but you do want him walking calming and not pulling on his leash.
Why do dogs pull on their lead?
They want to keep moving forward – it’s exciting, they’re exploring and enjoying the walk. Walking forward is their ‘reward’ in their mind in this case. So, we’re going to teach the dog that he is ‘rewarded’ (allowed to walk forward) only when there is no tension on the leash.
Allowing him to pull his leash is not only teaching him very bad manners, disrespect and allowing him to become an anxious dog, you’re also inadvertently rewarding him FOR pulling on his leash!
When the puppy gets to the ‘end of the leash’ (leash becomes taught), stop moving forward. Just stop. (Although not so abruptly that his head or neck jerks however.) He will wonder what is going on and why you have stopped. When he turns around and comes back towards you (leash has gone loose) step forward.
Each time the leash becomes taught, stop moving forward. Wait for him to come back to you. Then move forward and continue walk. You might only get three steps before the leash is tight again. Be consistent and patient. This method does work, but you need patience.
When walking a dog and teaching loose leash, never yank or jerk on the leash. This can cause injury to your puppy’s neck and throat. We do not ever advocate leash jerking. Positive reinforcement methods will work. You only need the patience and consistency. Don’t let your frustration hurt your puppy.
We basically adopt dog trainer Larry Krohn’s method. He says, “A structured walk is the best training tool to all dog owners. Unfortunately so many can’t take their dog on an enjoyable walk because of excessive pulling on the leash. Here are a few very basic things that any dog owner can start working on to teach their dog to walk nicely on a loose leash: 1) doorway manners, 2) reward markers and release markers, 3) understanding leash pressure, 4) 180 degree turn about away from dog, 5) teaching left leg awareness, 6) 180 degree about turn into the dog with right leg swing. Once there is a good understanding, tools can be added if desired and will make the activity effortless and enjoyable.”
Stop Leash Pulling
Training starts at day #1
Positive training starts at day one and motivates the puppy to keep trying harder to learn! They love to learn!
Communicating with your dog
Besides understanding dog body language, how we communicate with our dogs is one of the most important things WE need to learn.
More information about training and behaviour contained within our Puppy Handbook, which you will receive when picking up your Kodalihart puppy.