Teacher's Pet

Plan an effective training curriculum for your puppy.

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After her older Golden Retriever died, Kimberly B. of Tennessee and her family adopted an 8-week-old Boxer puppy. Long accustomed to a well-mannered adult, the family suffered puppy shock as Pak-Pak pottied in the house, balked at walking on leash, chewed on shoes, and generally behaved like a puppy!

Whether it’s your first puppy or the successor to a departed senior, you’ll probably experience something similar until you learn to channel that youthful energy into training that begins at home and ends with a polite companion.

Games make learning fun
With puppies as with children, games make learning fun. Training veteran Barbara Ferguson, owner of Sirius Fun Dog Training in Plymouth, Mass., says trading and retrieving games prove valuable because “puppies experience life through their mouths.” Trade games can also redirect attention from inappropriate chewing to acceptable chew toys.

While your puppy holds something, say “Give” to take it from him or “Drop it” if you prefer he drops it, then offer him a treat. Mix things up. Sometimes ask him to bring the item to you and give him the treat, making it a retrieve game. Other times, trade for a toy.

“Coming when called should always be fun and highly reinforced,” Ferguson says. For a recall game, have someone hold your puppy as you walk away talking excitedly. Go far enough away that he must briefly run to reach you, turn, eagerly call his name, signal your co-trainer to release him, then enthusiastically praise his arrival.

In addition to games, begin socializing your puppy. Socialization needs to take place both inside and outside your home, with people your pup knows and strangers, too. Until he’s had his final vaccinations, avoid parks and other areas dogs frequent where he’ll come into contact with unknown, possibly ill or unvaccinated dogs. Instead, take him to visit a friend’s house, sit on a bench in front of the library, or host a doggie party. Gently expose him to assorted household noises, floorings, and objects. Take him for brief car rides. In short, start showing him the world.

Puppy kindergarten works wonders
Naturally, education doesn’t stop at home. Beth Scorzelli, an instructor at Red River Obedience Training Club in Shreveport, La., says, “Puppy kindergarten familiarizes your puppy with other puppies, people, sounds, and settings, all important during socialization to prevent your puppy from becoming fearful in different environments.”

Sign-up ages depend on the facility’s rules concerning vaccinations, which usually finish around 16 weeks of age. Scorzelli’s class begins with 3-month-olds and teaches basic obedience. “The first week puppies are introduced to Sit, Down, coming when called, and walking on leash,” she says. Subsequent weeks incorporate brief Stays.

Kindergarten teaches puppies to not jump up, nip, or grab. “We also do an exam to get puppies used to their ears, mouth, and feet being checked,” Scorzelli says. To build the puppies’ confidence, Ferguson uses agility equipment like tunnels, a low table, and a wobble board.

Obedience keeps growing
After kindergarten, Ferguson says basic obedience classes “work on the three Ds: duration, distance, and distraction.” In other words, your puppy will learn to work for longer periods without reward, respond to commands with you farther away, and do all of this with more things going on around him.

“I also leave the comfort of the training facility to work outside and offsite,” Ferguson says. This teaches your puppy or budding adolescent that rules apply everywhere.

Course makes puppies STARs
Passing a minimum six-week training course under an AKC-approved instructor qualifies your puppy for the American Kennel Club’s STAR Puppy Program, open to both purebreds and mixes up to 1 year old. Classes based on this program teach new owners about socialization, training, activity, and responsibility — hence the acronym. Plus, puppies learn some basics like Sit, Down, and walking politely on leash.

Achieving STAR Puppy status requires a pledge that you’ll see to your puppy’s health, safety, quality of life, and home confinement. You must obey public rules, keep ID on your puppy, and outline his daily activity plan. Successful applicants earn a certificate, discounted AKC lost-dog service, and more.

CGC means ‘good dog’
The training involved in the AKC Canine Good Citizen program builds upon the good manners and basic obedience your now 7- to 8-month-old puppy has already learned. To earn a certificate, you and your pup will most likely need to complete a four-week training class. Then you’ll take the CGC test to demonstrate that your pup can pass the 10 requirements:

  1. Accepting a friendly stranger.
  2. Sitting politely for petting.
  3. Appearance and grooming.
  4. Out for a walk (loose leash walking).
  5. Walking through a crowd.
  6. Sit, Down, and Stay on command.
  7. Coming when called.
  8. Reaction to another dog (polite).
  9. Reaction to distraction (confident).
  10. Supervised separation (without nervousness).

Passing the CGC signifies a well-trained, nicely tempered dog with a conscientious owner. In fact, the AKC’s website (www.akc.org) says some state governments and insurance companies consider the CGC a means for determining responsible ownership.

Many factors affect how training progresses from kindergarten through CGC training, such as a puppy’s maturity rate and the time spent on lessons. Don’t be offended if an instructor recommends your puppy repeat one or more basic classes before moving on to advanced classes, which focus on fast, precise obedience and eventual off-leash work.

Competition builds relationship
When your 9- or 10-month-old adolescent proceeds into advanced classes, you may turn your eye toward competition. Competitive obedience combines basic commands with specific exercises designed to showcase handler-and-dog teamwork.

Patricia Scribner from Plaistow, N.H., an obedience competitor whose Golden Retrievers have earned top-level AKC titles, says the most important factor leading to competitive success is “relationship — the love for and of being with your dog.”

A fast-paced, exciting sport that exploded onto the competition scene in the 1990s, agility requires a dog to complete a predetermined obstacle course under the handler’s guidance. Obstacles include an A-frame, elevated dogwalk, tunnels, jumps, and more.

Some people discover agility training through puppy kindergarten classes, like Ferguson’s, that use obstacles to build confidence.

Many dog training schools offer agility classes. Some start puppies after kindergarten, mingling introductory agility with obedience. Others wait until basic obedience concludes at 9 to 10 months old. Either way, this demanding sport requires months of training before competing, and puppies should not do some obstacles until they’re at least 10 months old.

Although puppy antics often seem overwhelming, kind, consistent training works wonders. Just ask Boyle, who says training improved Pak-Pak’s behavior so much that puppy shock has turned into a serious case of puppy love.

A lifelong dog fancier, Chris Cox-Evick is a freelance writer, dog training instructor, and canine sports competitor who lives in Ohio with her husband, several dogs of various breeds, and three very tolerant cats.

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