Puppy Training Basics
"Mugwump, come here this instant!” My precious, sweet and incredibly cute Basset Hound puppy stared at me intently for about 30 seconds, before waddling determinedly in the opposite direction, nose pressed firmly to the ground. She had instantly divined that I had no treat in my pocket.
Meanwhile, my swift-as-the-wind Dalmatian mix, Clipper, hurried to my side and nosed my ribs, jealously anxious to be petted. And my stalwart Gordon Setter, Gavin, ever on the alert, just watched, ready to spring flamelike into action, in case he was needed.
Three Typical Types
Earth Dog, Wind Dog, Fire Dog. While these terms may seem fanciful, they provide valuable clues as to how to best train and reward your puppy. Dogs, like people, fall into definite “types” and have clear preferences and specific learning styles.
Most dogs need strong outside motivators to get them to do what you want. That’s because what you want is often not what your puppy wants. To make your wish his command, you need to be resourceful, clever and smart — smarter than your puppy.
Just like people, dogs have different learning styles. Knowing what makes your dog tick will help you adjust your training methods to what will work for him. Savvy dog trainers rely on three basic kinds of motivation: praise, play and plate. The reward that works best with your dog often coincides with his personality type. Although all puppies respond well to all three kinds of motivation, the one that trips your puppy’s switch the quickest is the one to use.
Wind Dogs like praise, Fire Dogs enjoy interactive play, and Earth Dogs — well, hand over the food. To figure out the “type” your puppy falls into, observe him carefully, remembering that dogs of all types need kindness, firmness, patience and consistency in training. While the amount of kindness, firmness and patience that is needed in training may vary from dog to dog and puppy to puppy, all three types of dogs demand consistency in training.
Wind Dogs tend to be like the wind itself, hence the name: full of restless energy and quick thinking, but subject to frequent changes in mood. They are eager to please you, but can be reactive and easily agitated. If poorly trained, they can become shy or skittish, but when well trained, they make superb field dogs.
The special challenge presented by Wind Dogs is their high level of distractibility and shyness. Your responsibility is to be a kind, nurturing owner who is always ready to give support.
Wind Dogs are natural followers. They crave emotional warmth and loving contact with their favorite human and respond best to praise, gentle petting and reassurance in training. Praise can take two forms: verbal (kind words) and physical (soft petting). Wind Dogs like and need both.
Praise, however, can be a tricky commodity to hand out. If overdone, it becomes less effective. If done in the wrong circumstances, it can make the problem worse. And if timed poorly, your dog can get the wrong message.
Here are a few hints for the correct use of praise as a reward:
- Give praise only when your dog does something commendable (i.e. following your command). Don’t constantly say “Good boy!” for reassurance. The Wind Dog craves your praise for his self-esteem and if you keep handing it out, he won’t be motivated to earn it.
- Time your praise. Most people wait too long to speak the magic words and give a pat on the back, especially in the early stages of training. Let’s take the come cue as an example. “Come” is not just one behavior, but a whole chain of actions, consisting (literally, in this case) of many ministeps.
When you first start teaching this cue to your puppy, don’t wait until he has actually arrived to utter the praise. The first steps should be followed by a soft, encouraging “Good dog.” This combines using praise as a lure for encouragement with a reward for a job done well.
Knowing he is doing the right thing not only encourages your Wind Dog puppy to keep on doing it, but also serves to decrease his anxiety level, which is extremely important in this type of dog. Anxious dogs don’t learn well, and Wind Dogs tend to be the most anxious of all. If your puppy wanders off track, a quick “No, no!” or “Ack!” will get his attention and return him to the right path — toward you. Like praise, negative words should not be screamed. Your sensitive Wind Dog will know he’s made a misstep by hearing a lower, darker tone in your voice.
- Modulate your praise carefully. Wind Dogs are so attuned to praise that even a little bit keeps them on track. For example, when you tell your puppy “down,” keep your own voice down, as well. When he achieves the down position, praise him quietly, without using his name. (Using the dog’s name is a signal for him to get up and follow you.) If you get too excited by his success, the restless Wind Dog will spring up again.
- Along the same lines, when your Wind Dog is mastering housetraining, praise him very softly when he starts to go. If your voice gets too loud or excited, your Wing Dog may become so delighted with your praise that he forgets what he is supposed to be doing and stops doing it. The next thing you know, you’ll have a mess in the house. When you are sure that your puppy has completed his mission, however, you can be more exuberant in your compliments.
- Use praise in combination with gentle petting at first, so that your dog makes a firm connection between doing the right thing and feeling good, both mentally and physically.
- Know when to take a break. Wind Dogs tend to lick themselves compulsively when they are frustrated or tired by training; it’s a definite signal to you that it’s time to take a break.
Of all the types, Wind Dogs require the gentlest and softest of training methods. The special virtue you need for training these dogs is kindness. Harsh words or striking a Wind Dog can destroy his fine, free spirit forever.
Some dogs are like fire: bright, quick-tempered, responsive, hard-working, confident and jealous. Fire Dogs are the most easily trained of all the types and can learn the most complex routines. Many herding dogs, high-level agility dogs and working police dogs are of this type. Fire Dogs tend to be one-person dogs, so if you want your Fire Dog to be attentive to others in the family, as well, it’s a good idea to include them in your puppy training sessions.
Unquestionably, if you are looking to compete in obedience, agility or working-dog trials, look no further than your Fire Dog puppy. These dogs are the elite of the dog-training world. However, they have certain failings. They may be under the impression that they are your leaders, not the other way around. When poorly trained, these naturally dominant dogs can become aggressive. A Fire Dog considers himself your equal, and enjoys nothing more than a gentle tug of war tussle with you as a reward for being good.
Fire Dogs are so self-confident that frankly, your praise doesn’t mean that much to them. They’d rather play. In fact, many Fire Dog owners begin their training sessions with play. Some of the most popular reward games for Fire Dogs include:
- hide and seek
Fire Dogs also cherish squeaky toys, stuffed animals and treat-stuffed, interactive toys. Fire Dogs enjoy petting, but they prefer it to be vigorous, even rough, so that the petting itself is like a game, and soon morphs into cheerful roughhousing.
The key to using play as a reward is to keep it short (10 to 15 seconds long). Any play-reward lasting longer than that will make your dog forget what he was rewarded for. You want the game to be a quick reward, not a substitute activity for training. Keeping the game short also helps to maintain your dog’s interest.
Fire Dog puppies tend to grow up to be dominant dogs. This is their special challenge. It’s your responsibility to teach your Fire Dog his proper place in the family (below all humans) by making him earn his way. Make sure that he learns to sit before dinner, going out or receiving a special privilege. It’s important for him to understand that all good things come from you, and that you can withhold them at will. While no dog should be treated roughly or unkindly, Fire Dogs respect strength and leadership, and do not respond well to weak, wishy-washy owners. The special virtue you need to train your Fire Dog is firmness.
Play-motivated Fire Dogs are quick learners, and they can generally handle a longer training session than the other two types, so long as you remember to interrupt the training every 10 to 15 minutes with a good round of play. Remember, also, that young puppies need their nap time. When Fire Dogs are overextended or stressed from training, they tend to start panting. That’s your signal to quit.
Earth Dogs are independent, slow-moving, thoughtful, introspective, stable and methodical. They are possibly the most difficult dogs to train for conventional dog activities like obedience, and you’d be unlikely to select an Earth Dog as your next “Dancing with Dogs” competitor. But they can learn to be sedate, dignified and mannerly house pets, and they are unlikely to overwhelm small children or create havoc around the house. This is more than you can say for the other two types. The special virtue you need to cultivate in an Earth Dog is patience.
Earth Dogs generally regard themselves as your equals, and are not interested in following you or bossing you around. When poorly trained, they can become distant, gloomy or depressed. Of all the types, it’s most important to keep Earth Dogs on fairly strict training schedules, as they dislike change. They tend to get along with others. It is sometimes said that these dogs have no particular favorites, but that’s not strictly true: Their favorite is the person who happens to be holding the food bowl.
The special challenge offered by Earth Dogs is to make learning worth their while; the mere charm of your company and most flattering words of praise won’t suffice. Earth Dogs demand something more real and more substantial.
Earth Dogs are most motivated by food. While Wind Dog puppies cling tightly to their owners and beg for affection and praise, and Fire Dogs are intent on drawing their owners into a game of Frisbee, Earth Dogs keep their eyes on the food bowl and their ears on the can opener. While Earth Dogs like all sorts of treats, remember to use small, convenient bits that do not require chewing. Anything larger (or chewier) than pea-size may take your puppy’s mind off the important task at hand. Some popular treats include bits of cheese or liver.
Earth Dogs are so motivated by appetite that it’s best to avoid training them in the kitchen or at any time close to mealtime; they will be too easily distracted. When Earth Dogs get bored or displeased with their training regimens, they may yawn repeatedly. They are trying to tell you something, so pay attention.
Lures vs. Rewards
“Lure” is another word for “bribe.” It is offered before a desired behavior, rather than after it, as is the case with a reward. Sometimes, however, a bribe is necessary, especially if you are short on time or your dog is in danger. For example, let’s say your puppy has managed to get ahold of something dangerous to swallow, like a dried-up chicken bone. Offering a special treat as a replacement item is an acceptable, not forceful, way to save her from choking.
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