australian-shepherd-puppy-copy.jpgEvery encounter we have with our dogs is a training session– whether we know it or not.

So I start training consciously right from the very first day I get my puppy home. This keeps me focused on my behavior and interactions with my puppy, as well as hers with me. Doing so makes it less likely for an unwanted behavior to get very far before I can nip it in the bud. Good communication and redirection are key.

For instance, if my puppy were to begin chewing on the leg of a chair, I’d wait to catch her in the act and say a firm “No.” Then I’d immediately remove the puppy from chair and give her an appropriate toy. When she took the chew toy, I’d give a pet and say “good girl” in an upbeat tone.

The major benefit of paying attention from Day One is that it’s much easier to stop a behavior before it gets started. Letting a behavior become ingrained, and then trying to train away from what’s become an established and self-rewarding activity is much harder.

Training sessions for puppies should be kept brief and fun. I opt for five minute sessions four or five times a day. (I use the term “five minutes” loosely. It might only be a minute or two.) The idea is to keep early puppy training “short and sweet.”

There are some basic communications that benefit all dogs. For instance, all my dogs have been taught to sit, wait, stay, lie down, walk on a loose leash, and “leave it” as in drop whatever is in their mouth, or to walk past it if they’re thinking of putting it in their mouth. If you offer short and frequent sessions, you’ll be amazed at how quickly your pup catches on. This makes it fun and rewarding for both of you.

Training anything beyond the basics is optional. Though, depending on what you want to accomplish with your dog, the sky is often the limit, with clear communication and consistent training. But it’s also important to take into account who your dog is and what it needs to be happy.

For example, Kiera is the kind of dog who doesn’t want to just sit around. She likes learning and she wants a job. To satisfy her needs, I’ve done a lot of training with her. Enough, so that she can now read my body language before I even speak a word. Graidy, on the other hand, is my “No worries mate” dog. He’s not interested in learning new tricks for the sake of his or my entertainment. He’s got the basics down and that’s all I care about.

Still, with all the “conscious” training I’ve done with my dogs, I’m often amazed at how much they’ve picked up from inference from our daily routine. For instance, when I say to Cait, “Dad’s home,” the dogs now go running to the door to greet him. On their own, they’ve put two and two together. This is just one of dozens of this kind of example.

Which brings me back to where I started this post: Every encounter we have with our dogs is a training session–whether we know it or not. It doesn’t take much more energy to train consciously. So make the commitment to give your puppy the good start it deserves. You’ll both be rewarded with many years of mutual enjoyment for the effort.