Puppy Kindergarten Exercises
Below are some of the exercises that we will be doing in Puppy Kindergarten. Please read it over before attending class. That way, you will have a better understanding of what we are doing and how to accomplish it. Happy Training!
Greeting other puppies in class
The opportunity to greet other puppies can be a huge reward from your puppy’s perspective. Therefore, whatever behavior your puppy was doing just prior to greeting will be strongly reinforced. If your puppy is pulling on the lead and acting wild just prior to greeting, that’s what you will be training him or her–to pull and act wild! Before letting your puppy greet another, have your puppy do something for you (sit, look at you, come, etc.) before granting the privilege of meeting and greeting. That way, you will be strongly reinforcing good manners.
It is for this reason that puppy play in puppy class is begun only after your puppy is settled down and focused on you. Once your pup has settled down, he or she will be rewarded with playtime.
If you would like to have your puppy interact in the few minutes before class starts, I recommend that you ask your pup to do something for you first. Also, please ask the other person before your puppy greets: “May my puppy say ‘hi’ to your puppy?” Waiting for them to reply gives them the opportunity to get their puppy under control before giving them the huge social reward of interacting with your puppy.
If one puppy is fearful, give that puppy plenty of space to retreat. Forced interaction by not allowing a retreat can make a fearful puppy even more so. If you notice that someone’s puppy is a little afraid, do not allow your puppy to crowd the fearful puppy. Instead, restrain your puppy and allow the fearful one to approach when he or she feels ready.
For the sake of simplicity, we are going to assume that no one wants their puppy to jump on a human uninvited. In class, we will be helping each other to train our puppies not to jump up.
When a puppy–either your own or a classmate’s–comes up to you for attention, pet and interact only if the pup is not jumping–that is, has four feet on the floor. If the puppy jumps on you, say “hey” and stand up, crossing your arms and putting your hands under your armpits and look up and away as if you were checking for rain.
Please do not touch the puppy who is jumping on you–even to push him or her off. Dogs love touch, and your pushing will likely be interpreted as some kind of play.
The puppies are adorable, so don’t be surprised if you find your hand drawn against its will to pet the adorable puppy who is looking endearingly into your eyes! If that happens to you (and you know who you are!), I or someone else will gently remind you not to pet!
Your Puppy’s Name
In order to have a well-trained dog/pup, you must be able to get your dog’s attention. Without your dog’s attention, success in training will be much more difficult.
In class, we will be teaching our puppy’s to turn their head when they hear their name called. Ultimately, we want them to always respond with a head turn every time we call their name. In fact, we want the head turn to be a reflex; that is, something they do without thinking.
To get the head turn as a reflex, you will need to do two things. First, you need a lot of correct repetitions, so practice every day, maybe 10-20 little head turns a day. Second, avoid diluting the sound of their name by not repeating their name if they don’t first respond. If you say their name multiple times, they will never attain the reflex you are hoping for and you will turn into a nag!
If you say their name and they don’t turn their head, you have several options: 1. You could wait 5 seconds for the first request to “die,” then repeat the name; 2. You could make a funny noise to elicit a head turn. Avoid overfacing your puppy by asking for a head turn in a too difficult situation, such as interacting with another puppy until your puppy is ready for it. Instead, ask for a head turn when your pup is merely slightly distracted. Over the weeks and as your puppy is successful, you may safely increase the distraction level.
To avoid confusing your puppy, don’t say your pup’s name when you are angry or want them to stop doing something (like your parents might have done with you!). Instead, say “no” or “ah ah.” Those words, followed by a consequence your puppy will work to avoid, should mean, “change what you are doing.” Once your puppy stops doing the bad thing, you can say their name to get them to look at you, then give them a request. Example: “No!” (stop sniffing the duck poop) “Spot, come!”
Practice the head turn around visitors or kids playing or on walks beginning with mild distractions.
Gotchya’s (collar grabs)
What do you do when you want your dog to do something that he or she doesn’t want to do? Let’s see…there are baths, putting your dog in a crate, pulling him away from something fun (like poop) that he is interested in and you would rather he not. How do you get him to do it? Grab him by the collar! Pretty soon, your dog comes to learn that collar grabs are bad stuff: no good can come from a collar grab. As pups grow into adults, some learn to avoid collar grabs by ducking and running off (pretty frustrating if you are in a hurry and need to catch your dog); others learn to back their humans off from grabbing their collars by growling or biting. Many children are bitten when they grab a dog by a collar. Kids do this, and that fact alone is an important one to warrant teaching your dog to accept collar grabs.
Not only do we want our dogs to accept collar grabs, we are hoping to train in a positive feeling when the collar is grabbed. We can do this by the following formula: collar grabs= good things happening for dogs. Examples: collar grab= leash/walk; collar grab=treat.
In class, we will be interrupting play. That in itself can be seen as a ‘bummer’ in the eyes of your dog. We can teach our pups to accept this by giving them a treat immediately upon being grabbed. After being grabbed, they are often released, thereby giving a double reward: reward#1 is a treat; reward #2 is release to go play. Collar grabs as practiced in this way are nonthreatening, perhaps a pleasure to your puppy.
In practice, you want to get close to your loose pup, treat in hand. First, say “gotchya.” You say this before grabbing so as not to startle your pup. Immediately after saying gotchya, grab your pup’s collar, then pop a treat into his or her mouth. This should all happen very quickly.
The Zen Down
Throughout your dog’s life, there are times when your dog will need to lie still and happily accept being restrained. You might need to remove burs or check for injury; you might need to simply calm your pup down. Unless your full grown dog has learned as a puppy to accept being handled in this way, he or she might become afraid when restrained and might even become aggressive.
In class, we will be interrupting play to do an exercise called a Zen down. The idea here is to gently but firmly lay your pup on his or her side while you gently restrain, only letting your puppy up when he or she is relaxed and accepting of being held down. This is not a war or a fight! Your job will be to remain calm and breath deeply and evenly, allowing your forearms that are doing the restraining to feel heavy and as relaxed as possible.
Your goal is to create a ‘Gumby Dog’–a dog whose response to any form of restraint is to relax. If you are standing up holding him or her (assuming your pup is of the size that this is possible!), don’t let her down if she struggles. Wait for submission/relaxation before putting her on the floor.
Practice Zen downs before feeding your pup. Practice also when your pup is wound up–either from general feistiness or when playing with you or another family member.
I’m sure that all of you have experienced times where you wanted to relax and your puppy didn’t! The goal for this exercise is to teach the puppy to watch for your body signals that become a cue for him or her to relax. We won’t have a verbal signal as a cue for them to relax, so you won’t be saying anything for this exercise.
You will be practicing this exercise at the beginning of class (we want the puppies to be relaxed and attentive before granting them the wonderful reward of playing together) and anytime during the class when I am talking and you are listening.
Your pup will signal he or she is fully relaxed by lying down and putting his head between his paws. Not there yet? Never fear! We will get there by successive approximations.
Let’s say you have just sat down in class and your puppy really embarrassing you (but don’t be embarrassed–if your pup was perfect you would have no reason to come to class!) –you know, jumping and barking and pulling. In your case, watch your puppy closely for any improvement. When your pup is quiet for 3 seconds, click and treat. If your pup isn’t barking but is merely pulling and pacing, wait for him or her to stand still for a couple of seconds…click/treat! Over time, your pup will learn that it pays off to settle down. And you may even get to the head between the paws thing!
At home, you can practice by going from room to room and sitting in a chair and doing as outlined above. On walks, you can sit on a park bench and reward your pup for relaxing.
Please bring to class: Bring a rug or mat for your dog to relax on. Your mat should be the right size for your dog and portable. Durable, washable, attractive mats are available for sale in the training room if you need one. Training your dog to relax on the mat in beginning classes will prepare your dog fo going to the mat on command when they are at a more advanced level.