Early Puppy Skill Building

Here are some of my favorite skills and tricks to train with my puppy in their first couple of weeks at home.

Hand touches – Puppy touches an outstretched palm and then I throw at treat from the other hand on the ground in front of the puppy. By not feeding out of hand I am resetting the exercise so the puppy must figure out where to go and what to do to get the next treat.

Down – Using the treat as a lure I will help the puppy fold backward from a stand in an accordion-type manner into a down position. I help this along by starting with the treat low to the ground and between the pup’s front legs. As I move the treat backwards and the head follow then the pup folds into a down position. Once the pups starts getting this easily, perhaps after a few days or a week I’ll start naming it as “Down” and I will fade the lure.

Stand – Using the treat as a lure I will help the puppy “unfold” back up into a stand.

Sit – Normally I don’t work on this at first as I find it can interfere with shaping other behaviors. It’s a very easy position for my puppy to default to and then they are more likely to wait there to be rewarded rather than try something else.

Look – This is where I am asking for eye contact from my puppy. Usually this is easy to elicit by looking at the puppy yourself and not doing anything else to get their attention. Once they look I will throw the treat on the ground in front of them. Once the puppy is reliably looking at me I’ll add the word “Look” and make sure they are now giving eye contact on the verbal cue. This is also the exercise where I’ll start bringing in the clicker and pairing that with the treat. Once you have “Look” working this can be the beginning of heeling practice. You can see some of the challenges and successes of this exercise with 9-week-old Ned .

Front foot targeting – After I have successfully introduced the clicker I will then use a flat visible object, like the lid of a yoghurt container. I will shape the behavior of the dog touching the lid with their foot by waiting for them to move closer to the lid. Initially I will click and treat for any movement towards the lid. Then as the pup understands the lid is the desired object and become more stringent about my criteria for a reward until the dog is deliberately and reliably touching the lid with a front paw.

Here is a video of puppy training with Pumis from WorldComesDownTube that may give you more ideas:

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