How Dogs Learn

A Workable Puppy Training Program

A puppy learns by the consequences of his behavior. He is interested in what is in it for him. In order for us to get reliable behavior from the dog, we need to go through a series of steps in our training. For the sake of explanation, let’s review teaching the puppy to sit.

A puppy naturally knows how to sit. We want to teach the pup to sit whenever we ask, in any situation. We will go through this one step at a time. These steps are adaptable to anything that you want to teach your dog. We will also talk about the use of food as reward in combination with teaching the pup to sit when we ask.

At any point during the training process, if you see things begin to deteriorate, backtrack and set your puppy up to succeed.
Step one

Lure the pup into the sit position. As we talk about in the Obedience section, it is not necessary to use the word sit in the beginning, since the pup has no idea what the word actually means. We just want to be able to smoothly get that pup following the hand with the payola so he plunks down into a sit.

Step two

Once you are easily able to lure the pup into a sit you may insert the word “sit” as you lure the position. The pup immediately receives a treat (the pay) as his butt hits the ground.

After a series of repetitions, your puppy will associate the sound of the word sit with the position that you have been luring him into and paying him for. It is important that the pup is treated and praised each time he is successful at this stage in the training. This builds a solid association between the behavior and the pay off. As well as associating the sound of the word, he is also familiar with the hand movement you make in order to lure him into position.

Step three

As mentioned before, as important as it is to use food in early training, it is equally important that you phase out the food as a lure, eventually using it only as a reward. We will begin to do this in step three. Once the puppy is sitting every time you lure with the food, start to lure him the same way but with no food in your hand. The pup will recognize the hand movement (that previously held food) and will sit. With that, reach into your treat pouch and reward the pup with some food.

Step four

Now start to mix things up. Lure with your empty hand (no treat) and reward the pup with a treat from the pouch. Lure the pup and don’t reward. Ask the pup to sit without the hand signal. Continue testing to see if he knows what you want when he hears the word sit. The goal is to not need the lure.

Building the levels of distraction: environment

Before we go any further, let’s look at the environment that we will work in. By that we mean where you do the work and the amount of distractions that are present. It is important that we start this work in an area that the puppy is comfortable and familiar with, an area with minimal to no distractions. It is equally important that as we progress with our training, we change the environment and the level of distractions.

Tracking Your Training Progress: Baby Steps to Success
Find a printable version here.

Whatever you are working on — whether sit, down, stand, or come — you can use the same formula to work with treats. This chart helps you track the sequence your training should take and helps you phase out the treats when the time is right. As you reach each level, check off your progress. Print out this page and then use it for each behavior you are working on.

My Puppy and I are working on: ____________________________________________________________________________

Treat every correct response Become unpredictable in treating correct response Phase out treats
Practice in the house with no distractions 1 2 3
Practice in the house with distractions 4 5 6
Practice in the yard 7 8 9
Practice out in public 10 11 12