Four weeks ago, we added a puppy to our family. Venus was eight weeks old when she joined us, and has changed a lot both in looks and behavior.
Until twelve weeks of age, everything that a pup goes through has a massive impact. During this period it is hence important to teach general behaviors, but it’s also a great time to work on basic commands!
Our puppy Venus has learned a few tricks over the past few weeks, and we thought we’d explain how she did so!
Choose a reward
Before you start training your puppy, it’s important to pick something to reward them with.
We mainly use food-based rewards when training Venus.
Since we believe that a species appropriate diet is very important, we use meat-based treats. We either go for dehydrated pieces of duck that we order online, or we buy some extra raw meat for our meal prep and dry that ourselves.
You can find a great recipe for single ingredient dog treats here.
With Mojo, we also often use a toy to reward her when we train on a field. This is a great thing to do when you’re training outdoors and allows for your pup to burn off some additional energy. Just make sure you don’t put too much stress on their growing joints!
Don’t use force
When raising a pup, and really when training a dog of any age, we prefer to keep things fun. If a dog doesn’t want to sit, he doesn’t want to sit. It’s simple.
No matter how gentle, we don’t push on a dog’s back to force them into a sitting position, nor do we press the shoulders to force them to lay down.
Every individual is different
As with everything in life, every pup is different.
We clearly see a huge difference between Venus and Mojo as a pup. This is why we handle certain things differently, because some ways of training that we used with Mojo will not work for Venus.
Keep this fact in mind when reading the following tips when you want to apply them to your own pup, and don’t get frustrated if it doesn’t work out.
We’d love to help you out and find a way to teach your pup a trick that seems to be difficult to do, just comment below if you need a hand!
This is probably the first trick that most people teach their puppy. When we first got Mojo, we taught her to sit on the day she arrived home.
Whenever we walked in our apartment or prepared food in the kitchen, she’d follow us around and sit down to watch us. Sitting was her ‘default’ position. It was hence incredibly easy to teach her to sit on cue.
We simply watched her movements and praise her as soon as her bum hit the floor. After a few times, we’d add a word that would be used as the ‘sitting command’ for the rest of her life: sit!
For our new puppy, this was all a little different.
Venus is a very excitable puppy with an extreme amount of energy. She has a tendency to bite, in anything and everything. She loved treats though, so it was clear that we’d be able to teach her stuff, we just had to figure out how to catch her sitting down and feed her a treat without our hands ending up perforated.
It took us around three days before we could offer her a treat without teeth pinching our fingers.
At this point, we knew that Venus was ready to learn some tricks!
We simply held a treat in front of her nose and slowly moved it backwards over her head. The first few times she walked backwards, following the treat, but eventually she sat down – and she was rewarded with the treat!
One day later, she had the trick down. A few days after that, she was able to perform the trick without a hand signal, as well.
This trick is useful when working on patient behavior around daily activities such as leaving the house, entering a house, waiting to cross the road, and many other things.
Another thing that is taught quite often is laying down on cue.
We taught Mojo this trick simply by waiting for her to lay down, just like we did with sit. But for Venus, this didn’t work.
Venus is always busy chewing on toys, running around, nipping our hands and pestering Mojo.
This trick can be a little more difficult, especially when you have a small-breed pup.
We tried to teach Venus to lay down on cue by luring her nose toward the floor with a treat, but all she did was bite our fingers. There was no need for her to lay down to reach the treat, she could easily reach it standing up, because she’s so tiny!
We hence lured Venus onto her dog bed, which is approximately 4 inches thick. This meant that our hand could lower further, and she was no longer able to reach our hand without either laying down, or climbing off the bed.
Though she climbed off the bed numerous times, she eventually realized that all she had to do was lay down, and she’d get the treat!
This trick is useful for trips to the vet and for practicing calm behavior.
When you’re sure that your puppy can sit or lay down on cue, it’s time to move on to this trick: Stay.
Teaching your pup to stay is incredibly easy, and as long as you take things slow, it’ll be very simple to teach!
All we do is ask for Venus to either sit or lay down, and every time we do so, we postpone offering the reward.
Once your pup is comfortable waiting for their treat, you can ask for them to sit and slowly step back with one foot – all whilst keeping a treat near their face. Immediately move back towards your pup and reward!
We add a hand signal and verbal cue at this point, and are currently able to walk away five steps without losing focus, Venus is doing very well!
This trick is useful in many situations, especially if your dog is off leash, when they have to wait for their dinner, or in emergency situations. It always comes in handy and we use it throughout our day.
4. Come here
A solid recall is gold.
It is however one of the main cues that we know most dogs lack, and that’s because it can be quite tricky to teach. Everything in life is new and so incredibly exciting for a puppy!
But, if you set up for success and take things slow, it’s most definitely possible for you to teach your pup to come when called!
What we start with when teaching a recall, is rewarding our pup whenever she walks towards us. Random treats when she comes running back throughout the living room are great surprises and will get your pup excited to approach you.
We make sure to always have treats near us, so we can reward Venus sporadically and work on this command whenever we have the opportunity.
We start working on this trick indoors, without too many distractions.
Key here, is to solely add a cue if you’re completely certain that your pup is going to perform it. If you think there’s a possibility that they will get distracted and turn the other way, don’t say the word, say it when they reach you and feed the treat.
We also say this command when we’re playing with Venus and Mojo on a field, and she suddenly comes running toward us for a cuddle (which she does quite often and it’s the cutest thing ever).
This trick is useful in multiple situations, especially when your dog is off leash.
This final subject does not revolve around another trick, but it’s an incredibly important cue that should be part of training with any dog.
Aside from receiving a treat or playing with a toy, it’s important to teach a verbal cue that shows your pup that they did well. A word that tells them you’re happy with what they just did.
Many dog owners and professional trainers use a clicker. This is a plastic object that makes a loud clicking sound when you press on it with your thumb.
We personally choose not to work with such a clicker because we like to keep our hands free, especially with two dogs in the household.
Any sound can fulfil this role however, and we prefer to use our happy voice.
We train our pups with the words ‘good job’ in a happy and excited voice. Of course, this word doesn’t mean much to your dog at first, but you can link it to a positive experience by feeding a treat or cuddling your dog every time you say it.
Many dog trainers that do use their voice often say ‘YES!’, but any word works. You could even go with the word ‘banana’ and your dog will still be happy 😉