Training Forum

Here are a few tips on training to get started. Please email us your tips!


First of all, let me say that I could easily write a book on the subject. Obviously, I can't do that here, so let me give you an overview to get you started on your way. I hope that this will also be an area of my web site where some of you might share some of your favorite tips as well. There are many good books on the subject. In the same manner that you probably did a great deal of research before you invested any of your money in a stock portfolio, I hope you will also take a little time to research some training techniques before you invest in a new puppy.

Before you get your puppy, it would be a good idea for you to make a list of the behaviors that are important for your pup to learn to fit in easily with your lifestyle. Housetraining is usually at the top of the list. A gentle nature or good disposition... A dog that doesn't beg when you are eating... A dog that comes when called... etc... This should be a personalized list based on your lifestyle. If you entertain guests often, then it will be important to teach your dog to behave properly around a lot of people and not to steal food from low tables where you may have appetizers out. If you travel, it may be important that your dog learns to travel and be comfortable meeting strangers, and since grooming will be an important part of your dog's life, you will want him to behave well at the groomer's.

The first thing you will need to do with your pup is to "alpha betize" him/her. Since dogs are pack animals, it is important for them to learn that you are the "leader" of the pack. There are many signals that you can give him to let him know from the very beginning that you are the "alpha" or the boss. In a pack, the alpha dog will lead the way: going through doors first, making others move out of his way, and eating first, etc. So instead of letting your puppy charge through the front door before you, you should try to go through the door first. When the puppy is small and afraid to be left alone, take advantage of this. When you know he's watching, deliberately turn your back and walk away letting him follow you. Do not chase your pup, instead make a loud noise (not a frightful one) to get his attention and start walking or running in another direction - not too fast. The idea is for him to get use to having to follow you, and pay attention to you if he doesn't want to be left alone. Don't go very far at first without stopping to reward him with a pet & praise.

There are some other ways you can establish your role as the "leader of the pack." You should role your puppy over on his back, especially at first. Dogs recognize this as a submissive position. Of course you can rub his tummy while he's there, but make him stay like that for a minute or two. You should also get him use to you holding his muzzle and looking at his teeth occasionally. Your groomer and vet will be very grateful that you have done this, plus it is another sign of his submission to you. Get him use to you examining his feet, his toes and toenails (this will make it easier for you to trim them). If he is lying in your way while you are fixing supper, make him move, because you are the alpha. It sounds mean, but it is an important key to successful training. Don't feed him while the family is eating. Many people leave a bowl out all the time for their pup to nibble, and that's ok, as long as he doesn't start to gain weight. He doesn't need to have his bowl close to where the family is eating. These are just a few subtle things you can do to quickly establish who's the boss.

Bonding with a new puppy is very important. A lady from Huntsville, Alabama who specializes in obedience training told me that studies had shown that if you carry your new puppy a great deal when he's young, he will bond with you faster and try harder to please you. Remember to try to let your pup bond with all the members of your household, not just one. You don't want him to become jealous if someone else interacts with his "person"... so make sure that he knows he has a whole family to love. If he's showing a great deal of partiality to someone, then have someone else feed him, reward him with treats, etc. The idea is to teach your puppy to love everybody, not just one person or he might someday become overprotective of that person. Along the same lines, while he is still very young and open to new ideas, make a conscious effort to socialize him. Take him with you, let him meet new people (bring treats for the new people to give him), and let him get used to new situations. Often times when adult dogs are snippy with strangers, it is because they haven't been properly socialized as a puppy.

Positive rewards with praise and occasional treats are the key to successful training. If you want your dog to be sweet and gentle natured, then don't spank him or shove his nose in his mistakes. Dogs who are rewarded with love and kindness for good behavior will try harder to please than dogs who are reprimanded overzealously. Puppies are going to make a lot of mistakes. They have a great deal to learn, so it will take an incredible amount of patience on your behalf. A pup who is treated with kindness can easily be disciplined simply by letting him know with your tone of voice how disappointed you are. This is especially true with cockers who are very sensitive and devoted to their families.

Teaching your puppy to come is extremely important. There is a great deal of information on this in many books, so I won't dwell on it. It is easy when your puppy is small to start training on this behavior. You should begin in your house, where you know he's in a safe environment. When you call his name, clap to get his attention. Pups at this age will usually come running, so immediately reward him with some praise and a special treat - possibly liver treats, or even small, cut-up bites of hot dogs work well. Repeat this often, until he gets the idea. Since this is so important for your pup's safety, it is very important for him to learn how pleased you are when he comes. You can find lots more info on this topic in many other places, so I am going to move on.

I have found that it is faster to housetrain a pup using the crate method. I do not believe in first paper training (teaching them to go to the bathroom on newspapers). That is a very hard habit to break, and it is very confusing to later try to teach the pup that you no longer want him to potty on your Sunday paper. So start it out right from the beginning. Take your pup to the same section of the yard frequently. Stay out with him until he goes. When he does, immediately reward him with: "What a good boy, you are such a good dog. You went 'potty outside.'" A love pat and treat with the praise will positively reinforce this good behavior. Your puppy is going to have accidents in the house. That is a fact. If you don't have the patience to deal with it, don't get a puppy. He doesn't mean to displease you, he simply doesn't know what you want yet. So when he does have an accident, it is better to say, "No, bad puppy," and take him outside for a bit if you catch him in the act. Obviously if he's already gone, so there's not much point in staying outside. You just want him to associate going potty with outside. He will soon get the idea if you consistently and frequently give him the opportunity to go outside, and you reward him with praise and a special treat.

Where does the crate fit into this picture? The idea is that we don't want the pup to get used to going potty in the house. If you are going to work or school, he needs to be in his crate; then he won't develop a favorite spot to use in the house - he will know that his bathroom is outside. Also, when given the opportunity, a puppy will try to remain clean. He will try his best not to soil the bed where he sleeps, so if he has to stay in a small crate while you are at work, he will try hard not to potty until he can get out. If his crate is too large, then he will potty in one corner of it, and sleep in the other. I realize that most pups do have accidents in their crates at first, and it's not fun to have to bathe a messy pup... but if you can possibly order a floor grate for your crate (R.C. or New England Serum Co.), then your pup will still stay clean and dry even if he does have an accident before you return. The wire floor grate is above the tray, so any messes will fall through to the tray, and you will simply wash out the tray. Some people put newspapers in the bottom of the trays; we use cedar chips because it is totally biodegradable and can be easily cleaned, plus the cedar is very absorbent, helps with any odors, and repels fleas & other insects.

On a related topic, many people ask about cocker "piddling". Piddling can be due to heredity, but is more often due to poor training. If your pup has a true "piddling" inherited problem, then it will piddle as it walks frequently from the time it is a puppy. 99% of my pups do not have this problem. What usually happens is that an owner comes home after leaving the puppy at home for a long time. The pup has tried to be good and his bladder is full. Without thinking, the owner steps in, and in a slightly higher than normal voice, starts greeting the pup practically from the door, saying something like: "oh, my sweet baby, I've missed you so much... you are such a good boy... etc." The dog gets excited and piddles. If the person does this day after day, it becomes a positive reinforcement for the dog, and soon becomes a habit that the dog gets excited and pees when he sees his master. It is much better when you come home to walk in the door, and quietly pick up your pup, walk immediately outside, let him relieve himself, and then greet him... In this manner you are positively reinforcing his good behavior to go outside, and giving him a chance to learn to use his bladder muscles to wait until he can go out.

Another quick tip on this subject... Start from the beginning trying to teach your pup the meaning of the word door. He needs to learn that when he sits by the "door," you will either take him for a walk or take him to "go potty." Then he will quickly learn to communicate to you his need to "go potty" by sitting by the "door".

There are some key phrases that you will want to teach you dog, such as "door" and "go outside" or "go potty"... Another might be "take a trip" (in the car), or "time for bed", and "time to play"... Think of the terms that you want your dog to learn and use them frequently and regularly. Many people complain that when their pup comes in after a quick trip to potty in the middle of the night, he wants to play... For this reason, I think it is important to for you to help your pup understand when it is play time and when it is bed time. Try to make a list of the things you want your dog to understand and formulate a plan to help him learn.

Just because I refer to training a pup, doesn't mean that it is too late to train an older dog. One of my son's favorite science fair projects was titled: "Can you teach an old dog new tricks"... It is very easy to use some of these same techniques on older dogs as well... just be consistent, patient, and loving. We found that some of our older dogs actually learned new tricks faster because they loved us enough to try harder to please us.

Well, I think that is enough for a beginning. I hope to be adding to this section and sharing training tips that you send to me that you have found that work well. Please remember when you start training your dog, to be quick to reward him with a "good dog" the second he stops running away, or whenever you've yelled a quick "No!" at him. As soon as he stops whatever it is that he's doing, be very quick to say "Good Dog" immediately. This will give positive reinforcement for that good behavior, and help him learn what it is that you expect of him.

Let me share one final thought and then it's your turn to share your ideas... If you want your dog to have a good disposition, think carefully about the games that you choose to play with him. How can a game like "tug of war" positively reinforce anything but growling? Is that really the way you want your pup to behave when he's full grown?. And if you play a game chasing your dog, how will he know when it's important for him to come and not to run away? There are lots of fun ways to play with your pet without encouraging bad habits, so take a few minutes to think about the behaviors that you want to encourage in your pet, and plan your games to reinforce these things.

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