Blog 3: Continuing Education
In the last post, you were able to learn how I start all of my puppies. They’re basically allowed to be dogs with very few repercussions. We’re working on building a bond, not building a boring lifestyle. Dogs are always going to be dogs; we should allow them to be such from time to time. I’m getting ahead of myself, though.
When a puppy is at a very young age, imprinting is incredibly important. Commands were never mentioned in the last blog because none were used, and there is a purpose to that. These puppies are taught things by luring, which is holding a treat in a certain way to obtain a particular behavior. A “sit” command can be achieved by holding a treat over a puppy’s head in a certain way. Another way to train a dog is free shaping. Free shaping involves a marker (a clicker or a marker word such as “yes”) that was previously rewarded frequently so the dog understands that it is a good thing as well as a release from a behavior. In free shaping, these markers are used to capture moments as the puppy willingly and sometimes unknowingly offers behaviors. A puppy might stray to the side and sit properly. Click, treat! The puppy begins to learn that sitting is a desirable behavior and therefore offers said behavior. With enough reinforcement, the puppy is running up to me and offering a sit in order to obtain a treat.
Free shaping can be used to teach numerous behaviors—sit, down, stand, retrieves, and much more. Many trainers utilize free shaping to teach puppies muscle memory in the beginning. After the puppy understands the motion and is in proper positioning, a command can be added. The fastest way to teach a dog is to say the word, get the response, click, and treat. After a few solid repetitions, the puppy will learn the command as if it is second nature. You’re no longer speaking a foreign language to your dog at this stage, which is incredibly rewarding.
When I was in classes at the kennel club, the puppies were made to perform commands far too early in their training. While it’s wonderful and adorable to have obedient, mild puppies, those are not the puppies we want for flashy obedience work. Building drive and pushing for a relationship will later award points, not the number of commands a young puppy knew some years ago.