Take it or Leave it

The “Take it or Leave it” game introduces the concept of not touching food or objects. This can be food that has been left on a low table, food on the floor or even a leaf or a stick when out on a walk.

You will start by doing a “food prison” with your hand by putting some very tasty food in your hand but keeping your hand closed. Your puppy will want a taste of this food, so let your puppy investigate your hand. Be very patient, it can take some time to show an interest.

As soon as your puppy gives up investigating a little bit or stops sniffing just for even half a second or tries to make eye contact with you click and reward from the other hand.  Never reward using the treat that you are trying to make your puppy leave.

When your puppy starts to leave the food in your closed hand consistently, you can move to the next stage.

Start to open your hand a little bit and if your puppy leaves the food, click and reward from the other hand. You can use a secondary word such as “Take it” when you give the reward treat so your puppy does not have to guess when / which food to take or leave.

If your puppy tries to have a taste of the food in the open hand, close your hand on the food whilst saying “Leave it”. Try to say the world in a calm manner, like a non-event really. Do not put any pressure or emphasis on the word.

If your puppy is not trying to get a taste of the food in the hand, then click and give it a reward, coming from the other hand whilst saying “Take it”.

Do not try to test your puppy’s patience at that stage, we are just at the beginning of the learning curve. Reward your puppy quickly enough for choosing to leave the food, if the reward is too slowly given there’s a chance it will attempt to go for the food that we want it to leave.

I like balancing the “Leave it” with the “Take it” as I do not think it is fair for the puppy to have to guess when to take the food and when to leave it.

Do not give any of the food you asked the puppy to leave. The reward treat needs to come from somewhere else to avoid any type of anticipation at this stage.

On your mat from a distance

“On your mat” promotes calmness, boundaries, and personal space to your puppy.

And what should you not forget to do from now on? To give your chosen release word when you are asking your puppy to leave the mat! You do not want your puppy to start guessing when it is allowed off it!

Your puppy must understand what “On your mat” really means and does not only try to sit in front of you as this is often the case.

Usually, people tend to stay next to the mat, so the puppy comes to sit in front of their owner whilst on the mat but really what the puppy understands to sit in front of the person.

The next step that will really test the understanding of your puppy is to start to send your puppy to the mat whilst you are further away from the mat.

Increase the distance very slowly. Change your position in relation to your puppy and to the mat and always reward on the mat, but in different places.

And for a small challenge, can you walk all around the mat with your puppy staying on the mat?

Decide of a release word (and use it!)

 Decide of a release word (and use it!)

Let us review your current communication with your puppy. I guess when you want your puppy to sit you are giving it a “Sit” command. But how does your puppy know the exercise is over? You might sometimes give your puppy a word such as “Come” but also in a lot of cases, during the day, you may not be saying anything.

Without a release command your puppy is learning to guess when to break free.  Your puppy may decide that the end of the exercise is when you move away, when you talk or when you have given your puppy a treat. You are probably not even aware that your puppy is learning to guess and decide when to release itself.

This can create a lot of frustration when you start to teach the “wait” or “sit”, because for these behaviours, you do not want your puppy to guess when to break free from a “sit” or “stay” position.

Now this is important: you need to decide on a consistent release command that you are going to use when you want to release your puppy from a position.

When you want your puppy to break from a position (e.g. a sit) give the puppy your chosen release command so your puppy knows when it is OK to go rather than guessing/deciding for itself.

You have a lot of choices: Go/Free/Break/Of you go/OK but be consistent, always use the same one.

I use different release words for each of my dogs so I can release them independently from each other. It is especially useful when I need to control how they are exiting the front door or out of their crates in the car.

Watch Me

Watch me is great to teach your puppy to focus on you and can dramatically help with the loose lead walking that you will learn soon.

Personally, I like to “capture” this behaviour. This means that as soon as the puppy is looking at me, I click and reward and then I try to keep the eye contact with the puppy by moving a little (I avoid being too static) and reward the puppy for maintaining eye contact.

Another method is:

  • Use a little bit of treat, show it to your puppy and then move the treat near your eyes. As soon as the puppy looks up near your eyes, click and reward. Try to consistently use the same hand and finger placement.
  • When you are starting to get good eye contact with your puppy, fade the lure but keep the same hand and finger placement and add the “Watch me” command whilst the puppy is doing the behaviour (ideally the click and the “Watch me” should be at the same time). Your puppy will start to associate the hand signal and the verbal cue to the behaviour.
  • When the association is good you can start using the verbal cue without the need of the physical cue, although some people choose to keep using the physical cue as well.

Avoid rewarding when your puppy is sitting in front of you otherwise the puppy may misunderstand and associate the behaviour with sitting in front of you instead of watching you. This is the reason why I tend to move a little when I train this exercise, so the puppy has less opportunities to sit.

If your puppy is not food orientated, you can try this game with a toy.

Introducing Distance

Keep on playing the games you learnt last week. Every week you will learn new skills, but you still need to practice the skills of the previous weeks. All those games should become second nature to you and your puppy. They are the building blocks of your training.

When you are comfortable that you can achieve the behaviours in a calm environment such as your home you can start to increase the distance between yourself and your puppy, and later you can also introduce a new environment. Start in a calm environment and later start to add difficulties by gradually introducing some surrounding distractions whilst you are training.

Be patient, do not try to go to fast in increasing the difficulty. For example, move the exercise from inside your house to a calm outside environment such as your garden, then in a calm street or a park (with your puppy on a lead), and then in a busier street.

Try as much as you can to ensure the exercise will be a success. Make it easy for your puppy.

Remember you are trying to condition your puppy to love these behaviours, which in turn will help with better self-control, recalls and on and off lead work.

This week, if your puppy is good at the basic “Say hello” or “Call my name once and grab my collar” games, you can start increasing the distance between you and your puppy. But be careful to only increase the distance gradually.

All puppies progress at their own pace, if you are still struggling with one of the games just keep to the basic, simple exercises. Avoid comparing your progression with others. There should be no pressure.

Just as an example, in sheep herding it is not always the dog who shows the most skill at a young age that becomes the best sheep herder at a mature age.

Your responsibilities as a dog owner

How have you been doing this week with your training?

Remember that training a little bit, even just a couple of minutes, multiple time a day will bring much better results than training once a week 30 minutes.

All the time you are investing in training your puppy now will probably avoid a lot of headaches and stress in the future, so take the time to build the bond with your puppy now. You will be amazed. Puppies’ brains are like sponges. They learn the good, and if you are not careful the bad, so quickly!

Today, I wanted to remind you about the rules, regulations, and your responsibilities as a dog owner:

  • Your puppy must be micro-chipped
  • Your puppy must carry the name and the address of its owner on the collar or on a plate or disc attached to it. Telephone numbers are not compulsory but can be extremely helpful in returning your puppy should your puppy get lost (I also have my vet’s number on the tag)

It is against the law to let a dog be dangerously out of control anywhere (including your own home) and the dog does not need to have bitten anyone to be considered dangerously out of control.

A dog can be considered dangerously out of control if it:

  • Injures someone
  • Makes someone worried that it might injure them

This is quite a broad statement as some people may feel threatened simply by having a friendly dog coming to say hello to them.