Before you can even attempt to begin training a puppy you need to ensure you are starting off on the right paw. In order to do this, you need to really make sure you are putting a foundation on your puppy. One of the best ways to put a foundation on a puppy is to use a technique based on positive reinforcement.
What is positive reinforcement?
Positive reinforcement is the process of giving a dog a reward to encourage the behavior you want.
The idea is not to bribe the behavior but to train it using something your dog values. With Positive Reinforcement you want to shape the desired behavior so avoid using punishment such as leash corrections or yelling. It is important to remember that you can’t expect dogs to know what they don’t know – just like you wouldn’t expect a 3-year-old child to be able to read chapter books.
The great thing about using positive reinforcement is you can use anything your dog enjoys. Many people use small pieces of a “high value” training treats while others use their favorite toy as a reward. Before attempting to teach any commands, your puppy must be taught to like praise. If you give the dog a treat while saying “Good girl/boy!” in a happy voice, he will learn that praise is a good thing and can be a reward.
When can I start training my puppy? Basic training commands can be started as soon as you bring your puppy home, usually around 8 weeks old. Remember their attention spans are going to be short at this age so keep you training sessions no more than 10 mins and always end on a positive note. If you find your puppy is having an issue learning a new behavior and is starting to lose focus, then end your session reviewing something your puppy already knows. Make sure you give a high value reward and a lot of praise for his/her success.
Teaching Your Puppy His Name
Several times a day, take a few minutes to reinforce your puppy' s name. Arm yourself with some treats or toys. A leash is helpful to give you some gentle control over the pup's movements - should he decide that something else is more interesting, you can stop him from wandering off without having to chase him. You are in charge. Use your treats and toys to attract the pup's attention, call its name, and reward it for looking at you.
Next, hold the treat up to your face so the pup has to look up at you when he responds to your calling his name. Repeat this several times and the pup will soon learn that when he looks up at you, he is rewarded.
At the same time as you reward the pup with a food treat, also use verbal praise, tell the pup he is good. As you progress, the sound of your voice will be the reward, the occasional treat merely a bonus.
Experiment with different toys, treats and tones of voice to learn what works best for your pup. Always reward your pup when he responds to his name and he will come to know that that specific sound really is his own name.
Getting the Puppy's Attention
The only way your puppy will ever learn to respond to your commands is if you can first attract its attention and encourage the pup to hone in on YOU. A young pup will generally look at you and prick his ears up when you speak to him. It’s vital that you’re able to keep this attention in order to proceed with further training.
Once your puppy really knows his name, attracting its attention is easy. It’s amazing how many adult dogs don’t know their names. Their owners wouldn't agree, but ask them to call the dog when he is not already paying attention to them and see if he responds. How many times does the owner have to call the dog's name before they are acknowledged?
Puppies respond to almost anything said in a friendly tone, so it is easy to assume that they have recognized the name when it is jumbled up with a whole load of other words. Time spent now on teaching your puppy his name, and practicing attracting his attention is an ideal base for future training.
Dogs are den animals, so they really enjoy having their “own space”. Your puppy was introduced to a crate with his littermates already. Because you will encounter the chew stage, do not waste money on expensive bedding at this point. A couple of old towels or blankets will do. I often use inexpensive bath mats. They are absorbent and not slip and have no filling or fluff to chew up and digest. This fluff can cause blockages and can result in possible surgery for your new puppy. If you use a wire crate, cover the top and sides with a large blanket for privacy and darkness.
Start by coaxing the puppy into the crate with a treat, when he goes in, give it to him immediately and praise! Start with him inside for a few minutes and let him out, praise! Each time, make the length of time a bit longer, using the same procedure.
Do this a few times the first day. The pup should learn to take its naps here, thus building his security and learning that it’s a quiet den just for him/her. If it cries, tap on the crate and tell it “quiet”, when it’s quiet, give a treat and praise! You can also give a chew bone and put him in his crate to chew; this will reinforce again that the crate is a positive thing for him.
Remember, ridgebacks will do anything for food! Soft music will also help the puppy sleep; we often leave the TV on when we leave the house to give our dogs the sense that someone is home…also keeps them from hearing everything outside and barking.
***Even though you may not need a crate for everyday use, it is important that he be comfortable with the concept. There may be a situation where this is best, such as instance of an injury where the pup must stay still for several days to heal. Long trips on the road are safer for the dog when in a crate. If he goes to the vet for the day, they will crate the pup until they can see him, such as in the case that you must drop off in an emergency and the vet fits your pup into his busy schedule. Crates also help build confidence, as the pup learns to be alone and OK with that. It is an excellent training tool for potty training as well, for times when you cannot watch your puppy for signs that he needs to go out. Dogs do not soil where they will sleep, so your pup will be forced to cry out when it needs to go potty. You take him out, he potties, and you praise like crazy.
Training Your Puppy to Eliminate Outside
Potty training with Ridgebacks is pretty simple, since they are highly intelligent and food attentive. Usually, per month of age is the same as the # of hours they can go in between potty runs. If you bring your baby home at 2 months old, then about every 2 hours he will need to go out. There are 3 instances where you should ALWAYS bring the pup out immediately: after he eats, plays hard, or has been sleeping. Definitely have treats ready by the door so you can grab quickly on your way out with the puppy. Place the pup on the grass and when he goes potty, praise him like crazy and give her a treat. When the pup is small, I recommend carrying him outside and placing on the ground where you want him to go potty. After a few times, he will figure out quickly that he gets praised and fed when he goes outside, and nothing when he goes potty inside. Unless you catch the pup in the act inside, do not scold, it’s too late. The key to this is watching your pup for signs (circling and sniffing the carpet/floor, or sitting by the door), and praising when he eliminates outside. Ridgebacks will generally do anything for food!!! Your pup should be potty trained in a couple weeks. I do not recommend leaving a young puppy in a crate for numerous hours, as the pup may learn to potty in his crate as a result (because he/she had no choice). Baby gates are often recommended to section off the house for the puppy as well, so you can watch closely and not find surprises around the corner!!