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  • Heather O'Neill

Puppy Training



I brought home Prim, my first puppy in 10 years, two weeks ago. She definitely rocked our world and shook up the quiet pandemic routine we had developed! She is an absolute spitfire and a whole lotta puppy! She has been so much fun to train, in this post I'm going to cover some of the things we've done so far. If you have a puppy or young dog these are skills you should be working on! You might even have any older dog who could use brushing up on them ;)


Crate Games

Besides sleeping in the crate, we do some crate games training.

There are lots of elements of Crate Games, but the first things I want to accomplish are -

  • Puppy will offer to go into the crate on their own.

  • Puppy will wait in the crate until released

  • Puppy understands that the release cue is verbal only.

  • Puppy will be quiet in the crate while other dogs are working.

Session 1 -


I started with luring her in with a few tossed cookies. Once she is inside, I build duration build giving lots of rewards at a quick rate of reinforcement. I use "good" as a keep going cue, signaling to her what she's doing is correct and I will be delivering her a reward.

After a few times of luring her inside, I wait to see if she will offer to go in on her own. She does! Wait for a 30 seconds or so, if the puppy doesn't go inside, lure a few more times.

I am using her name as a release cue because she hasn't learned a release word yet...but I have rewarded her a lot for coming to a treat after I say her name.

As she is successful I start to increase duration (so she is staying in the crate random amounts of time) and slowing down the reinforcement rate.


Session 2 -



Review staying in the crate until released. I start with a very quick rate of reinforcement. Then I start to slow the rate a bit. If the dog exits the crate before the release, I say nothing, stop rewarding and wait for them to offer going back in the crate. If the dog gets out of the crate multiple times in a row, you aren't rewarding quick enough...up your reinforcement rate to help them be successful.

I start adding some proofing in, so that she knows to only release on the verbal cue and not hand movements. I hold the treat where she can see it, but well out of her reach, then quickly move it in to reward. This happens very quickly at first, she doesn't even have a chance to leave. As they are successful, start to add a little bit of duration - show the cookie, wait a second, then move it in to reward. If they leave the crate, I pull the treat away and wait for them to go back in. Start making it harder by building duration (holding the treat out longer before moving in to reward) and holding the treat lower to the ground or closer to the dog.


Session 3 -

We are continuing to work on proofing the treat hand and building duration until released. This session I added balance breaks with the tug. It's good to get them in the habit of going back and forth between food and toys during a training session.


Session 4 -

This session we worked in a new location. I also start to add some distance where I walk a few steps away before coming back to reward her. Remember to keep the duration pretty short when you're adding distance, get back to reward them for good choices quickly! If they make an error twice, make it easier the next time.




Release Cue -

I like to use two release cues - the dogs name and "ok". This session we are learning "ok". Hold the dog in the collar and tempt them with some treats in the other hand, say your release word and let go at the same time. They get rewarded from your other hand for moving towards the treat.



Platform Work

This is a extension of crate games and a foundation to my sit stay training. It is also a body awareness exercise, where they learn to put their feet on a small object. I start with just rewarding two feet, then three, then finally all four feet.

I am also looking for the same things as crate games - offer to get on the platform and stay on until I release you. As she is successful I start to add some proofing with the cookie hand and adding a little distance.



Two Toy Switch.

The first game I like to play is encouraging the dog to play with the active toy I have. I start with toy of the same toy and make one move around in an exciting way, to encourage the dog to play with it. After playing tug with that toy, I will make the other toy become exciting in my other hand...I will wiggle it around until the dog decided to leave the first toy and go play with the new toy. Give them a good play session, then switch back to the first toy.

It's important to be gentle with your tugs and let them win some of the time.


Cookie Toss to Chase and Toy Return.


This game has a few parts and skills to train. The first one is a collar grab to a thrown treat. Building value for me holding the collar and using excitement building words "ready steady". It works on the dog tracking a thrown cookie and learning a word that means go get the cookie off the ground...I'm using "search".

After eating the treat it works on the dog immediately turning back to chase you. As soon as I've seen her eat the treat I call her name and run the other direction. I give her the toy to target on one side and rotate into a circle as she catches me (this is early learning of side cues). We play tug as a reward, then I start to work on the toy returns. I let go of the toy and run the other direction, encouraging her to return to me with the toy to resume tugging. I use "bring bring" as a cue to bring the toy back to my hands. Notice how I let go of the toy - I tug her in the opposite direction of me when I let go to create some opposition reflex of returning in the direction I'm running. This will help the dog move towards you instead of away from you when you let go. As she gets more experienced with this game, I will stop doing that and let her make more of a choice to chase me.

I did start this toy return in a very small area of my house, encouraging her to bring the toy back only a few feet at a time. Doing it in a big space like this at first, might not have been as successful.


Go See

This game accomplishes a few things - teaching the puppy a cue that means they can go visit another person, rewards them for going up to another person and being held by them, then rewards them for recalling back to you.

Do NOT do this game if your puppy is apprehensive about other people. Do not force them to go up to another person or eat a cookie from them. Only do what they are comfortable with. Prim didn't like being held in the collar by my husband at first, so he just gave her a treat for standing near him.

Give your dog a verbal cue like - "go see" and have the other person call them and reward. If the dog is comfortable with it, the other person can hold them in their collar. Call your dog to you and run the other direction, reward them with food or a toy for recalling to you. Give them a good play session.

After the play session, reward them for staying with you before you tell them to "go see". Dogs are smart and will this game and start "go seeing" on their own.



Platform with Distractions and Front Foot Targeting.

The first half of this video shows Prim doing her platform work in a new environment with distractions. She had done a lot of platform work at home and was ready to do it with the distraction of other dogs. I make sure to generously reward her for ignoring the other dogs and having the impulse control to stay on the platform.


The second half of the video show the progression of front foot targeting. My end goal is to get both front feet on a small pod, but we needed to start with something big (the blue disc) and work to something smaller (the small blue FitBone), then finally the red pod. We will progress to doing pivots into heel position with her front feet on the pod.



Pivots Into Heel

This drill will work on body awareness of being able to move her rear legs, and teach her how to move into heel position on both my sides.

Once she was consistent with putting her front feet on the pod and holding position, I start rewarding her for moving into my side. I have her nibble on a treat and rotate my hand towards me, so it will turn her head away from me....when her head turns away, her butt will move towards me. When I can feel her body against my leg, I release the treat to reward.

I only go a few steps at a time, and will progress to more as she is successful. I will also start to do this while I am moving, so she learns to stay in heel even as I move.




Working Around Other Dogs

Having multiple dogs, then need to learn to take turns, and patiently wait their turn. I don't want her to learn to scream in her crate while other dogs are working. I start by rewarding her in the crate while Chip is on the platform. Then rewarding her while Chip does slow things that aren't very exciting (sits, hand touches, heeling). I will eventually make this harder by asking Chip to tug and run. This is why I like to teach them to release to their name, so I can cue them the release individually.

Crate Manners -

A quick note on puppy manners. Some people confuse poor manners with drive, that is a myth. My dogs can be good working dogs and have decent manners. Things that are important to me, don't mug people for food, don't steal food/toys off of counters/tables, sit for greeting, and being quiet in a crate. We are currently working on being quiet in the crate.

As members of the dog sport community, it is important to me that my dog isn't an obnoxious brat in their crate while they are waiting their turn. This starts as puppies and making sure they are set up for success and not allowed to rehearse poor behavior.

I do not bring my puppy into a new environment and ditch them. I treat this like a training session and make sure I can give them 100% of my attention. Otherwise I leave them in the car.

I stay close by and give them lots of reinforcement thru the crate windows for being quiet in their crate. And only move away if they are comfortable and happy. Build some distance by walking a short distance away and coming back to reward. You can also leave treats on top of their crate for people walking by to reward them.

Be careful to put their crate in a safe location away from foot traffic, you don't want them to get charged by another dog. Sometimes bringing a blanket to cover the crate can help them be more comfortable.


Look and Learn -

We have been trying to go as many new places as we can and see new places and people. It's important to go at the pace of your puppy, if they show any apprehension sit down and let them get in your lap. They can look at what's going on around them and then move around again when they are comfortable.



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© 2020 By Heather O'Neill