Welcome: Tips and Tricks

Verbal Cue vs. Marker Word

We will be talking to our puppies a lot, so it’s important to understand the difference between a verbal cue and marker word while we train.

  • Verbal Cue – this is something we ask the dog to do, like “sit” or “stay”
  • Marker Word – this is how we tell the dog they did the right thing, like “yes” or “good”. Some students will use a clicker instead of a marker word, see the section on Clicker Training for more information.

Focus on the good, save your reprimands for yourself

Remember that your puppy is brand new to the world, and that includes living with humans and learning how to communicate with them.  Puppies only do things to meet their own needs, not because they are spiteful or stubborn.  If your puppy is doing something that you don’t want her to do, the best thing you can do for your puppy is teach her what to do instead.  Behaviors like eliminating in the house, chewing or barking may just be a product of your puppy’s efforts to meet their own needs. Ask yourself “Why is my puppy doing this? What need does my puppy have that she is trying meet?” She’s probably chewing to deal with painful gums, barking to get attention, and eliminating in the house because she can’t hold it for very long yet. Think about what you can do to set your puppy up for success in the future: more frequent potty outings? Chew toys available in more parts of the house? Teaching your pup to sit to ask for attention?  If you find yourself wanting to reprimand your puppy, it’s important to turn that back on to you – what did you miss that your puppy had to sort out for herself?  What can you do differently next time to set your puppy up for success? 

See How Dogs Learn for more info.

Why treats? How big and how often?

Treats are consistently motivating to puppies, which is why we use them in our class! They are also a great barometer of how stressed a puppy might be – if she’s eating treats she’s probably pretty happy, but if she’s not eating treats the environment may be too stressful for her. It’s time to re-evaluate what we’re asking of her and modify the environment to help her feel more comfortable.  

Treats should be very small! The goal is to provide information via the treats, so the smaller the treats the more opportunities for communication.  Every moment is an opportunity of learning for your pup – plan to give treats very frequently in the beginning to tell her when she is doing something right! 

See the treat guide for guidance on picking the right treats for your pup.

Be clear, consistent, and intentional (body language, cues, reinforcement)

Your puppy is learning that your voice, body language, words, and interactions all mean something – even if you’re not trying to teach her anything! In order for your pup to learn the right things and to learn them well, she relies on you to be clear with your directions, consistent with your body language, and intentional with your communication.  

  • Use the same verbal cue each time with a regular tone of voice
  • Decide on a distinct visual cue and give it in a consistent way each time, once you already have your puppy’s attention
  • Only ask if you’re ready to reinforce the behavior (treats)!

See clicker training to learn more about being clear and consistent in training.

Capturing, Luring and Shaping

Capturing, luring, and shaping are all ways we teach dogs to perform behaviors for us on cue.  We will use each of these methods with your puppy:

  • Capturing – your puppy does something you like without prompting and you mark and reward 
  • Luring – you have your puppy follow a treat lure into position, then mark and reward
  • Shaping – you break a behavior down into smaller steps (approximations) and then you mark and reward your puppy for doing the smaller steps until they can do the whole behavior