Cute, Cool and Under Control!

Brains and looks… Your small dog has it all! And so do you, especially when you're out and about and your special friend is well-behaved. You can take pride in the fact that your little friend's great manners make you look good too! One way you can effectively communicate with your small dog is through basic command training. It's not only a wonderful way to build rapport with your small dog - but it can be an essential tool in protecting its wellbeing as well.

Teaching commands should be fun, especially when your student is a pup. The best way to engage your puppy to learn is through play. Puppies begin learning at seven weeks of age, but it's a good idea to keep the training periods short at first. Once your dog has mastered a few basics, you'll be surprised how quickly it will pick up the rest!

The right approach to teaching
Training your small dog comes down to a simple principle: reward good behaviour and ignore bad behaviour. The first part seems easy enough, as long as you don't over-indulge with too many treats! Overweight puppies and small dogs suffer many other systematic related health issues, so remember to use food treats responsibly! Ignoring unwanted or bad behaviour can be a difficult task, but this is the best and kindest way to discipline your small dog. Never use force or punishment to train. Not only can it harm a puppy mentally and physically, but the lessons won't stick as effectively as they can with positive reinforcement and rewards.

Positive reinforcement
If you feel like you have an endless supply of affection to give your small dog, what better time to use it than here? You can reinforce good behaviour with rewards, such as verbal praise, food treats, hugs, toys, massages, a new ball and other ways. Showing your small dog love and affection will go a lot further in strengthening the bond you share, more than a food treat ever could.

You want to use rewards to get the dog to respond to you, not the treat! So, make sure you use rewards when the timing is right. In other words, reward your little friend immediately after the desired behaviour occurs. This way, your small dog can associate the reward with the proper action.

Lastly, use different rewards for different behaviours. If the task is small, for example, give your small dog a small reward. If the task is big, give it a bigger reward. But always make the end of the session full of love and cuddles. You both can never have too many of those!

How do small dogs learn?
Small dogs will try out new behaviours to see how their owners react. If they attempt something that earns them praise, they will repeat that behaviour. If they try a behaviour that causes a negative reaction, they will ultimately stop behaving that way, mainly because they are motivated by praise.

Before training your puppy, ask yourself these questions:
1) What are you trying to get your little friend to do?
2) How can you prompt your puppy to actually do this?
3) How will you reward your small dog and when is it appropriate to do so?

Training 101
Here are a few training tips every small dog owner should start with…
Teach your puppy its name: Call your small dog puppy by its name from the start. If it comes to you, reward it. If it does not respond, don't scold it. Simply try again.

No means no: From the very start, it's important to get your small dog to understand that "no, no" is associated with all things forbidden. Make sure to say it in a firm, clear voice, so it will associate the behaviour with your tone.

A leash is not to be used for punishment: Only use a leash when taking your small dog puppy out for a stroll.

Dinnertime: It's best to create a ritual when preparing your small dog's meal. First, serve meals at consistent times throughout the day. Your small dog puppy will start off eating 3 meals each day, and then after 6 months it will eat twice a day. A good practice is to keep your small dog outside the kitchen as you prepare its food and when it's time to eat, invite your little friend into the room. Be sure to use its same bowl each time and always have plenty of fresh water in a bowl nearby.

The Basic Commands Use your tone of voice to communicate when it's being praised or scolded. Words are secondary, and should be kept short and distinct so the puppy doesn't confuse your commands. Here are a few basic commands every small dog should know:

Sit: Hold a reward (a treat or a toy) above your small dog puppy's head and say "Sit" with a firm voice. Your dog will be fixated on the treat, holding its head up high in anticipation. At this point it will most likely lower its haunches to the floor and sit. If it merely backs up, re-position the reward so it's easier for your small dog to sit. Once your little friend takes a seat give it the reward along with some praise.

Down: Holding the reward above your small dog puppy's head, firmly say "Down" and bring the reward down slowly to the floor. When your puppy lies down (even for a brief moment), give it the reward along with some praise.

Stand: With your little friend either sitting or lying down, tell it to "Stand" and hold the reward in front of and right above its head. Your little friend will naturally stand to meet the reward. However, hold your puppy for a moment to reinforce the position before you give it the reward.

Wait: While your small dog puppy is sitting down, tell it to "Wait" and pull back a few steps. If your little friend starts to scamper towards you, pick it up and place it back into a sitting position and try again. Once your puppy begins to obey and hold position, offer the reward with some praise. Continue to build on this, by stepping back further and making your puppy wait a bit longer each time. Don't forget to reward it after each accomplishment. If your little friend tries to follow you, use a firm "No" and "Wait" to reinforce the idea.

Heel: With your little friend standing or sitting and its favourite treat in your hand, hold it up at head-level and tell it to "Heel" or "Strut" and begin to walk forward quickly, encouraging your puppy to nibble the treat in mid-walk. Begin with a short distance and lengthen it over time, giving words of praise for keeping the pace.

Come: It's best to begin practicing this command inside your home. Start by calling your small dog puppy's name and the command "Come". Use a fun and enthusiastic tone and give it praise when it obeys. After many successful attempts, take your small dog puppy outside and set it on a long, pliable leash. Practice the command again and if your little friend gets distracted by an interesting scent and chooses not to obey the command, gently tug on the leash while walking away. Keep practicing until there are many successful attempts.

So, now that you're ready to teach your small dog the basic commands, you'll have your perfectly pleasant dog trained in a snap. There's nothing more admirable than having a special friend that has brains, looks - and charm! So, the next time someone comments on how loveable your small dog is - you can take pride in the fact that it takes after you!

The information above is of a general nature, and may be used as a handy guide to help you monitor your pet's well being and development. It should not be used as a substitute for professional advice. All decisions regarding your pet are your responsibility.