The first class of obedience training differs obviously depending on the instructor and the program. Whether the classes are for puppies or for adult dogs, instructors often start at the most basic level for the age group, after describing the goals for the particular program.
The earliest puppy training involves socialization: teaching puppies to be around other puppies and their people. Because puppies are easily distracted and may be overly cautious in new situations, it is best to start teaching them in easily controlled situations.
The first socialization class might take place on-leash, using a training method called “pass the peaceful puppy.” This method involves the trainers making a circle while holding their puppies and handing their puppies’ leash to the trainer to their left or to their right. Each person in the circle pets, handles or holds each puppy, passing them around until the puppies are all back to their original trainers. After the first week, puppies may be released off-leash in an enclosed or fenced area to play with one another.
At times, even adult dogs lack understanding of their own name. Because they don’t know their name, they don’t know how to respond when their trainer wants to teach them a new behavior. If puppies or dogs in the class do not know their name, the trainers will learn how to teach their dogs what their name means during the first class. Usually, this process consists of the trainer speaking the dog’s name while holding a food treat in front of his or her face. The dog only gets rewarded if it looks at the food treat (his trainer’s face) and, simultaneously, he is being rewarded for responding to his name.
If an obedience class is dedicated to pure positive or clicker training, the dogs must associate the sound of the clicker with a task that has been performed well. Because the process of charging the clicker resembles teaching the dog his name and training the dog how to give attention, the tasks can sometimes be combined for truly neophyte dogs or puppies. To charge the clicker, the dog’s trainer should speak the dog’s name, press down on the clicker plate or button to produce a sound and then offer the dog a treat when he makes eye contact.
The “sit” command is usually the first true obedience command that many dogs learn. It is used as part of other behaviors, such as heeling, during formal obedience training and so must be nearly reflexive when the dog gets older. The sit also provides a foundation for teaching other basic skills, such as the down position and the recall (come when called). For this reason, the “sit” behavior is usually the first taught to young puppies or to older dogs in very basic obedience classes. You guide the puppy or the dog into the sit position with a food lure before adding the verbal command to the behavior. Some class instructors use alternate methods to teach this basic behavior.
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