Everything is about timing in the dog training world and how we can help our dogs learn to live compatibly with their humans.
Forgive the awful video quality and the cooing voice in the background (it’s me!). The first thing I did when we let the puppies loose is lay down on my back like Gulliver and let the Puppyputians jump all over me! My friend Suzy Houpt and fellow dog fosterer for Mostly Mutts Animal Rescue in Acworth, GA actually came up with the Gulliver’s Travels reference!
Did you know that from about age six weeks to about 12 weeks is what animal behavior scientists call the Optimal Socialization Period for a dog? This means that you need to get those puppies exposed to as many dogs, humans, other species, etc. as possible. I’m not saying take your baby puppy to a dog park or PetSmart to walk on the floor — you have no control over anyone bringing a sick dog to those places and you definitely don’t want your pup exposed to that until fully vaccinated — but take your puppy to meet all types of people and dogs you know are healthy and social.
What about those dreaded “accidents” in the house as you train your puppy that going potty outside is way better? Well, if you come across a puddle and you didn’t see it happen, if you reprimand the pup he will just think you are a crazy person because they won’t put the two together. Too much time has passed.
Now if you catch the puppy in midstream, that’s perfect timing! Don’t wait for him to finish — yell “Hey” or clap loud and pick him up and take him outside to finish (or on the wee wee pad if you are training that way). When the pup potties outside, I have a “Potty Party” and give lots of excited praise. Some people give actual treats but the act of relieving oneself and some good praise should be sufficient. You know that feeling when you really have to go…you can almost hear the “Ahhhhhh!”
The timing of giving the dog a treat when teaching basic obedience behaviors is also very relative. You really want to time the giving of the treat with the behavior you are rewarding. Sometimes we humans are just not fast enough so teaching these commands using a marker like a clicker or even the word, “Yes!” gives you time to get the treat ready to give. A treat pouch is helpful but you want to make sure the dog is paying attention to the hand signal, your verbal cue and you — not the treats! If you are doing a down/stay, you want to reward the dog for the down and the stay but if he breaks it, well then no reward!
When I was first learning how to teach clicker training, our instructor had us get a pile of dried beans and a paper cup. We would click and pick a bean out of our treat bag and place it in the paper cup. Mark and then treat. Mark and then treat. Mark and then treat. I think I dream about marking and treating!
To practice my timing for marking a behavior, I used my table mirror. First I would crinkle my nose and mark it with a “Yes!” just to get the rhythm and timing down. I can imagine anyone who walked into my room at the time would be calling for the crazy wagon! But I needed (and still need to!) practice the timing. But it’s all about timing, timing, timing!