Marble Mountain Kennels’ 6-Week “Super Citizen” Training Program

September 01

By Julie Morrill

When you send your puppy to us for our “Super Citizen” program, she will experience more of a fun summer camp than a military boot camp. This is a 6-week basic obedience training school in which puppies as young as 8 weeks old learn a number of commands. Sending your new baby to boarding school is difficult for everyone, but let me assure you that it’s much easier for your puppy if she was born and raised at our kennel. For those who prefer to keep their new puppy for a few weeks before bringing her back to us for training, understand that it’s no problem for the puppy, but much harder for the owners to say goodbye for those several weeks.

What will your puppy experience in our “Super Citizen” school? Well, let me tell you….

First period is basically P.E. with a fun walk with several pups-in-training. On this walk, we get puppies accustomed to various environments and distractions, as well as challenging situations, like crossing footbridges, climbing over logs, going up and down hills and stairs, etc. The first command your puppy will learn is probably “off” if she likes to jump up on anyone. We do not allow puppies or dogs to jump up, so they learn this command immediately as we either lift a knee to prevent them from jumping up or we pinch their paws if they do jump up. The second command puppies learn right away is to come when called via both the “here” command and a whistle. Of course, the best way to teach Labs to come is with food, so we use a piece of kibble to reward them each time they come.

After our walk, we move on to second period, which takes place in one of several training areas. In this class, we teach puppies the “kennel” command and we begin this training on day one. We “kennel” puppies on or in various objects, all of which we call a “kennel.” This might be a crate, an upside-down crate top, a pillow, a mat, a board platform, etc. Some puppies are cautious about going into or onto new objects, so we start getting them used to a variety of venues right off the bat. Distractions are an important part of the training. We want other dogs running past, people walking by, other puppies barking, a kitten or squirrel climbing up a nearby tree, etc. This helps a puppy to tune out distractions and learn to focus solely on the handler and his or her commands—not easy for a lot of dogs; even harder for puppies.

Next, still in second period, we begin teaching the “sit” command with numerous distractions. Some of our trainers use the word “stay,” but some of us don’t use it at all, since when we command a puppy to sit, we expect her to stay, so why bother saying it? A few days into our training, after a puppy has really learned the “sit” command well, we teach the “down” command, which means to lie down. Once a puppy has learned to sit and lie down, we begin extending those positions or the “stay” command by backing up a few more paces each day until we can walk away up to about 20 yards and eventually hide behind trees or buildings. All the while, the puppy must remain in position without moving until we call “here.” She then runs to us and receives a kibble reward. We might also give the "Okay" command, which basically means freedom for the puppy to do whatever she wants until given another command.

Third period in puppy school is crate training. For a few puppies, this is like a welcome Kindergarten naptime. For most pups, however, this is their time to howl and whine in vehement protest. They would rather be out playing and having fun with handlers or other playmates. But, eventually, after a few days to a week, puppies learn that crate time is a good time to nap for an hour or two, knowing that they will be rewarded if they remain quiet in their crate. Crate training also teaches a puppy that this is her special place of peace, quiet, security, safety and rest. It’s a challenge, but we try to tiptoe up to a puppy in her crate and surprise her by opening the door only when she’s fully quiet. Her reward is release from the crate and lots of petting and loving--and maybe a piece of kibble. If we let a puppy out of her crate when she’s noisy and crying, she learns the bad habit of whining to get her way, and that is unacceptable.

A word about housebreaking. We don’t exactly housebreak puppies between 8 and 14 weeks old. The closest we come to this is crate training, in which they learn not to soil their crates. Once your puppy is living back in your home, she will go into her crate, go onto whatever “kennels” you have placed around your home, and your job of housebreaking will be much easier. Our crate training process is a good step toward housebreaking and some people find that, after this training, their puppies have automatically learned to hold it and wait until going outside to relieve themselves.

A word about leash training. I (Julie) personally like to put a puppy on a leash for training, but not all of our trainers do this. I find that training with a leash is essential, because I use it to correct a pup that wants to run away, rather than stick with the training program. I often put my foot down on the leash to prevent runaway incidents. I also use the leash to keep a puppy on a pillow or platform if she tries to take a step off before I've given the "Here" or "Okay" command. We definitely do not teach young puppies to “heel,” since this is such a negative command and can traumatize young puppies. We wait to teach puppies to heel after they are 4 months old.

We personally like training puppies right at 8 weeks old for a number of reasons: First, small puppies are easier to handle than larger puppies and dogs. We can pick them up and carry them and teaching them to sit and lie down takes only the slightest squeeze on their hindquarters. Teaching a big, heavy, strong grown dog to sit and lie down can involve a lot of physical strength. Second, there is something to the adage, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” It’s not that they can’t be taught, but training can involve their unlearning bad habits before they can learn new ones, so it just takes longer.

With that said, you can still send your older puppy or dog (four months or older) to us to be in our training program. She will experience the fun of a summer camp program, but she’ll likely need some corrective training to change any bad habits she might have developed. In order to achieve obedience in a misbehaving dog, we hope for and try to get dogs to make mistakes so they can learn more quickly. With older puppies and dogs, you tell us what you want your pet to learn and we’ll do our best to teach her

Many people ask if they can come up to our kennel to visit their puppy during the 6-week training time. The answer is yes! We welcome anyone who wants to come, because we will use the time to teach puppy owners how to train and keep their puppy trained. But, if you can’t come during that 6-week training period, we do want to give you at least a thirty-minute training session with your puppy when you pick her up, so you can show her who’s boss, learn all the commands we use, and learn all of the hand signals we use. This way, you can keep your dog trained for life.

So, a big thanks to all of the many folks who have given us the pleasure of training your dogs and puppies. And, to those who are considering sending your puppy to our little Super Citizen “school,” we hope this helps you in your decision-making process.




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