Sarah Wilson

Dog Expert

Puppy Training: First Create Success


Puppy Training First Create SuccessWatching a young man and a young puppy struggle together to get some basic connection yesterday, it reminded me that we all have to start from success to build more success. Meaning, if you and your pup can’t focus on each other well outside, move inside. If the world seems distracting, bring your very best treats with you and add more movement or enthusiasm to your session or try something simpler.

Your pup, as distracted and busy as he is, is not being difficult. He is clueless. Deeply and totally. Truly a blank little learning slate filled with genetic urges and sensory distractions but weak on interspecies communication skills.

Our job? To set him up for success. To set both of you up for success. So, start inside. Start in a back hall or quiet corner of the kitchen. Start by yourself. Start just before meals when your pup is hungry (or just after meals if food is overwhelmingly distracting for your pup.) Put all his toys away. Use treats your pup loves. Put him on a flat 4-6 foot leash (no retractable!) attached to a wide, flat, buckle- or clip- type collar.

Now, take a deep breath and calm yourself. Decide what you’re going to work on. Choose one thing. Pick something easy for both of you. Decide what defines success for this thing: a head turn, a simple sit, a guided down (My Smart Puppy games.) Pick just one thing at a time to focus on.

Know trainingĀ is probably going to be a mess at first. That’s okay. That’s normal. Learning IS messy. And learning when both the teacher and the student are leaning together? More messy. Oh well. No matter. Stay calm. Keep trying. Keep helping your pup get it right. Be loving. Notice the smallest success. Celebrate it. Take a happy moment together. Don’t rush passed it; stop, enjoy, praise, pet. Leave no doubt in your pup’s mind (and in your own) that something wonderful just happened.

Always remember you’re both doing the best you can. Be patient with both of you. Have fun, keep trying and things will get better.

Now go! Give it a try.


  1. Just got your puppy book and tne DVD CODE will not work. Tried several times. Asked my son to try.

    Very frustrating. Can you help? This was such a lovely gift for our new puppy.


    • Hi Molly – Sorry to hear that. This sort of issue needs to go through the publisher. They are the one’s who can resolve this. Author’s write but publisher’s own to books. I have nothing to do with production and have no DVDs myself.

      But, I CAN help with your new pup. Tell me about this little one. – Sarah

  2. Thanks for the great advice!
    just ordered your book/dvd. We’re getting a new puppy in a couple of months. Our two year old lab mix recently passed his canine good citizen test — but the next pup is going to be trained with your methods as the basis.
    Been listening to your old podcasts — Good stuff.

  3. Last summer I adopted a 5 month old rescue who is part border collie I believe. He had lived in 4 other homes, His birth home, his owners home, the rescue home and then the foster home before coming to his real home with us. He was surrendered, no history of abuse. He’s lively, and lovely and affectionate. No aggression only gets a little bouncy when he’s really excited. The difficulty I have with him is he doesn’t seem to hear me when I call him.

    He is not deaf. It’s a choice he’s making. He will look at me, then turn around and walk away and do what he likes. When I first got him I did think there was something wrong with his hearing but no, he hears just fine. Then I thought well perhaps he just thinks he’s visiting. I will give him a bit of time to get used to being with us. He loves scratches and affection only when he’s in the mood for it, otherwise he just walks away. He is neutered. He is the only male in the house. I have a 9 yr old female retreiver ( flatcoat/golden cross) who is lovely and well mannered and affectionate. A little jealousy at first but now they are friends, most of the time. There is the odd struggle for dominance but she wins and puts him in his place very well, and he listens…til next time. There is no fighting between them, they will wrestle and play fight over toys, he very easily backs down with a warning from the female.

    My daughter recently left home for work and they love when she comes to visit, once a week or so. So now a year has passed, despite, treats and love for good behavior and followed commands, he still chooses to not hear me or react to me except to sit when I say, but again, that’s only when he feels like it and when I have him on leash. He will sit for a treat, only if he knows it’s in my hand. He’s very dainty in his behavior, he eats one kibble at a time, is puzzled by my parrot who talks. I still crate him at night because he has this thing for paper, he will go into the garbage right in front of me to see what he can find even though he knows it’s not allowed. He is not bored. I would love to let them both be free in the house at night but it’s not fair to only crate one at night, so I crate both. There is plenty of room for him to stand and stretch and eat and drink in his house, he is not boxed in. He gets lots of running in the day and still when we are at the off leash park, he’s with the group which is to be expected or runs after the female as she chases her beloved ball. He will not come when I call, I physically have to go to him, put on the leash and lead him out of the park. I would love it if he came when I called him. Perhaps he thinks he is dominant over me but I don’t believe so. He has picked up some of the females’ cues and she will go and get him for me or find him if he’s too quiet. (Into mischief)

    So my issue is, how do I get him to pay attention, is it even possible? I understand he is still a baby, do you think it will improve? He will sit next to me, or on me or beside me when he’s free in the house. He is fun loving and teases…he’ll run by with my shoe in his mouth, stop in front of me to make sure I see him and then run away to be chased…he’s so cute! He’ll stop barking if I say ‘enough’ or ‘stop’. He’s an excellent doorbell and warning system (learned from the female). I just love him to pieces. If this is the only problem I have with him then it’s pretty minimal I know but I would love it if he’d consider me someone worth listening to.

    Do you have any ideas how I can get him to do that?

    • Hi there – yes, you get improve things. Absolutely! It’s time to put away the treats, up the relevance, and learn ways to calmly follow through so he learns that listening isn’t optional (but it’s always worth it!) I’d start with the exercises in My Smart Puppy (Amazon and Barnes and Nobles both sell it.) He sounds like a smarty pants! Sarah

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *.