When a dog does something especially smart or surprising, we tend to fall back on the instinct theory
“Oh, he does that instinctively,” we exclaim. Perhaps he does; then again, perhaps his mother taught him.
Much of the supposedly instinctive animal behavior is taught the young by their mothers. Puppies form their first bond of attachment with their mother when she feeds them, licks them clean, and looks after them. As they grow in the nest, they learn much from their dam, especially if they are free to trail her and she is able to show them the sights and the dangers. When we get a young puppy, we are literally taking him out of elementary school; so let’s get him right back in again, and teach him what a little dog on his own ought to know.
The simplest of all the puppy’s obedience lessons is “Go to bed!” or merely “Bed/” or “Place!” or whatever expression you may want to use. Its advantages are too many to name; you will learn that as you proceed.
Remove the puppy’s toys from his bed, and use one of them to start a little game. Take his toy away, give it back, then take it away again. Naturally, he’ll want it. Hold it up so he can see it, and as you walk toward his bed or box, say, “Go to bed!” He will scamper after you, and as he sees you drop the toy in the box, he will jump to get it. You are telling him to do what he is already doing, but the point is that you are impressing upon his mind the sound of the order “Go to bed!” at the very moment he is hopping in. Repeating the order will soon associate the words with the act. When he understands what is wanted, you can skip the toy. Merely issue the command and give a signal with your hand in the direction of the box.
Don’t overtire the pupil by continuing the lesson longer than five minutes at a time. Four or five lessons daily are enough. Be regular in your teaching, be patient, and above all, be encouraging. “Go to bed!” is an order, not a punish ment, so be cheerful, sociable about it. All the lessons will not go well. Sometimes the pup will be confused; he’ll look up at you, worried, as if to say, “What am I to do?” Stop everything. Pet him, talk to him. Wait a while and then start all over again. Once he gets the idea, his eyes will shine as he scampers to obey. Then, be liberal with your praise.
A young puppy’s memory is short, so “little and often” is a good teaching rule. Several short training periods per day are best, without one day skipped if it can be avoided. Even after the lesson has been learned, use it often or the puppy will forget. Gradually increase the distance until the youngster can be sent to bed from another room.