A Puppy’s First Words

Husky puppy Lara sat on my lap all the way back from the breeder’s house and she was very well-behaved. I was afraid that she might piddle while on my lap, but she was great, and held it in.

When we got back to the house, we took her straight out to the backyard where she quickly went to do her business.

Good Girl!

Those were the first words she learned, and they continue to be her favorite words.

Good Girl!

Good Girl is puppy Lara’s favorite words because after Good Girl comes a yummy food reward.

Good Girl is commonly referred to as a mark. In this case, we condition our dog to associate Good Girl with something positive by tying it to a food reward. Every time puppy hears Good Girl, she knows that she has done something desirable and is about to be rewarded for her good behavior. In this way, we can accurately time-mark a good behavior because it is easy and quick to say Good Girl.

Together with a mark for good behavior, there is also a no-mark for bad behaviors, e.g. No, or Ack-ack. Just as a mark is usually followed by a reward, a no-mark is usually followed by a punishment.

Most people associate punishment with physical punishment, but the most effective dog training techniques are NOT based on physical punishment. Instead, they are based on the control of resources.

By controlling what our dogs desire most (e.g., her freedoms, our attention and affection, her food, her toys) we can very effectively encourage good behaviors as well as discourage bad behaviors.

For example when puppy Lara displays an undesirable behavior, e.g. biting on furniture, I no-mark her, Ack-Ack and follow that up by redirecting her onto an acceptable toy to bite on. As a result, she knows what not to do, but at the same time I also give her alternative ways of redirecting her energy.

If she does not listen and keeps biting at the furniture then she loses access to furniture, i.e., I lead her away and get her to do something else. If she continues to try to bite on furniture, or decides to bite on me instead, then she loses all of her freedom and goes into a boring, low-stimulus, time-out area.

Some things that I have observed while training my dogs –

  • Redirecting behavior is much more effective than just saying no. By redirecting behavior we tell our dogs what not to do, but we also tell them what to do instead.
  • Controlling a dog’s resources is much more effective and less risky than physical punishment. By controlling a dog’s resources, we teach our dog that the best way to get what she wants is to do what we want. Cooperation always brings better results than physical force.
  • Set puppy up for success. Start small and only escalate the punishment if puppy escalates her bad behavior. The more puppy succeeds, the more confident she will get, and the more she learns that doing what you say, gets her the most rewards!
  • No need to use a bite when a Shiba-Scream is sufficient.
    ~~[ Shiba Inu Sephy ]

Nose and Sit

Soon after Good Girl, puppy Lara learned her next word – Nose.

Nose is a hand-targeting exercise and it is very simple to learn and very useful.

I put some kibble in my hand and hold it a short distance away from puppy. Puppy will naturally want the food, so she will poke her nose at my hand. As soon as she does that, I say Good Girl, and give her a food reward.

Some puppies may mouth on your hand. I usually just ignore that behavior and wait for the nose touch. As soon as I feel a nose touch with no mouthing, I quickly mark that behavior (Good Girl) and reward that behavior.

After Nose, comes Sit. Sit is one of my favorite words because it is great for getting puppy to calm down, to work for her food, to not jump, to not chew on furniture, etc.

To train a Sit I put some kibble in my hand and make sure that puppy knows it is there. Then I slowly raise my hand slightly over the puppy’s head. Puppy will naturally want to follow the treat with her head; the head goes up and the rump goes down. As soon as that happens, I say Good Girl and reward puppy. At this point I don’t even say the word “Sit” yet.

Once puppy does a Sit consistently (based on the hand gesture), then I start to associate the word “Sit” with the behavior.

Some puppies may step back instead of sit down. When that happens I usually just repeat the hand gesture and then wait for the behavior. If that still doesn’t work, then I move on to do something else. A bit later, I give Sit training another try.

Useful Puppy Words

Other useful puppy words include –

  • Leave-It – Great for preventing food guarding and resource guarding problems down the road.
  • Down
  • Stay – Very useful for teaching a puppy door manners and to control excitement.
  • Side – In addition to a Down, puppy has to lay fully on her left or right side. This command is very useful for grooming including teeth cleaning, and nail grinding.
  • Paw, Spin, Shake, Crawl – This adds variety to our training sessions and is also a lot of fun.

What Are Your Puppy’s First Words?

What are some of your puppy’s favorite first words? Let us know in the comments section below.

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  1. Ace says

    Hello, Lara is absolutely beautiful. I searched a pic of her on google after someone claimed her to be their new pet on facebook. Hate when people pull such stunts and accept compliments. nkt

  2. Scarlet says

    My husky Olfrik’s first words were it’s okay we love you (he was wining about leaving his previous owner)

  3. Taylor says

    Zander my Labradoodles first words were “No, don’t eat that! Spit it out!?”
    I sweat having cats who hunt mice and leave them all across the yard are a
    hazard to puppies who things smelly little mice are yummy treats to eat.

  4. Rauf says

    i have;nt got a puppy yet but i want to get a siberian huskie im 12 and also what would be a good dog for a child under 10 7-10

  5. Jess says

    Great article!! I think Zeus’ first words were “OH MY GOD WHAT ARE YOU DOING?? NO!!!” :o) Just kidding. Well, no, I’m not…

    • shibashake says


      Sephy’s first words were “NO TOUCHY! NO TOUCH!” 😀

      Btw. love that swimming photo of Zeus. Can I use it in an article here? I am thinking it might be fun to write something about dogs and water.

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