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Learning Listening Skills With Your Pup

Updated on April 3, 2017
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The Newfoundland Club of America - responsible for the preservation, protection and welfare of the Newfoundland Dog in America since 1930.

Developing a good learning relationship with your Newf is based on a foundation of listening on both sides. Learning is not a one-way street. As you spend time with your pup you will begin to notice what types of reinforcement is effective and which do not work as well. Being open to different training techniques and using different tools will give you more success and a more well-rounded, stable adult dog.

“Learning the value of silence is learning to listen to, instead of screaming at, reality: opening your mind enough to listen to your dog until you discover what is needed instead of imposing yourself in the name of training.”

— Brother Thomas, Monks of New Skete.

Learning the general principles of behavior and training in dogs are important cornerstones for all teaching and can be applied to many different dogs. Finding the specific techniques that are most effective with your pup is dependent on listening and learning from your own experience.

Some of these basics include:

• Timing is vital. Providing reinforcement at the instant that a pup offers a requested behavior will ensure that the right action gets reinforced.

• Consistency is important. All teaching can be viewed as building blocks, adding more complex actions onto skills your pup has already mastered. Don’t skip ahead and try to teach something your pup is not ready to learn.

• End your training on a high note. No matter how frustrated you feel over the course of teaching a new skill, make sure you step back and ask for an action your pup can do consistently and confidently.

• Pay attention to your pup. Learn what signs of stress and frustration look like in your dog. Pay close attention to their body language and what they are telling you about how the training is going. Also pay close attention to your own body language. If you are distracted, frustrated, stressed out or in a rush before you start, your dog will pick up on all those things and your sessions will not be successful.


"A dog that has learned to listen carefully will tend to pay more attention. A bit of meaningless chatter is fine every so often, but dogs don't speak our language and you don't want cues to become lost in the noise. When training, try not to talk too much. Effective communication comes through quality and clarity, not quantity."

— Karen Pryor

There’s a famous anecdote about the trainer and behaviorist Dr. Ian Dunbar challenging a roomful of trainers to prove their dogs could sit on cue. "Of course our dogs can sit!" said all the trainers. But then Mr. Dunbar asked the owners to give the sit cue while they were lying on the floor. Needless to say, the dog did not sit. Why? The scenario was too different. The dog didn’t recognize even a familiar cue. Developing a relationship with our dogs means training them in many different environments and scenarios.


One great game to play with your pup is the "Hot & Cold" game uses verbal communication and vocal tone to help your Newf find a hidden treat or toy. Hide a treat when your dog is not looking. Use a calm tone for colder if your pup moves away from the hidden treat. Use a more excited tone for “hotter” as your pup gets closer to the hidden treat. This game increases listening skills. It also helps build the special “language” shared by you and your Newf.

Patience, consistency and timing are the keys, don’t let your attention lapse at the wrong moment. Reward the right behaviors and reward with good timing. Remember that random reward is a powerful motivator, and that can work for you or against you (if your puppy learns to recognize when your attention is elsewhere). Use what you learn about your puppy to help him continue to learn. The reward for your efforts is the companion of a lifetime!

Reasons for a Dog Not to Listen

What do you think could be reasons why your pup might not listen to you?

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© 2016 Newfoundland Club of America

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