Bringing home a new puppy is fun for the whole family, but if you aren’t properly prepared for the task it could end up being a bigger challenge than you bargained for. Puppies are not just little bundles of fur – they have teeth and nails too. If you don’t take charge and start training your puppy at an early age, you could end up with a house full of items that have been destroyed and carpet dotted with stains.
Puppy training is not an impossible task, but there is a right and a wrong way to learn about it.
Below you will find an overview of some of the most important aspects of training you need to cover as well as tips for getting started.
In this article we will discuss:
- Crate and Housebreaking Basics
- Socializing your new puppy
- Teaching Proper Leash Behavior
- Positive Reinforcement Training
- Nipping Bad Behaviors in the Bud
Crate Training and Housebreaking
Perhaps the most important aspect of puppy training is housebreaking – teaching your puppy to do his business outside in the yard and ONLY in the yard. Many inexperienced dog owners mistakenly believe that housebreaking is a difficult process but, if you are firm and consistent in your training, you will find that it is rather easy and surprisingly quick. The key to housebreaking a puppy is to utilize the principle of crate training. Crate training involves keeping your puppy confined to his crate overnight and during extended periods of time when you cannot watch him yourself.
Another common misconception among inexperienced dog owners is that crate training is cruel. The most important thing you need to learn about crate training is that the crate should never be used as punishment – if you utilize crate training properly, your puppy will come to view his crate as a safe haven, a place he can retreat to if he wants to nap or simply needs some time to himself. To start, you will need a crate that is just large enough for your puppy to comfortably stand, sit, lie down, and turn around in. Dogs have a natural aversion to soiling their beds, so keeping the crate just large enough for your puppy to use it for sleeping will help to prevent him from having an accident in the crate.
To housebreak your puppy you need to supervise him closely when he is out of the crate and keep him in the crate only for a few hours at a time. Choose a certain section of the yard where you want your puppy to do his business and take him to that section of the yard each time you take him outside. When you bring your puppy to his area of the yard, give him a command like “Go Pee” then praise and reward him when he does his business. If your puppy does not have to go, immediately take him back inside and try again in 30 minutes or so.
By praising and rewarding your puppy for doing his business in the yard, he will learn that this behavior earns your approval and he will be eager to repeat it in the future. By using a command like “Go Pee,” eventually your puppy will learn to associate the command with the behavior and you will be able to let your puppy out and give him the command without having to actually walk him over to the area yourself. Once your puppy starts to consistently use the right area of the yard, you can phase out the food rewards but continue to praise your puppy when he does well.
When you are at home, keep your puppy in the same room as you – you may need to close doors or set up baby gates to accomplish this. Take your puppy out once every hour and within 30 minutes of a meal and after waking up from a nap. By taking your puppy outside this often you will reduce the risk of your puppy having an accident in the house. When you place your puppy in the crate for the night, do not leave and food or water with him and take him out as soon as you release him in the morning. When your puppy is young, you should only leave him in the crate for a few hours at a time. As your puppy matures, he will be able to control his bladder for longer periods of time.
Socialization of Your New Puppy
Another incredibly important aspect of puppy training is socialization. Socialization involves nothing more than exposing your puppy to new things, people, and places. Your puppy is the most impressionable during the first few months of his life and this is when he forms his view of the world. If you expose your puppy to new things early in his life, he will be more adaptable as he grows older. Poorly socialized dogs often respond to new situations – especially new people and other dogs – with fear or aggression born of fear. If a dog has been properly socialized, he will be more likely to react to those same situations with curiosity or excitement.
Socializing your puppy is very simple, but it does require you to be intentional about exposing your puppy to new things. Take your puppy with you on short car trips and set up play dates with other dogs. Give your puppy the opportunity to interact with children and other household pets – you might even want to expose him to things that make loud noises like trains or car horns. The more experiences your puppy has while young, the less likely he is to react to new situations with fear as he gets older. Just be careful not to overwhelm your puppy by introducing too many stimuli at once. If your puppy appears to be frightened, tone things down a little bit and give him some more time to get used to one thing before you move on to the next.
Teaching Proper Leash Behavior
No matter what type of dog you have, you will need to take him for a daily walk to help work off his excess energy. For the safety of your puppy, you should always keep your puppy on a leash. Unfortunately, not all puppies are very good at walking on a leash – many dog owners complain about their puppies pulling on the leash or even chewing on it as they walk. An important part of puppy training involves teaching your puppy proper leash behavior. The sooner you start to teach your puppy proper leash behavior, the less likely you are to have to deal with problems down the line.
Every puppy reacts differently to being put on a leash, so take things slow at first until you know how your puppy will react. If your puppy is frightened of the leash, you may need to take some time to get him used to it by just letting him wear it around the house rather than taking him outside immediately. When you do progress to taking your puppy outside, start off with very short walks and slowly increase the amount of time on the leash as your puppy gets used to it. Eventually you will be able to teach your puppy to heel while on the leash – that is, to walk calmly by your side rather than pulling ahead.
When it comes to teaching your puppy to respond to commands, there are right and wrong ways to go about it. The worst thing you can do is yell at your puppy if he does not respond appropriately right away. Not only will your puppy be unable to understand what you are yelling about, but he may become frightened of you as a result. If your puppy learns to fear you, it will make all future training that much more difficult and it could affect your relationship with your puppy. The most effective method of puppy training involves positive reinforcement.
Positive reinforcement training involves rewarding your puppy for performing a desired behavior – the reward shows the puppy that you approve of that behavior and he will thus be inclined to repeat it. The tricky thing about positive reinforcement training is making sure that your puppy identifies the specific behavior you seek. There are several ways to do this. One way is to wait for your puppy to perform the behavior naturally then pair it with the corresponding command and reward. Another way is to give the command and guide your puppy to perform the behavior then reward him immediately after he does so. A third way is to use a clicker to identify the specific behavior and then to reward your puppy when he follows through – this is called clicker training.
As your puppy grows and matures you will be able to start teaching him to respond to simple commands including the following:
- Lie Down
Once your puppy masters these commands you can move on to more complex commands such as:
- Play Dead
- Roll Over
Nipping Problem Behaviors in the Bud
From the moment you bring your new puppy home, all you want to do is cuddle and play with him. Make no mistake, your puppy will love this, but you need to be careful about reinforcing behaviors that might become a problem when your puppy grows up. One of the most common problem behaviors dog owners have to deal with is the problem of their dogs jumping up on people when they walk in the door. What they do not realize is that this behavior is not the dog’s fault – it is their fault.
By rewarding your puppy with cuddles and kisses when he climbs into your lap, you are telling your puppy that this kind of behavior not only gets your attention, but that you approve of it. When your puppy grows up, he will expect the same results from this kind of behavior but you might not think it is so cute when your 50-pound dog tries to climb on top of you.
This is just one example of a frequently-neglected aspect of puppy training. Training does not just involve teaching your puppy to exhibit approved behaviors – it also involves discouraging him from displaying unwanted behaviors. Other problem behaviors that you should make an effort to curtail while your puppy is young include chewing on household objects, digging in the yard, barking at the doorbell, and whining for attention. The key to curtailing problem behaviors lies not in teaching your puppy never to exhibit those behaviors but in redirecting them to a more appropriate outlet.
For example, you cannot expect your puppy to never chew on anything but you can redirect his urge to chew toward chew toys and bones – things that are perfectly acceptable for your puppy to chew on. If digging in the yard becomes a problem, you can try setting aside a certain section of the yard where it is okay for your puppy to dig. To curtail barking and whining behavior, teach your puppy that these behaviors do not win your attention – this is the most surefire way to get him to stop doing it. Never yell at your dog to punish him for an unwanted behavior.
Training your puppy is a perfect opportunity for you to strengthen your bond with your new pet. As long as you keep are firm and consistent in training, your puppy will learn very quickly. As you start to teach your puppy to respond to commands, be sure to keep your training sessions short and fun – if your puppy gets bored, he will stop responding to your commands and it will become frustrating for the both of you. Remember, your puppy will grow up fast so take advantage of every moment you have while he is young to shape him into the kind of adult dog you want him to be.