Last updated on March 24, 2014
Ah, to be a puppy and just starting out. There are things “they” don’t tell you when a puppy joins the family (they being society). Fellow Fidose fan, Brandon Crochet, has a new puppy in his life and asked us to give us some scoop on getting started with puppy training and behavior. Much of what we say here can be applied to any dog at any life stage, though there are variations of training depending on background of the dog and any other extenuating circumstances. There are specific things a pet parent can do to train a perfect puppy. And that’s what we all want to have, after all: that perfect pet to enhance and share our lives.
Most importantly, each dog learns differently, and there is no “one size fits all” for training a dog. Some of my favorite dog trainers are Andrea Arden and Laurie Williams, and I am sure both concur that a dog’s learning style varies from pooch to pooch. Here are some tips for getting started in training a puppy.
Puppies are like small children: They learn best in calm, quiet situations with minimal distractions so that they can focus on the lesson you are teaching. Puppies also have short attention spans, so short but succinct sessions are key. Never scold a dog nor spank or yank a dog. Positive reinforcement is key. Positive reinforcement is based on kindness and rewarding for the desired behavior. So your dog does something you want him to and he gets a treat or a “good boy” – and not yelled at or scolded for not completing the task.
One of my favorite trainers, Victoria Stilwell, writes on her blog, “The strongest relationships between dogs and humans are based on cooperation and kindness rather than a human dominance/animal submission methodology, which is central to outdated traditional training methods. Positive training helps to establish and maintain a connection that increases trust and therefore creates a stronger bond between dog and owner, because if your dog feels good about you, he will be a happier, more confident and better-behaved dog. Ultimately, positive training results in a dog who follows an owner because it wants to rather than following out of fear, while traditional training uses punitive methods to force a dog to behave, often resulting in a ‘quick fix’ that never truly identifies the root cause of the misbehavior while promoting insecurity and negative behavior.”
It is worth repeating: Gone are the days of dominance and animal submission and we do not advocate nor support that very outdated belief and training method. All that teaches a dog is that you are to be feared. Not cool.
Puppies have a mind of their own…they are driven by their innate curiosity and as such, it is up to us to guide them along. When inappropriate behaviors occur, redirect the pup. I love “ah-ah” – a low-pitched and serious tone that is said when the puppy engages in something he or she should not. Trying to chew the couch? “Ah-ah!” On the flip side, reward and praise for positive behavior. When training our dog, Dexter, we would say “good puppy” or “good Dexter” to reward and reinforce an acceptable behavior.
Do not hit, spank, or punish a puppy, as this only reinforces fear and that is not acceptable.
Growling and Biting
Nipping and play biting are part of puppyhood, and these are behaviors to be “nipped” in the bud. When the pup nips at you, yell “ouch” and ignore the pup. Slowly resume playing. If the nipping continues, cease playing and calmly leave the room.
Pushing, yelling, or scolding a puppy during playtime will only serve to increase his or her excitement, so monitor the intensity of play.
Crying and Separation Anxiety
Puppies and dogs in general crave human companionship. Reassure your pup you will return and that staying alone is okay by not making a big fuss when you leave the house. Let him get used to spending alone time in the crate or room he will be staying. We used a big child’s playpen for training purposes and slowly increased the amount of space to which Dexter had access. Using baby gates really helped with this process.
Praise your puppy for being quiet. Allow the pup to go into his “quiet” spot (i.e., kennel, playpen) while you are home, so he can see this is a good thing and you like what he is doing. “Good puppy” is positive reinforcement. Never scold a dog and put him in “time out” in his kennel or playpen. This teaches a dog that the kennel is a bad place. One of the keys in training my dog was to “think like the puppy.” Imagine you are that puppy, a blank canine slate waiting and wanting to learn. If all you hear is “no” or “bad dog,” you aren’t much of a kind, caring pet parent, right? But if you praise good behavior and assert patience with a kind demeanor, you are a rock star in your dog’s eyes.
Puppies need to learn that greeting people does not mean jumping on them. Two of the “commands” to teach early on are “off” and “sit.” We won’t go into explicit detail here with how to teach those, but here are some key things to keep in mind:
* As your puppy begins to jump on someone, say “off” and gently remove the puppy from the jumping action.
* Once the puppy is calm, teach him to sit and praise for doing so. The goal of this action is that the puppy will learn that the way to positive praise is not jumping and sitting calmly. Training treats serve as an effective distraction. Our pup would engage in these behaviors in exchange for a play session with a ball. If I said “sit” and Dexter complied, we would toss the ball once or twice. Again, to each dog comes his or her own training method. Your pup might be more treat motivated in training.
Begging for Table Scraps
Feed your puppy before you eat and then ignore him while you dine. Never give table scraps, no matter how cute those pleading eyes may seem. And trust me, I get the eyes of melted chocolate look often. While training our pup, we put him in a separate room when we ate and slowly acclimated him to the dining room. He did beg at first and then just learned to lay down by the table, play with a toy, or work on the dog treat we offered.
Basic Training Tips
* Keep training sessions short: 5 to 10 minutes at first are best.
* Practice and train in an area with minimal distractions.
* Consider enrolling in a puppy socialization class. Check with your dog’s vet to ensure he or she is ready for the exposure and then find a behavior class that believes in positive reinforcement. Run for the hills if they do not.
* Never spank, yell at, or scold a puppy. Here’s more about that on the spanking topic.
* Never ever “rub a dog’s nose” in poo or pee, as this is disgusting, an old school mentality, and just plain mean. Training a dog to pee outside is a completely different topic that we will approach in another post. In the meantime, our friends at petMD have some great advice on teaching your dog to pee/poop outside.
* Remember that if your puppy just isn’t cooperating and not doing the desired behavior, it isn’t that he is being “spiteful” or defiant: He is just being a puppy and your behavior needs to be modified. Consider the task at hand and reconsider how you are training. Also, it could be the puppy isn’t ready for that task or is distracted.
* End each training session on a positive note. Never get frustrated and simply walk away or give up. If the puppy cannot master a certain task in a training session, go back to one he knows, carry it out, praise him for doing so, and end the session.
We won’t be touching on walking on a leash and how to prevent pulling in this post, but this is imperative to train a puppy from an early age. Two of the books that you should have and that can guide you in how to be the best pet parent and properly train a dog are from Victoria Stilwell, and they are:
Canine Good Citizen
My dog has manners, and the American Kennel Club says so! One of my favorite dog traveling moments involves letting the reservation desk know that my dog Dexter is a “CGC” — a Canine Good Citizen — and that his decorum is delightful. It shows that dogs are wonderful traveling companions who can be trusted to stay at the finest hotels. Your dog can be a CGC, too, and not only is it a fun title to have but it also increases and strengthens the bond you share with your puppy.
The American Kennel Club launched the Canine Good Citizen Program in 1989. It’s designed to teach responsible dog ownership behaviors to pet parents, while dogs learn basic training and good manners. The core of the program is the 10-step testing process. Whether pedigree or mutt, spunky Sparky or golden oldie, dogs of all shapes, sizes, and ages are eligible.
Most basic obedience classes or formalized CGC training sessions cover the skills needed for a pooch to pass the test, but I taught my dog from the comfort of home. Here are the AKC’s ten requirements and how we learned, bonded, and aced the AKC test together.
For new puppy parents, the AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy program is designed to get dog parents and their puppies off to a good start. The AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy Program is an incentive program for loving dog owners who have taken the time to take their puppies through a basic training class. You can read more about the S.T.A.R. puppy program here.
In summary, training a puppy is a task and takes work on your part, but having a well-balanced puppy who matures into a loving canine member of society is all part of the reward. Be consistent, give praise, and be the dog parent your dog wants you to be: His life, his livelihood, and his spirit depend on it….and you.
Have you ever trained a puppy? Got any tips we missed? Bark at us in the comments below.