Your new puppy is the apple of your eye, the smile on your face, the story you love to share with family and friends, and the primary subject of new photos on your phone. However, along with gushing and fawning over your adorable puppy, you need to consider a plan for training them into a friendly, good-natured, and well-adjusted adult. The decisions you make today and the habits you ingrain in the coming months will have a profound long-term imprint on your impressionable pup.
The so-called sensitive period of development for puppies is between three and 12 weeks. This is a time when primary social relationships and emotional attachments develop between dogs and people, dogs and other dogs, and dogs and other types of pets. This can be a very important time to properly socialize dogs with cats.
By constructing a puppy-training strategy, you can ensure that your young canine blossoms into an adulthood marked by confidence and contentment. The proper training regimen enables a mischievous pup to master obedience, a nipping pup to understand that human flesh is off-limits, and an accident-prone pup to learn to be housebroken. It can also help minimize behavioral problems such as aggression, jumping up, destructive chewing, running away, separation anxiety, excessive barking, and a variety of fears.
The following seven tips represent vet-approved, battle-tested techniques for training your puppy.
1. Make Training Positive and Enjoyable
Training should be an enjoyable experience for you and your puppy. If you’re not in the right mood for training or not feeling particularly patient, delay the session. It is important to keep all training sessions short in duration, upbeat, and positive, and to be careful to avoid negativity and punishment. Nothing is gained – and in fact much damage can be sustained – from yelling, screaming, hitting, and other forms of negative reinforcement. The opposite of reward should not be punishment, but rather should be no reward.
Remember, your puppy has a short attention span. Keep the training sessions short and sweet. End each training session on a high note by finishing with a command you know your puppy will obey, then reward them accordingly.
2. Housetraining: Invest Effort Now for Monumental Long-term Gain
Housetraining a puppy is like potty-training an infant: The more time and attention you invest up front, the more rapidly the end result will be achieved. By putting in the effort to properly housetrain your puppy prior to four months of age, you will save yourself time, energy, and aggravation in the long run.
As you housetrain your puppy, it is critical to understand how long your puppy can hold their urine. Every puppy is a little different, but as a general rule, a puppy can hold their urine one hour for every month they are old plus one. This means that an eight-week-old puppy (2 months) can hold their urine for about 3 hours (2 + 1 = 3). A 16-week-old (4 month) puppy can hold their urine for about five hours (4 + 1 = 5). This makes it important to provide many opportunities to eliminate.
When you take your puppy to the appropriate elimination area, you can provide a verbal cue, such as a word or pair of words. Some pet owners use the words “potty”, “go potty,” or “hurry up.” Select a consistent area outdoors that has direct access from the indoor environment. It is important that you give your puppy the opportunity to eliminate during peak times, since they may get the urge after eating, drinking, sleeping, and playing.
When your puppy enjoys a successful “bathroom run,” they must know that they have done something that meets your approval. Showering your pup with praise, exuding excitement, and offering them a morsel of delicious food are all appropriate reactions. It is important to provide this reward immediately – right then and there. Don’t wait until you get indoors. The reward needs to be a high reward (something your puppy really loves), such as heaping praise or a high-quality treat. A steady routine guided with rewards for good behavior can help a puppy understand exactly what you want from them.
Despite their progress, you can still expect the occasional accident in the house. It is important to supervise your puppy carefully to avoid accidents. Understand the signs displayed by your puppy when they have to eliminate. These include circling, sneaking-off, heading toward the door, or squatting. At the first sign, swiftly and calmly take your puppy to the area where you want them to eliminate.
If you find a previously-made accident, such as a puddle of urine, it is too late for punishment, since a puppy’s mind is different than a humans. Your dog will not recall the accident and wonder why you are yelling over a urine stain. Your pup may also associate the urine with you yelling and not their bad behavior. This can even make housetraining more difficult. You need to catch your puppy in the act and be more diligent monitoring for signs of “having to go,” so that they do not have an accident. Rather than deal with accidents, it is important to monitor the puppy for signs that they need to eliminate and provide plenty of praise for good behavior.
As you housetrain your puppy, it is important to develop a schedule. You can read up on the idea schedule, hour-by-hour, for feeding and playtime in our article on House Training Schedules for Puppies.
Consistent training with positive reinforcement can encourage your puppy to be house broken in a few days to a few weeks. This will allow your focus to shift to more enjoyable training endeavors.
3. Understanding that the Crate Is Your Ally
When properly introduced, the crate can be a place of security and comfort for your dog. However, there’s undeniably a stigma attached to confinement. When members of our society see a crate surrounded with wire-framed walls, we think of jail. As a puppy owner, however, you must learn to reshape this perception.
When it comes to training a puppy, a crate serves as one of your best assets. Not only does it aid considerably with the process of housetraining, since dogs don’t like to soil their immediate environment, but it also serves as a home-away-from-home or a comfortable retreat for when your puppy needs a break from the rest of the family.
By gradually confining your puppy in their crate without isolation when you’re home, and rewarding them with treats for entering the crate voluntarily, you make it easier for them to utilize the crate when you leave the house. Ultimately, your puppy will learn to rest while crated, and that’s exactly the way you want them to feel – at home, relaxed, and comfortable in their own little den.
The correct crate size is one big enough for your dog to stand up and turn around in, but not so big that they can soil in one area of the crate and sleep in the other.
It is important to not create “crate aversion.” This means don’t force a pup to go inside when they don’t want to, have a crate that is too small, use the crate for punishment, or leave your dog in the crate too long. For more details, please read our article on Crate Training Your Puppy.
4. Master the Art of Leash Walking
Going for walks on a leash is a fundamental right and pleasure for most every dog. but how do you train your puppy so that you’re walking them and not the other way around?
There are several ways to train a leash-pulling puppy to walk without pulling, but the common denominator, as in all training exercises, is simple: Appropriate behavior is rewarded, while inappropriate behavior is not.
You can start by getting your dog a proper collar and leash. The collar should be snug, but still allow two fingers to fit between the neck and collar. It is important that it be comfortable, but does not allow your puppy’s head to slip through. The training leash should be short, no longer than six feet. You want to keep your puppy close to you and not have too much room to roam and explore.
As you get started, allow your puppy to get used to the leash. Initially, you can attach the leash to the collar and even allow your puppy to drag the leash around while supervised. When leash training your dog, the ideal is to have them walk beside you, not in front of you. This allows you to control the direction and minimize distractions.
You can use a longer or retractable leash and be more flexible with the rules as your puppy matures and gets the hang of things.
From the standpoint of leash-walking, the reward for walking properly is praise, an occasional treat and the walk itself. However, you can withhold a walk from a leash-pulling puppy by stopping in your tracks and refusing to start again until the leash slackens. Once it does, praise your little pup and continue the walk.
Never pull your dog along. Pulling your puppy can potentially injure your dog or cause them to be adverse to the leash. Learn more about The Fine Art of Training Your Leasing Pulling Puppy here.
5. Rewards Are a Dog’s Form of Flattery
When planning your training, consider the best type of treat, the size of the treat, and the best time to train. Puppies learn best when they receive thrilling rewards for their efforts. Even the youngest and tiniest puppy will be enthusiastic about food-based treats and will be eager to work with you. Experiment to find your puppy’s favorite reward, whether it’s food, a tossed toy, or a warm word of praise.
Here are a few tips around using treats as a reward:
- Every dog is a little different in what they prefer as a reward. What one puppy loves as a reward is not the same as another puppy. Some dogs prefer affection, but many love treats. Treats help to ensure you get repeated good behavior. Just as people go to work to get a paycheck, it is the paycheck that keeps them coming back. On the same note, a treat keeps your dog behaving in the fashion intended by their training.
- There is a big difference in dog treats. We consider training treats to be “high reward” treats. While some dogs will work for plain pieces of dog kibble, others prefer a very tasty morsel, such as a commercial training treat, a bit of jerky, cheese, hot dog, cooked chicken, deli meat, or liver. Use only very small pieces approximately the size of a pea. You don’t want your dog to get filled up on treats and stop training.
- Once you determine the treat your dog loves best, you can use that treat when your dog performs the most difficult tasks. For example, if you are training in an environment with distractions, it can be harder for your dog to learn. Therefore, the best and highest reward treat is the one most likely to keep their attention.
- Ensure that your dog’s motivation for reward is highest during a training session. If food is the reward, train before a meal, not after. If praise, petting, and other aspects of your attention are to be used as a reward, schedule the training session at a time when your dog hungers for your attention.
Puppies, like children and even adult humans, learn best when they enjoy the learning process and receive something in return.
6. Timing Is Everything
As with many aspects of life, when it comes to puppy training, timing is everything. This theme holds true on several levels.
The timing of issuing a reward is important. When rewarding a puppy for a correct response to a command, the reward should be administered within 1/2 of a second of the command to ensure that your dog draws the correlation between their behavior and the prize. For example, when you go outdoors and your puppy urinates, the reward should be right then and there. You can’t wait until you get back in the house. They need to associate the reward with their good behavior immediately. If you wait until you get back in the house to give the reward, they will associate the reward with the act of coming in the house rather than with the act of urinating outside.
Moreover, timing also reigns supreme when considering the length of a training session. By keeping a training session short and sweet (within the 10-minute range or less), you’ll have a far better chance of maintaining your puppy’s motivation and attention span for the duration of the training. More frequent, short training sessions work much better than one longer session.
7. Don’t Isolate Your Pup Completely from the Outside World
While the fear of exposing your pup to dangerous infectious diseases before vaccinations is legitimate, it must not come at the cost of isolating your pet altogether.
The so-called sensitive period of development for puppies is between 3 and 12 weeks of age. As mentioned above, this is a time when primary social relationships and emotional attachments develop between dogs and people and between dogs and other animals. This sensitive period is often fraught with anxiety by many pet owners and veterinarians, because this is a time when a puppy can be vulnerable to infectious diseases like parvovirus. Most puppies are not considered protected until they finish their puppy vaccines around 20 weeks of age.
The price paid for failing to adequately socialize your puppy can be steep, especially during the sensitive period of development. During this sensitive time, behaviorists and veterinarians believe that the importance of socializing your puppy outweighs any potential risk of disease. To minimize risk, ensure your puppy receives all wellness recommendations, including fecal examinations, deworming medications, and vaccinations.
Rather than accepting full-blown isolation, consult with your vet to assess the threats your puppy faces from possible exposure to infection. Perhaps your veterinarian might agree that limited contact with vaccinated dogs in safe locations is acceptable. For example, interacting with well-vaccinated dogs in a protected yard may be an acceptable risk. Romping at a park with dogs that may be unvaccinated and have various parasites is not considered an acceptable risk at this vulnerable age.
Another option to socialize your puppy involves hosting a “puppy party,” whereby people unfamiliar to your pup visit your home and take turns interacting positively with your young canine. Ideally, this type of arrangement occurs repeatedly throughout a pup’s adolescence and involves a diverse array of people (different sizes, both genders, and various races). Exposing your puppy to a variety of dress elements, such as those with ball caps and cowboy hats, can allow exposure and acceptance, and help to minimize future fears.
Just as it is important to know what to do with these 7 tips, it is also important to know what NOT to do. Here is a very good article that addresses this issue.