Bringing a puppy home is a huge undertaking. There are a lot of requirements to raising a happy and healthy puppy, and it can be quite overwhelming for any owner. The first thing that you will need to figure out is what you expect of your puppy. Do you want your puppy to be an agility champion? Or simply a well-behaved family dog? As an introduction to puppy training, I’ve made a list of the 5 basics that will help you in the beginning stages (and truthfully throughout it’s entire life) of training your new dog. If you stick to these 5 points you will be on the right track to raising a behaviourally sound puppy.
- Stay Calm
Puppies can get excited very quickly, and when they are excited they tend to develop bad habits, such as biting, jumping up, or racing around the house. By remaining calm you will better be able to raise a calm puppy. You will be leading by example. It’s no coincidence that a dog will tend to “match” its owner’s personality. A dog will adapt to the environment which it inhabits. You can use this in order to raise your puppy to have the personality that you desire. Instead of responding to your puppy’s “naughty” behaviour with excitement, react in a calm and confident voice. Show your puppy what it should be doing, instead of what it shouldn’t.
- Reward Often
When a dog experiences a good consequence following an action, it will be more likely to repeat that action, in the hopes that it will receive the same good consequence. This is the essence of positive reinforcement, or reward-based, training. The animal must be rewarded often when learning something new in order to build a positive association with the “good” or desired behaviour. When your dog does something that you like, whether you ask for it or not, reward it. When you’re housetraining your puppy, and it goes to the bathroom outside on the grass, reward it with lots of praise.
A reward can be anything that your dog likes, including food, toys, the chance to see another dog, belly scratches, praise or attention. A reward really can be different depending on the dog, so it’s up to you to know what your dog will see as reinforcing. Make sure that the reinforcer is of high value (like soft and smelly food treats), so that the puppy will be eager to work for it. Over time, as your puppy gets older, you will begin to phase out the food rewards so that your dog will continue to work only for your praise, but while the puppy is young it is important that you reward often, and with the best reward you can muster up.
- Ignore Unwanted Behaviour
Puppies simply don’t understand what is expected of them, which is why we need to patiently show them. While rewarding often will help to make a good behaviour more likely, ignoring the bad behaviour will make the bad stuff less likely. In this case, I’m referring to attention-seeking behaviour, or behaviour that the puppy is doing simply so that we will turn our focus to it. An example of this is biting the pant leg, or barking at the door. If we ignore this behaviour, then the puppy will soon realize that their tactic for getting our attention isn’t working, and it will stop doing it. In many cases, if you ignore unwanted behaviour, the puppy will then grow tired of the activity, and calm down. What’s important here is to then reward the behaviour that we want, like sitting calmly, so that the puppy understands what is expected of it.
If this is a new concept for you, and you begin to ignore your puppy’s naughty behaviour, then the undesired behaviour may actually increase for a short time. This is how you know it is working. Seems backwards right? Your puppy will be frustrated because it’s usual method of getting your attention isn’t working, so it believes that it needs to try harder. What you need to do here is remain patient, and let your puppy learn that the bad behaviour will not be rewarded with your attention.
- Be Consistent
Dogs learn through trial and error. A dog will likely repeat a behaviour that resulted in something pleasant in the past. In dog training, repetition and consistency is the key to success. Your dog will learn the rules of the home if the rules are constant, and you continue to work on it throughout it’s puppyhood. If you continue to change the rules, then the puppy will be confused about what it is allowed, and not allowed, to do. So if you don’t want your dog going on the couch, don’t even let him up once. Set the rules from the moment that you bring your puppy home, and keep them consistent.
Try to keep your puppies eating, and exercise schedule regular. This will not only help to give your puppy a stable environment, but it will help you in the house training process, as you’ll be better able to anticipate it’s bowel movements.
Training your dog is as important as taking it to the vet, or feeding it a healthy diet. You have taken a young puppy away from it’s nest, a world that it naturally understands, and placed it in the human world. You can’t expect for it to understand how to live in this new world without any help. It’s your job to teach your puppy what is expected of it. Training is the way in which you and your new dog communicate, and you want it to be a trusting communication.
Enroll your puppy in training classes or invest in a private trainer. There are some amazing puppy classes at dog training facilities. These classes will help you to learn the basics of dog training, and will double as socialization time for your puppy, which is very important for puppy development. Many of the trainers at these classes are also more than willing to help you with any questions, or problems that you may be having around the house with your puppy. Make sure that you research their training methods before signing up for the class. You will want to find a facility that used reward based methods. Many facilities will let you audit a class before signing up, in order to get a better feel for what to expect in the class.
Remember to also train your puppy at home so that it understands that it needs to behave in all environments (not just in puppy class!). Make the experience fun and rewarding for you and the dog. Keep in mind that puppies have short attention spans, so training sessions should be kept short (10 minutes or so) and always end on a positive note, so that the puppy will be eager to learn next time. As your puppy grows older, it will be able to handle longer, and more in-depth, training sessions. Have patience when training your puppy, it’s just a baby, and it will likely take it a little bit longer than you expect for it to pick up on certain things.
The key to raising a wonderful, and well trained, dog is to start setting up a solid foundation in puppyhood. There are many things to consider when you bring home your new puppy, from nutrition to training techniques, and there are simply some things that people don’t tell you. I hope that this list of the 5 basics to puppy training will help you narrow your focus to make your life with your new puppy as smooth (and smile filled) as possible.