Congratulations on the new addition to your family. Becoming the owner of a puppy brings many rewards and some challenges as well. All puppy owners start out with good intentions to begin puppy training immediately, however, the cuteness factor of new puppies makes it difficult to hold them accountable to discipline standards. A new puppy receives a lot of attention from all members of the family who are often competing for puppy cuddling time with these adorable pets. Although it may seem that extra attention is needed and negative behaviors should be ignored in a puppy recently separated from its mother, just the opposite is true.
Positive attention is never wrong for any pet, but the best course of action for your puppy’s welfare and adjustment to your home is to help the puppy understand the rules of its new environment. There is no need to be harsh; hitting or yelling are never accepted or effective methods of training and no animal should be subjected to them. Firm voice commands and gentle correction is the most effective approach. Consistency is the key to success and all family members need to be in agreement regarding acceptable and unacceptable puppy behaviors and what rewards and consequences will follow.
Puppies have unbounded energy and are curious about exploring a new environment. Jumping, nipping, chewing, leash pulling, barking, whining, climbing on furniture or beds, begging and elimination in the house are all to be expected. It takes time, patience and consistency to train a puppy. Be careful not to overwhelm your puppy with too many rules at one time. Prioritize your training goals. Start with the most important behaviors you want to enforce and focus on those first. The following are some helpful training tips for developing positive habits in your new pet.
House Training: Positive reinforcement is the best tactic to use in house training a puppy. Take the puppy outside to eliminate first thing in the morning, every couple of hours during the day and last thing at night. Choose a spot outside and take the puppy to the same spot each time. The puppy will recognize the scent. Once the dog has eliminated, praise them or give them a treat. If you observe the puppy eliminating in the house, immediately say NO or STOP firmly and take them outside. If your puppy eliminates in the house unobserved it is too late for a consequence to be understood. Never rub their nose in it or hit them with a rolled up newspaper. It is ineffective as a training tool and instills fear. You want your puppy to trust and respect you, not fear you. Accidents are to be expected and it may take many months before your puppy is fully house trained. Be patient and consistent.
Crate Training: Crate training serves several purposes. One philosophy is that dogs will not eliminate in their own beds or dens, therefore a crate may be used to assist with housetraining, allowing an owner to control to some extent where and when the puppy eliminates. Crates are also used to restrict a dog from chewing or destroying household items and furniture when they are left alone. Crates assist with transportation, whether it is across town to a vet appointment or across the country to visit relatives, pets are safer in a crate while in any type of moving vehicle. If puppies are crate trained properly, most will come to view their crates as a safe, comfortable refuge to take a nap, sleep through the night, or to take a break from an active, noisy household. Crate training should be done in small steps for short amounts of time until your puppy becomes comfortable with being confined. Adding a soft blanket to the floor of the crate and placing some safe toys inside helps with the transition until your puppy enters the crate voluntarily. Crates should never be used for punishment.
Biting: Biting or nipping is normal puppy behavior. Teething and the need to chew is part of a puppy’s development. Another reason is the puppy is learning how to play appropriately. As with human babies, puppies are very oral and everything goes into their mouths and is chewed. A remedy for this behavior is to firmly say NO or STOP and immediately give the puppy an appropriate chew toy. Another tactic is to give your puppy a time out by stopping play and ignoring them each time they bite or nip. It is also helpful to channel the need to bite or nip into some games that provide oral stimulation such as fetch or tug of war. Your puppy will outgrow this behavior.
Chewing: Puppies chew because they are teething. Teething may last for about six months, and during this time you are sure to find something of value in your home that has been destroyed by your dog’s teeth. Expect that to happen. What you can do is puppy proof your home by storing in unreachable places objects that your dog can reach and may find appealing to chew. Close closet doors and place remotes, cell phones, wallets, shoes, books, pens, kid’s toys and other small objects out of reach. If you see your puppy chewing something unacceptable say STOP or NO and replace it with a toy. Be sure the toys you give your puppy are distinguishable from common household objects. There are dog chew toys on the market that resemble shoes or socks. The message your puppy may receive from these toys is that all shoes or socks are acceptable for chewing.
Jumping: Dogs jump in greeting, when they are excited or when they want attention. They are trying to get closer to your level of height to attract attention. Once again, voice commands and body language sends the message that jumping is not okay. Use the voice commands of DOWN, SIT or OFF and ignore your puppy until all four feet are on the ground, then pet and praise it. If the puppy jumps up again, remove your hands from the dog, stand up straight and repeat the commands. Do not respond until the puppy’s front paws are down and then give it attention and praise again. If your puppy ignores these commands turn your back on it forcing it to return to the floor. This will take much repetition until your pet learns that it will not receive attention unless all four feet are on the floor.
Barking: All dogs bark, but when the barking becomes excessive it needs to be controlled. The first step is to figure out why the dog is barking. It might be for attention, it may be to alert you to a visitor approaching your door, it may be because of hunger or physical discomfort or the problem could be simply boredom. First be aware of the possibility of hunger. Have you inadvertently missed a routine feeding time? Is there any indication that the dog is ill or injured? If you are sure your dog is in good health and well fed then it’s time to work on behavior modification. Use the voice command QUIET or HUSH and reward with verbal praise or a treat when the dog is quiet. If a voice command is not enough, distract with a toy and when the barking stops reward the dog immediately. Reward only when the dog is quiet, never to distract it from barking, as the puppy will then learn that it will be rewarded for barking. It is also important to make sure your puppy is getting enough exercise. Tired dogs usually do less barking.
Leash Pulling: We have all seen owners walking dogs that are pulling at the end of their leashes while dragging their owners along and wondered who was walking who. Puppies need to learn how to walk on a leash. Your puppy should walk beside you, rather in front of you pulling you along or behind you taking their time to slowly explore everything in their path causing you to tug the puppy along. Because of the high energy level of puppies it is difficult for them to walk at a slow or moderate pace. They usually prefer to run or race. Consistency again is the proven method. If your puppy is pulling, stop walking, use the voice command COME and wait until the puppy returns to your side. Praise or reward the dog with a treat. If your puppy is lagging behind, the command COME and a gentle tug on the leash might suffice. At times, it may be necessary to pick up the puppy and move it forward. Always reward the puppy for the desired behavior. Repetition brings compliance.
Begging: Puppies have a very strong sense of smell and the scent of food on the dinner table is enticing to a puppy’s senses. You should never feed your puppy scraps at the table. If you choose to give your puppy leftovers, it is best to put them in the puppy’s bowl as part of its dinner. If your puppy begs at the table, ignore it. Don’t look at it or speak to it and if it starts whining give it a time out by removing the puppy from the room. A child safe gate may be a wise idea to keep your puppy in another room during the dinner hour.
Most puppy training issues are solved by common sense methods. Patience, consistency, gentle correction and repetition can overcome most negative canine behaviors. Your puppy will respond to voice commands when used regularly and accompanied by positive reinforcement. Within a few months your puppy should learn and respond to the voice commands NO, STOP, WAIT, COME, QUIET, STAY, DOWN, OFF, GIVE, SIT and GOOD DOG.
There are two schools of thought on the type of training rewards to use. Some believe that only verbal praise should be used, others believe that treats as rewards work best. It depends on the specific puppy and its personality. If treats work best for your puppy, be careful not to consistently offer high calorie sweet treats. Healthier options are available on the market.
If you don’t have the time or energy to train your puppy yourself or if your efforts have been less than successful, there are many types of puppy training classes offered, as well as DVD’s, books, and programs designed to remedy specific problems available nationwide and online. Be aware that if you enroll your puppy in a dog obedience class, you are required to attend classes with them and need to follow through on the recommendations in between classes.
Once your puppy has been trained, the good habits should be life long. Take the time to do it right from the start and most importantly enjoy your new puppy.