When it comes to Puppy Training always remember – You are the boss!
Dogs are social animals, and the society in which they live is stratified by a hierarchy based on rank. In the society of a dog that has been thoroughly socialized to both humans and other dogs, the members include humans and dogs alike. No dog can feel totally secure unless there is a distinct and definite “alpha” ranking, or dominant individual in the “pack” society. If you are not willing to establish yourself in the alpha position, then you might find your dog assuming that position.
The ramifications of this unhappy state of affairs are that your dog will never allow you to dominate it in any way. This may include urinating on you and other people, disobeying your commands, and threatening or biting you (and your veterinarian) whenever there is a need for restraint to facilitate necessary procedures. Now, as a breeder you will frequently need to control and handle your animals – whether the purpose is simple restraint, grooming, removing grass seeds, ear plucking, assisting birth, collecting semen, inseminating, dressing a wound, or what have you, you will often need to dominate your dogs in one way or another to effectively manage your breeding enterprise.
Many dogs are naturally subordinate by nature and will be more than willing to delegate natural authority to you. However, with others, you may assume you have a healthy relationship with your dogs, until the true state of affairs is revealed when your loving mutt snaps at you the minute a “need to control” situation arises. The problem can be difficult to remedy without a series of physical battles with your dog in which you come out the clear victor – that is, without having to beat your poor doggy up! Prevention remains the best approach here.
The only way to avoid this situation is to establish yourself as the clear leader of your pack right from when you first bring your puppy home. A trick I teach all my customers is to lay the puppy on its side gently on the ground and keep it there with your hands, reassuring it and telling it how good it is. Maintain this for a minute or so. Most pups will struggle against this restraint within this timeframe. When it does, keep holding it down and gently but firmly tell it to “lie down” or “be still” in a deep, warning tone of voice. As soon as it ceases struggling wait a few seconds and then warmly praise it and let it go. Repeat this several times a week so that the pup gets accustomed to the idea that it must succumb to restraint. It’s a lot easier to win the battle in a pup that in an adult dog!
The attention and care you put into the first few weeks of your puppy’s life with you will pay off handsomely in the long term. So, while it is likely to be busy and demanding, at first, keep your sense of humor and be patient, and things will go better for you and your pup. Begin teaching your puppy simple commands as soon as you get him home.
- Use a consistent command for each behavior you expect, so your dog doesn’t get confused. I use a combination of hand signals and voice or whistle commands.
- Set your dog up to succeed. When setting out to train your puppy, do so in a small enclosed area without major distractions so it will be easier for your dog to pay attention to you. Is Bozo an overenthusiastic youngster with energy to burn? Tire him out a bit before training so it will be easier for him to remain calm. Do you train with treats? Schedule your training sessions before meal time so he’ll be hungry.
- Use rewards to train your dogs – lots of pats and warm animated praise in a crooning tone of voice (“Gooooood dog! Gooooood doggie!”) plus – especially in early training- small yummy morsels (a small piece of cheese for example) pack a lot of leverage when it comes to instilling good behavior in dogs.
- Punishment should only take the form of growling if the dog refuses to obey – for example, if it starts to move after you have told it to STAY. If you bash your dog up for not doing what you asked, then chances are, it will not know why it is being bashed up and will instead grow fearful of you. This mistake is often made when people are trying to get a dog to COME, and all it wants to do is run around and play chasy! They chase it and when they finally catch it, bash it up! Not surprisingly, the dog is even less willing to COME on the next occasion as it fears being beaten up again. And so a vicious cycle sets in…
- Another secret to effective training is repetition. Through repetition, a dog develops understanding of the command, how it is expected to respond to it, and the pleasant reward it will get from obeying. Just spend a few minutes a couple of times a day and your puppy will rapidly learn anything if taught correctly.
- Be consistent. Don’t want Bozo on the couch on Wednesdays when Mom visits, but don’t mind him on the furniture during the rest of the week? Not gonna happen, my friend. Dogs just don’t get the “sometimes” rule. Be clear on what the house rules are for Bozo and make sure all members of your household stick to them.
- Only say it once. If your dog does not comply, don’t keep saying “Sit. Sit. Bozo sit! I SAID SIT!” Don’t teach your dog that you only mean it if you say it four times and very loudly. Instead of giving your cue more than once, move to a slightly different location and try again, or physically push him into complying (e.g. make him sit). If your dog still doesn’t comply, he is probably confused and needs a little help understanding what you want him to do. Once he does what is asked, even if you had to physically make him, remember to immediately reward him with positive feedback and a treat.
- Give lots of feedback. When your dog first learns a new skill, he is pretty much guessing what to do. You can help him out by letting him know when he guesses right. How do you do this? Pick a word or sound like “yes” or “good”. Say your word then give your dog a pea-sized yummy treat. Repeat this about 10 to 20 times. You’ll know your dog has caught on to the game when he hears the word and looks to you for the treat. Congratulations! You’ve just become a Dr. Doolittle and can “talk” with your dog in a language he’ll understand. Now when you train, say your word at the exact moment he complies with your command and then reward him. Only use your word if you can follow it with a reward like attention, play or treats.
- Catch him getting it right. Don’t be like many who only notice when their dog makes mistakes. Bozo pulls on the leash, they punish him. Bozo jumps up on them, they punish him. Bozo breaks his stay, they punish him. Have a clear picture in your mind of what “getting it right” looks like. Make it a point to always look for instances of your dog “getting it right” and reward him with praise, play, attention or treats for doing a good job.
Unless you are keenly interested in fully pursuing the training road, there are only a few things that you need to teach your dog by way of commands. I have found the most important to be: SIT, STAY, and COME. Whenever I hand out “SIT” is the foundation for all obedience. All other commands, learning and control branch from this one simple exercise. Even for those who don’t care to teach “formal” obedience, “SIT” will still be a valuable tool.
Consider what happens when you take your dog for a walk. Going for a walk is usually very exciting for a dog. Often, he will jump and prance and perhaps bark while you are getting the leash and collar. By this time, the dog has gone so crazy that applying the leash and collar becomes all but impossible. Instead, put a firm “SIT” command to this craziness before it gets out of control: “Bozo SIT!” Use firm, short words (don’t “ask”). Insist that the leash and collar will not go on a crazy dog. Your dog must get the message: “You must “SIT” before you go anywhere!”
Follow through by showing the dog what you want if he doesn’t comply immediately. Don’t forget to praise for a nice sit – even after you have made him do it. The sit will help to make him a thinking rather than a reacting dog. After you accomplish that, you can now attempt to go for that walk!
Now consider a dog who drags you toward the door, gasping and choking the entire way, jumps at the door, and rushes through the door as soon as you open it. This dog has no respect for you. Instead of allowing all the pulling and choking, insist again on a “SIT” by the door, along with a “STAY”. As leader, you must always be the one to go through the doorway first. After you have gone first, a cheerful release word “OK” signals that Bozo may follow. If you must lock the door, then another SIT should be required while the dog calmly waits to start the walk.
Jumping up on you or other people can also be controlled using “SIT”. We can teach “OFF” (or another word, if you wish), but we must also give your dog an alternative for jumping – one that will bring praise. And that magic “something” is SIT.
When your dog becomes excited or appears worried during a trip to the veterinarian or groomer (or wherever, for that matter), “SIT” can be the key to calm your dog and, again, get him to think rather than react.
So, practice “SIT” – quick, small, fun sits to start. Ask the dog to SIT or STAY before he gets any treat – whether it be for his meal, a treat or a walk – use every opportunity to enforce yourself as leader and instill respect. Then practice longer sits, or sits not so close to you (on the leash helps you to reinforce the command if the SIT doesn’t happen). Above all, “SIT” should always be praised and your dog must know that, in any unfamiliar situation, “SIT” will always make you happy. That is how you start to get respect and obedience from one simple command – “SIT”!
If teaching sit, have Bozo on a leash, say SIT, (you could also couple this with an accompanying hand signal, such as holding your hand palm down in front of you and sweeping it downward as you voice the command) and if she doesn’t sit immediately, push her back end down into a sitting posture. Do so until she remains sitting for a few seconds, then praise and reward her. Take her for a little walk around, and repeat the command, going through the same procedure several times each lesson.
For COME, you may pat your knee and crouch while calling her name, or the command “come”. Start again in an enclosed area, when she is not too far from you. When she complies, give her a small treat and lavish cuddles and praise. Repeat often, gradually increasing the distance you call her from. You may also use a particular whistle. A good way to reinforce good coming habits is to use your “come” command to call your dogs in at every mealtime. Don’t trust your dog to come in an open, public place until you are sure she has developed reliable compliance to this command in a confined place, and start by only letting her off for a short distance, gradually increasing it as she shows she is ready.
I make my dogs STAY at every opportunity. They must SIT and STAY successfully before I will put their leads on them for their beloved daily walkies. They must sit and stay at each roadside before we cross. When I get to the park or beach where they are allowed to run around free, they first must SIT and STAY, while I walk a short distance away, and wait till I give them a voice and hand signal that means they can go (I wave them forward and say “Off you go!”). Start by getting your puppy to stay for a few seconds, or while you move away by a few meters. When they succeed, reward and praise them. Gradually increase the time and distance, until they reliably comply even if you leave their sight for a little while. Eventually your dog will faithfully stay and wait for you outside the shops while you go in for the paper (even if I tie my dogs up, I still make them SIT and ask them to STAY – they have no other choice, but take every opportunity you have to reinforce the learning!).
A collar needs to be one of the first things you deal with when a new puppy comes home.
Purchase a cheap nylon buckle collar long enough to allow room for the puppy to grow and put it on your pup within the first day or two home. To avoid the pup getting a limb caught in the strange and at first uncomfortable collar, it should be fitted only loose enough to allow a couple of your fingers under it. In older dogs, the collar can be fitted a little more loosely. Remember to check it every week so that it does not become too tight as your pup grows.
At first your pup will try to remove the offending collar, and worry and scratch at it, and the leash is likely to cause even more trauma to begin with. The best training leash is a narrow two meter leather type with a hand loop on one end and a strong clip on the other. Leather isn’t apt to slip in the hands the way nylon and other fabrics do.
Introduce the leash by clipping it to the collar and allowing the pup to drag it around for a while, supervised so it does not come to grief. Then begin by holding the other end and introducing a little resistance. Hold firmly and quietly until all struggling ceases, then reward the pup and end the lesson.
Once the pup has given up fighting the leash, encourage it to follow you with vocal encouragement, gentle tugs, and perhaps a few tiny treats. Encourage him to remain by your side as you walk, and respond to digressions by getting his attention back to you. You can do this by changing direction or coaxing him with a treat. Keep it light and fun.
To teach walking manners to a puppy, clip leash to buckle collar, put toys or treats in your pocket, and coax the pup to remain near your side as you walk. Whistle, clap your hands, pat your leg, and praise as you go. If he loses concentration as a butterfly flits by or the neighbor’s cat entices him to chase, change direction, coax him with a treat, and get his attention back to you. Keep things bright and cheery – you want to teach the little dickens that being by your side is fun.
To teach older puppies and adults not to pull while on the leash use or a dog halter, prong collar, or a training chain-slip collar that tightens and relaxes in response to pulling. While training, remove any other collars as they interfere with the action of the training collar. When your dog walks without pulling, don’t forget to praise him. Start out by getting his attention by changing direction often while the leash is slack. If he pulls, give him a firm jank. Be persistent, consistent and determined to win! You may have to resort to a prong collar if he doesn’t respond. Failing that, consider enrolling in a dog training school.
Establishing good habits early on in housetraining your puppy is critical. Consider bringing your puppy home for the first time on a weekend so you have extra time to devote to settling in and housebreaking in those crucial first few days.
Your pup will not be reliably housetrained until it is about 6 months old, and if you are diligent in your training, will never eliminate in your house unless forced to do so by illness or excessively long confinement. However, if you at any time allow your puppy to eliminate indiscriminantly in your home, the bad habit will be hard to break without having to resort to time-consuming, tedious retraining at a later date.
Housetraining is much easier when the puppy’s meals, exercise and playtimes are on a regular schedule throughout the day, so work out a schedule for you and your puppy. What goes in at regular times will come out at regular times and be easier to manage! So don’t have food available at all times of the day – give your puppy 10 to 15 minutes to finish each meal, then take any leftovers away.
To establish good toileting habits in a pup, it needs frequent access to the toilet area. When you are at home, take your puppy there every 30 to 45 minutes immediately following a play session, eating or drinking, and upon waking. Be sure to offer enthusiastic praise and reward whenever he eliminates in the proper place. The more often you catch him doing it right and give him positive feedback, the quicker your pup will be toilet trained, so the more time you put into this early on, the better. Punishing him for mistakes can set his progress back – focus instead on noticing and reinforcing success, and minimizing the possibility of errors.
So, never allow your pup to roam the house unattended. When you are home to monitor him, either have him on a leash or confine him to a crate for gradually increasing periods of time, helping him to develop self control. Immediately after he has pooped and peed in his toilet area you can allow him supervised freedom for short periods in your home, but don’t let him out of your sight.
If you are not home or cannot tend to the puppy, then you must make sure he cannot make a mistake! Either confine him to a puppy-proofed room and line the entire floor with papers. Or if you live in a temperate climate you can put him outside in a small, secure and comfortable pen with good shelter from the elements. Ideally the pen will be surfaced with something like his toilet area and unlike the flooring in your home – dirt, grass, gravel or concrete. Put his bed, toys and food/water bowls there.
If using a room, replace the papers with clean ones when you get home. You will notice with time that he will begin to favor toileting in a particular area. Begin gradually removing papers from areas he never uses that are furthest away from his favorite spots. If he makes a mistake, you have been a bit too quick for him and need to go back to repapering a larger area or even the whole room. Once he is reliably using a small area of paper without mistakes, you can start moving the papered area to a corner, just an inch a day. If he makes a mistake, it means again you have progressed too rapidly and may need to go back to papering the room again. Just be patient! Over time he will become accustomed to toileting in a small papered area, and learn not use the floor.
With consistence and patience your pup will gradually develop better and better control of his bowels and bladder and become a successfully housetrained pet.
A sociable, friendly dog that is happy to meet new people, and unfazed by different experiences, is a product of two things – genetically predisposed temperament, and positive exposure and conditioning as a pup. You can get a good idea of the pup’s genetic or natural temperament from doing the Campbell tests. And you can do a lot to modify its natural temperament through thorough and positive socialization.
There is a narrow window of opportunity to successfully socialize your puppy that begins at 5 weeks of age and continues to 16 weeks of age (some say 12 weeks of age). As you will not be getting him home until he is 8 weeks old, that only leaves a very short period where you will have to make every day count if you want a psychologically sound dog for the rest of its life with you.
Your pup will not be completely protected from common infectious diseases until it receives its second vaccination at 12 weeks of age. Even so, it is strongly advisable that regular contact with other dogs is maintained right through the important imprinting period. A good option is to take your puppy to “Puppy Pre-School” which provides the opportunity for it to mix with other vaccinated pups in a disease-safe environment. Set up a few play dates with other people in your class, or ask the breeder you got him from if there are other clients with puppies in your area. Failing this, arrange visits to or from other vaccinated dogs in a clean (non-public) environment so your puppy grows up as a well balanced, sociable, and sexually normal member of the canine race!
Unless you want your puppy to grow into a savage guard dog or nervous wreck that freaks out at every new experience, person or animal, I strongly advise you to ensure that it gets plenty of positive contact of all kinds of during the imprinting period. Poorly socialized dogs often end up in dog pounds where their disposition makes them almost impossible to rehome.
If you are embarking on a successful dog breeding business, you will want your dogs to act warm and friendly to everyone who comes along to see them with a view to buying your puppies. That includes men with beards, people with glasses, little children, old folks, women, colored people – your list of potential clients includes everyone! So expose your pups to positive varied experiences with as many different kinds of folks and critters as possible while it is still young enough to imprint familiarity with them. It also includes experiences like rides in the car, noisy traffic, umbrellas, shopping carts, skateboarders, busy marketplaces, horses or any other animal your puppy will be exposed to as an adult dog, other dogs, swimming at the beach, etc. Sit outside a busy area with your pup, such as a shopping centre or library, and invite different kinds and ages of people to give your pup a treat and pet him. Do this gradually with only one or two people at a time so that he is not overwhelmed. Take him to your veterinary clinic just to him his favorite treats while you are there. Give him treats while you hang out near a busy thoroughfare where he can be exposed to a range of vehicular and foot traffic. There is an element of risk of disease in exposing your young pup to the world, so ask your veterinarian how you can minimize this risk for diseases that are prevalent in your area. Carry your pup through public places and other areas that may be contaminated with dog diseases such as dog parks, and don’t allow him contact with dogs whose vaccination status is unknown to you.
If your puppy is a type that needs grooming, make sure it gets plenty of exposure to the grooming experience from an early age. Give it a bath every few weeks starting with a few days after you bring it home and it has had a chance to settle in a little to its new abode. Praise and reassure it but brook no nonsense – if it resists you must always win by gently by firmly insisting on your way. But ensure the experience is short and as positive as possible. Offer lavish praise and encouragement, and always quit at a moment when your pup has behaved well. Puppy’s first experience with the clipper will hopefully have happened before you even bring her home. In any case, show the puppy the working clipper before starting the clip, reassure her, and – with help if necessary – carry through with the experience. It is wisest to make the first few lessons with the clipper as positive and non-traumatic as possible – don’t insist on doing a salon quality job, just focus on exposing your puppy to familiarity with being groomed without scaring them!