Puppy Training: Starting Off On The Right Paw

The summer is a great time to add a furry family member to your pack. If you are considering a puppy, there are a few key things you can do to get them started with puppy training. It’s easier to teach good manners from the onset than having to untrain bad habits. Putting in the work up front will help your puppy be a good family member later on.

A young pup needs a lot of guidance, with clear expectations and communication. Discussing with your family ahead of time what the expectations will be and how you will communicate them to your puppy can help everyone be on the same page. Will your dog be allowed on furniture? What are their boundaries in the house? What words and actions will you use to communicate what is expected from them? How will you reward them for performing good behaviors? Your exact methods should evolve as your dog ages, but consistency among family members will help produce reliable results in your pup’s behavior.

Chewy makes a friend.

Here, Chewy is meeting new friends at the dog park. Being socialized around new dogs as a puppy has helped him to make new dog friends more easily.

When it comes to puppy training, there are some key items that you can do to set your dog up for success. The first step is to expose them to as many circumstances and environments as possible while they’re still young. The social imprinting phase in puppies lasts until about 20 weeks of age. This means that during this timeframe you should expose them to everything they may interact with as an adult dog: other animals, new people, and different environments such as the vet clinic, parks, or boarding facilities. Once your puppy has received its full series of vaccinations, puppy classes can be a great socialization opportunity. Practice handling exercises, like trimming your pup’s nails, cleaning his ears, and looking at his teeth. Keep socialization experiences short, and always end on a positive note!

The next step in puppy training is to pay attention to how we are communicating with the puppy. Encourage your puppy to focus on you and other family members. When they look to you for direction, they gain confidence in experiencing new situations. Give your pup both physical and verbal direction to encourage desired behaviors. Dogs are masters of reading body language, so use physical cues to give meaning to words and commands. Praise when the desired behaviors are displayed, and withhold attention when the behavior is broken. Be careful not to give too much attention to undesired or bad behaviors, as puppies have trouble differentiating between positive and negative attention. You can use body language or physical cues to request the desired behavior instead of repeating verbal commands the pup is unsure of. Immediately praise them when desired behaviors are displayed again. Rewards can be as simple as verbal praise or petting; if treats are used too frequently they will become an expectation. This means your dog will be less likely to perform the requested behavior without a treat in the future. Imagine your puppy bolts out of the front door and has only been asked to come with treats: retrieving them could prove quite challenging!

Jiggy on a leash.

Jiggy hanging out in the garage being socialized around the outside world. She’s wearing a leash for safety.

Puppies have a lot of energy and often get into trouble if left to their own devices. Structured exercise like leash walking and play sessions can be a good way to burn excess energy. Puppy training at a young age can make it easier for yourself in the long run. While you may be able to physically control your 10-pound pup, it may be more challenging if he turns into an 80-pound dog. Even if you are exercising your puppy in a fenced-in area, you should still use a leash as a communication tool to show where you want them to go. It also makes retrieving them a bit easier than a “game of chase.” Enrichment activities can teach puppies problem-solving skills and confidence. Hiding treats around their environment for them to find or using puzzle toys are ways to engage their mind as well as their body. Teaching new commands can also be mentally challenging. 

Puppy training requires complex behaviors to be broken down into smaller pieces. When a puppy is really excited, sitting and staying may be too much to ask of them. In this case, we would want to reward each step:

1) the puppy stops running around & focuses on you

2) the puppy is not jumping & has all four paws on the ground

3) the puppy’s rear touches the ground even for a moment

4) the puppy remains sitting for a few seconds

5) the puppy remains sitting as you take a few steps away

6) the puppy stays while you are a few feet away

7) the puppy stays until you release him with a “come” or “free” command

Housebreaking can be the most successful when it’s built into everyone’s routine. The younger the puppy, the shorter amount of time they can hold it; for example, an 8-week-old pup can only wait 2 hours between trips outside, while a 16-week-old puppy can wait up to 4 hours. Puppies should be confined to a small area, like a crate or laundry room, when left alone. Be sure they are taken out immediately before and after you return home. Teach a command like “go potty” when they are outside. Be sure to praise heavily for successes. When you are home with them, supervision is the key to success. When a puppy wanders off or starts sniffing an area intently, it can be an indication that they need to go out. If they have an accident, immediately take them outside and give the “go potty” command. Punishing a puppy for eliminating in the house can be counter-productive. It can create fear in the puppy, and they may be less likely to “tell” you they need to go out in the future. Building good communication patterns when they are young will carry over for the rest of their lives.

Puppies are a reflection of the time and effort their people put into working with them. Remember, consistent work with puppy training now will help them develop into a balanced, happy family member for many years to come.

Feel like you need more guidance? Give us a call and we’ll be happy to go over your questions.