Professional dog trainers start puppy training on the right foot (or paw) by using some basic fundamentals such as: puppy crate training, techniques to stop puppy biting and an understanding of the puppy’s instinctive behavior to make the road to housebreaking a puppy much easier.
Puppy Training Tips
It’s an exciting time in your life and an exciting time in your puppy’s life. But before we get started talking about puppy training, let’s make sure that your new puppy falls into the definition of what we in the professional dog training community actually consider a puppy: Any young dog between 5 weeks and right around four months of age. Although it can be up to 5 1/2 months for some of the larger breeds that take longer to mature. You’ll know when your puppy has reached social maturity at around the time when his or her adult teeth start to come in. Which, for most puppies, is right around four months of age.
So, if your new puppy already has his adult teeth… good news! You’re ready to jump right into formal training, as your dog is now mature enough to understand a little more of what you’re asking. Or, put another way: Your puppy’s memory for association is now 7 to 9 seconds, and you’re beyond what we typically define as “puppy training”.
What Is Puppy Training?
I’ve trained many puppies and have coached literally thousands of puppy owners. What surprises most people is how limited the goal of your puppy training should actually be. Your goal is to:
1. Your puppy training should prevent your puppy from picking up bad habits (like puppy biting) by including puppy crate training
This means: Your puppy is like a baby. If you can’t keep one eye on your puppy at all times, then he needs to be in his play-pen or crate. I.E. Someplace where he cannot learn bad habits or get into trouble. Or put something in his mouth that he shouldn’t.
2. Puppy training means exposing your puppy to as many different environments and different types of stimulation as you possibly can.
There is a tug-of-war between dog trainers and veterinarians: Dog trainers want you to take your puppy out into the world and expose him (within reason) to as many different things as possible. Make every new experience for your puppy a positive one, and a game. Fun! Fun! Fun! New people, places and things are nothing but fun. On the flip side of the coin, your veterinarian doesn’t want you to take your new puppy out into the world, at all. There are all kinds of nasty bugs he can pick up, one of the most risky being the parvovirus, which is highly contagious and can result in death! But if you keep your new puppy locked in the house for the first four months of his life, you’ll be missing out on some critical stages (more on critical stages, in my book, “Secrets of a Professional Dog Trainer!”) when a small amount of exposure will have a lasting effect on your dog– for the rest of his life! What I recommend is to take your puppy out into the world, but make sure he isn’t around other dogs or in areas where other dogs may have been. And especially: Keep him away from other dogs’ feces.
3. Build associations to behaviors that will become part of your everyday training.
This includes crate training, but also building associations with what will be the formal commands, later in your puppy’s life: Sit, down, come, heel and stay/take a break/free. Use food or a toy at this age. Once those adult teeth start to come in, you will be able to integrate leash corrections and start insisting that your dog obey commands. But at this stage, everything should be built around either the cookie or the toy– as we want to create a positive association with all commands and behaviors and our goal is to just build recognition of what those commands mean.
Housebreaking A Puppy Is Easier When You Pick The Right Puppy To Begin With
In my opinion, you can eliminate 80% of any potential behavior problems by simply choosing the right puppy. First, be honest with yourself and choose a breed that fits with your lifestyle. Choosing a puppy that will be a member of your family for the next 10-20 years is not a decision to be taken lightly, or one that you should make on a whim. Keep your emotions in check. In my book, I talk about a number of different “puppy tests” you can use to tell if the breeder you’re considering buying from is a good one or not. Remember: You are the customer. Just because you may not have as much experience with dogs as the breeder, you still have a right to ask questions, tour the facility and evaluate the breeders goals and objectives. Do not take questionable explanations on face-value. I’ve seen breeders with allegedly good reputations keeping puppies in deplorable situations. So… do not purchase a puppy based on reputation!
Visit the kennel if you can. Use your eyes and ears. Is everything clean? Will the breeder let you interact with the parent dogs? Do the adult dogs seem sound and well-balanced? Are the puppies clean?
Even when choosing from the guard dog or herding dog breeds (which have a reputation of being aloof) … I like to see the parents of the puppy I’m considering to show an outgoing, happy, balanced and solid temperament.
Puppy Training Socialization Myths
One of the biggest myths associated with puppy training and puppy socialization is that: You need to socialize your puppy with other puppies and dogs. You don’t. It’s a myth.
If your puppy was taken from the litter at eight weeks of age, then he’s already gone through the critical stage where he’s learned dominant and subordinate behavior from the other puppies in the litter and from the adult dogs in the pack (usually the mother). Further “socialization” with other dogs before one year of age can cause permanent set backs. If your dog submits to another puppy or dog, but that other dog does not stop dominating your puppy– there’s a good chance that your puppy might begin to display dog aggression, later in life.
Dog Trainer Lynn Stockwell adds: “I see where you’re coming from and agree wholheartedly, but would probably add that occasional supervised encounters with well-mannered adult dogs aren’t a bad idea. It can help the pup learn how to approach and greet other dogs appropriately, rather than the leash-taut, full-frontal head-on meeting that comprises most dog-to-dog interactions today. Because it’s supervised, the two can be separated quickly if necessary, and a good adult dog will be able to properly school the puppy without going overboard, if there is a minor social indescretion.”
“For people with a dog already looking to add another puppy, to keep them separated permanently like that for a year just seems a bit overbearing. It’s the right idea, since the puppy has to bond with the owners first rather than letting the resident dog raise the puppy (as in the “We’ll get him a puppy to keep him busy and play all day” mentality), and you’re definitely right that bad experiences as a puppy can set it up for major issues later, but occasional supervised interaction with a calm adult dog shouldn’t hurt things.”
Adam replies: “It does seem that way, I agree. But consider the following two points:
1. How many times have you heard people say, “Wow! My dog’s NEVER done that before?”
2. Your average dog owner doesn’t have the experience or skill level to tell if another dog in the neighborhood is going to necessarily be the type of dog that won’t: get over-stimulated, over-correct or just otherwise over-dominate your puppy.”
“For the average dog owner it’s not worth the risk, in my opinion.
But people will make their own decisions, so– it comes down to whatever level of risk the owner is comfortable with… as long as they are aware of the risks. But from a professional dog trainer’s perspective, we’re seeing dogs every day that have problems as a result of “puppy training and socialization classes”. When I was working with Israeli dog trainer Alon Geva in the Bay Area of California, a big part of his business was people who had gone through the puppy training classes of a fairly-famous S.F. dog trainer who was well-known for her puppy program. Many of these dogs ended up with the very same problems that the program was supposed to prevent. And a post-training interview usually revealed the exact incident.”
“Now, if the “other dog” is also my dog– then I’ll let the two interact on a very limited, ultra-supervised basis until four months of age. After four months of age I will let them hang out together, if the puppy is one that isn’t “on” 100% of the time and I’m raising the puppy as a house pet. But I’d still keep them separated during the day, for the first year of the puppy’s life, otherwise you will end up with separation issues, when the older dog is removed from the home (death, surgery, vacation, etc…) But more importantly, the dog’s primary role is to bond with the owner– not the other dog. There’s no way you’re going to compete with the other dog, if he’s spending 8+ hours a day with one-on-one interaction with your puppy. Will this matter to the average dog owner?”
“What I’ve seen (consistently) is that: Within the professional working dog TRAINER community is that: No emphasis is placed on puppy socialization. Their dogs aren’t any less for the wear, because of it.”
How To Teach Your Puppy His Name
Training your puppy to recognize his name is easy: Every time you pick up a toy, shake it and call his name. When he runs over to you, praise him. When you have a cookie, do the same: Call his name, and then reward with the cookie. I’s really just that easy!
Why Puppy Crate Training Is Absolutely Necessary
Ask any professional dog trainer and they’ll tell you the same thing: They wouldn’t dream of raising a puppy without a crate. Not only does it make your life 1000X easier, but it’s also gives the puppy a safe, secure place to be when you can’t keep an eye on him. With the crate, you can rest assured that he’s not chewing through your electrical wiring, tearing up your baseboard or learning how to dig holes in your carpet. Use the crate the same way you would use the crib for a baby. Can’t keep one eye on your puppy when the phone rings, when the tea pot blows or when somebody knocks at the door? Put him in the crate. At night, when you go to bed? Guess what… both eyes are closed: So, put your puppy in the crate.
Let me be clear: The crate is never, ever used as a form of punishment. It is not a “time out” for your puppy. It is a safe place, just like a crib or playpen for a baby would be used.
If your puppy is 7 or 8 weeks old, you basically want to just redirect the puppy biting behavior towards a toy or chew bone. If your puppy is simply in an ultra rambunctious state, the first thing to do is to take him outside. This type of behavior frequently indicates that your puppy needs to eliminate. (And yes… even if you just took him out and he didn’t have to go!) If you’re sure that it’s not because he needs to eliminate and you instead feel that he’s just in a rambunctious state, then by all means: put him in the crate. Like I said, above: this is not punishment.
If your puppy is biting, sometimes what will work is if you quickly bend the lips around the teeth of the puppy and say “No.”… so that the puppy learns that if he bites you, the response is something that doesn’t feel good. Just beware that you don’t let this turn into a game.
If your puppy is a bit older… approximately 12 to 16 weeks-old and you’re still having problems with puppy biting, you can use a small, light pinch collar and tab (a 3/4′ leash) (consult my book for the proper sizing, fitting and technique) and give a light (caution:light) tug on the leash. Your puppy is smart. He will not continue to do a behavior that does not feel good. This technique always works: Just use common sense, read your dog, and be careful not to over-correct. At the same time, make sure that the correction IS motivational. I.E., if the puppy keeps doing the behavior, that’s usually a good sign that your correction isn’t motivational.
Most likely, depending on your puppy’s age, he’ll grow out of it even if you don’t do anything. But this also depends on the temperament and breed and how serious the puppy biting is.
Check out our puppy training section to learn more about my approach to puppy training.