There are a lot of things that we think about when we get a puppy, and ironically we think of the least important things first. It might come as a surprise, but the vast majority of puppy owners tend to pay more attention to the perfect chew toy, the perfect bowl or the perfect doggy basket, trying their hardest to make sure that they get the perfect things for their pups.
This is not a bad thing, not in the least, however very few ask the question “what is the best training for my dog and when should it start?” which is by far the most important question of them all.
Without the proper training, and the proper training schedule, your pup will not be the dog that you have always hoped for, and to make matters worse even the smallest of mistakes might have devastating results in the long run. Learning to take care of your puppy is the first step, read all about it in our earlier article to give you more insight.
What is puppy training and why is it so important?
Dogs are a lot like us. They are intelligent, they learn, they adapt, they coexist with us, and they mimic us more and more with each passing day. And, just like in our case, education is of paramount importance. That being said, a good and timely education will lead to a great upbringing and an outstanding dog.
Puppy training is more or less the doggy equivalent of kindergarten, where the puppy learns the basics of being a house dog as well as obeying the master and his or her commands. The entire idea of this training is not only to acquaint the dog with the master but also to acquaint the master with his or her role in the eyes of the dog. Simply put, both you and your pup will begin training.
More and more countries around the globe have made puppy training mandatory, and masters are to start training their puppies under professional supervision as soon as the puppy is 9 weeks old.
That’s right, you as the master will be doing most of the training and the dog trainer will help you along the way.
The importance of this early training is quite relevant from multiple points of view. On one hand, the dog itself will benefit from it when it comes to personal development, on the other hand you will benefit from the early discipline effects and the dog being acquainted with the idea that you are the master, you are the pack leader, you point the way and he or she will have to follow.
The effects of incorrect training
Before moving on to what exactly must be done during this stage of training, you as the master must understand that this stage of your dog’s development is crucial and at the same time very fragile. Any mistakes made now will be reflected in your dog’s behavior throughout his or her life.
Among these negative effects is general disobedience and the dog’s desire to overthrow you as the pack leader, challenging you at every single step and never missing a chance to make things harder for you.
Another negative effect is adverse behavior when dealing with other dogs or people. That’s right, socialization plays a huge part in this training stage, and it might come as no surprise that it is because of this very reason that puppy classes are usually held in groups. Bad socialization means that your dog will grow to be either shy or aggressive towards other dogs and people.
Another very important thing that your dog is being trained to do is to understand and respect the relationship that he or she will have with you. This implies listening to you, following you, understanding your role as the master and obeying your every command.
Needless to say, bad training will cause the dog to undermine you, see himself or herself as being the pack leader instead of you and simply cause him or her to make your life harder and harder and harder as time goes by.
Certain more aggressive dog breeds benefit a lot from this stage of training seeing as it can and will influence their behavior significantly as well as determine if they will be dangerous dogs or not.
The first step
There is no “minimum” age requirement in order for you to start training your puppy, a general rule of thumb is the sooner the better however most experts advise around 6 – 9 weeks, and the very first thing that you have to do is establish your dominant role in the eyes of a puppy.
This is actually pretty easy to do because puppies are designed by nature itself to follow the pack leader, and the way in which you become the pack leader in your dog’s eyes is through confidence.
The more confident you are, the more the puppy will see you as a leader, and make no mistake about it, if the puppy senses that you are not confident enough he or she will then assume the role of pack leader, and it will all spiral downhill from there.
You will not only have to find your confidence, but you will also have to maintain it. It is easier with puppies however, your confidence levels play a huge part in being perceived as the pack leader by dogs of all ages, and they will be quicker to act up when they sense that your confidence levels are too weak, making the puppies much more forgiving in that respect.
The second step
This one is again very important, and it has to do with one of the biggest fears that a dog can have, the vet. The first visit to the veterinarian is crucial for your pup and it will dictate the way in which he or she will perceive the vet in the future.
Simply put, you don’t want to be fighting your dog every single step of the way and essentially dragging him or her to the vet for a routine checkup while he or she has made it his or her personal mission in life to escape the vet at all costs.
So the sooner the better, and make sure that you don’t make the mistake of bringing the dog to the vet only when there is something wrong with him or her. Regular checkups are a must, just like in our case, and if the dog realizes at an early age that a visit to the vet does not necessarily mean needles, pain and terror, it will be a lot easier to bring him or her in when something bad does happen.
You might think that this step is a waste of time, however imagine yourself fighting with a St. Bernard to bring him into the vet’s office and ask yourself if that is a far better way of spending your time and energy.
The third step
This is by far the one that you have undoubtedly heard hundreds of times when arguing as a kid with your parents in order to convince them to get you a dog, housebreaking. That’s right, food and water go in one end and will inevitably come out the other end; the question is whether this will happen inside or outside the house.
It goes without saying that we all prefer the latter, however things will not go this way from the very beginning. Dogs are naturally conditioned not to do their business inside their dens, however it takes about 3 months from birth until this conditioning kicks in.
This does not mean that you cannot do your part in educating your dog in this regard, and truth be told it will be a lot easier to house train your puppy because he or she already comes more or less with this mental programming.
Do beware that house training your dog while living in an apartment can prove to be a bit challenging because after you manage to convince the dog to no longer go in your apartment, you will then have to convince him or her to not go in the hallway, so expect a few complaints from the neighbors.
The fourth step
This one is by far the most ignored of all steps, mainly because people don’t really understand how important training your dog to properly walk beside you is. Here is the classic scenario, you see a person walking down the street with a dog on a leash, and the dog is all over the place.
The dog is tugging on the leash, trying to constantly pull forward, or trying to chase after things in different directions, moving all over the place and wrapping the leash around the owner’s legs, not paying any attention to the owner and trying to go his or her separate way.
There is nothing wrong with that dog, he or she is simply under the illusion that he or she is in charge of the walk and that he or she needs to guide the master and decide where they should go or what to do, when in reality that is not the case.
This is a case that is more frequently encountered, especially in the middle of the city because of all the distractions around the dog and the poor quality training that the dog has received.
The dog needs to walk alongside the master, constantly checking to see if the master is planning to change directions so that he or she can follow closely. Not only that but the dog has to be able to ignore the vast majority of distractions and focus mainly at what the master is doing.
Truth be told, you will not get your puppy to do this, not on the very first go at least, but with adequate practice and with the trainer’s guidance you will learn the correct techniques and how to handle the dog while on a leash. You might even want to try off-leash training for you dog, which you can read in our post under Behavior & Training.
The fifth step
This is the fifth and final step of this training section, and it covers something that people don’t usually pay attention to when dealing with puppies, especially very young ones, and that is, basic commands.
Indeed, your dog has to be trained from an early age to respond to some basic commands like coming when called, stopping and the list goes on.
This helps the puppy in multiple ways, first and foremost is the fact that the dog itself learns some basic commands which help him or her figure out what you want easily, second is the fact that it cements your role as the pack leader in the puppy’s eyes, and with enough practice your dog will not only get used to receiving commands from you but will also grow to expect them and even anticipate certain ones.
By far the most annoying basic command that you will have to teach your puppy is to respond, meaning that the puppy comes to you when you call him or her.
The reason behind this rather elevated level of annoyance is the fact that the only truly decisive factor here is time. Your dog will learn his or her own name and respond to it however this will happen in time and there is no way of speeding up the process.
Stopping is the second most important command that you will have to teach your dog, however you should get on that one right away for your household’s sake. To put it simply, puppies will chew everything in sight, from chew toys to footwear, from furniture to stuffed animals, if the puppy can get even the tiniest grip with his or her mouth, the puppy will gnaw it beyond recognition.
Needless to say that you will want to stop the puppy from doing that, and the stop command is the obvious way to go.
The next command on our list is not only the byproduct of the aforementioned stop command, it is also a good way of giving the puppy something to do rather than hunt down your remote control and chewing it beyond repair. That command is actually the “get your toy” command, and it is actually a little bit trickier than you might initially think.
In order to pull this one off, you will have to find out what your dog’s favorite toy is, and more or less exploit it.
Keep drawing your dog’s attention to the toy by playing with it yourself. Throw it around, juggle it, or simply point it at him or her and jiggle it slightly.
By repeating the “get your toy” command every time you do this, the dog will ultimately memorize the command and associate it with this toy, making him or her pounce on that toy and chew the living daylights out of it.
What to avoid at all costs
Even though this is theoretically the stepping stone to your dog’s training, there are still a lot of mistakes that can be made here, and any mistake that is made in this stag will be reflected through your dog’s behavior for the rest of his or her life.
The first big mistake that you can make is attempting to use food and treats to train your puppy. This is a mistake because the puppy will understand that he or she will have to work with you for the sake of the treat and not for the satisfaction of working with you, not to mention the fact that the puppy will not do as he or she is told unless he or she is hungry enough to want the treat.
The second big mistake is losing your patience. Training a puppy can and will get a bit hectic and it will require you to invest a lot of time and energy into your pup.
That being said, even though you will be tempted to seek out shortcuts and ways to accelerate the training, you should know that there is no quick way about it. It takes the time it takes and instead of investing your time and energy looking for quicker ways of training your pup you might as well put it into actually training your pup. Read our tips on tricks on clicker-training Buster to help you in your obedience training.
Last but by no means least, one of the worst things that you can do is actually hitting the puppy. Not just because of the fact that you should not hit an animal in general, especially a puppy, but mostly because of the way in which the puppy sees this clear sign of aggression towards him or her.
It is aggression such as this one that causes dogs to grow up more aggressive and more dangerous than others, so do practice restraint and hold back, no matter how slow, stressful, tedious or otherwise unpleasant certain aspects might become.
Remember that behind that pair of puppy dog eyes lies a wellspring of love and dedication that only your dog will be able to provide you with, so take the time and put in the energy to train your pup and help him or her reach his or her potential.
Check out our piece and read what dog breeds are easy to teach – it’s an eye opener.