He's the apple of your eye, the smile on your face and the story you love to share with family and friends.
But in addition to gushing and fawning over your adorable puppy, you must consider your plan for training him into the friendly, good-natured adult he'll grow to be. After all, it's no secret that the decisions you make today and the habits you ingrain in the coming months will have a profound long-term imprint on your impressionable pup.
The so-called sensitive period of development for puppies is between three and 12 weeks. This is a time when primary social relationships and emotional attachments develop between dogs and people and between dogs and other dogs.
By constructing a puppy-training strategy now, you can ensure your young canine blossoms into an adulthood marked by confidence and contentment. The proper training regimen enables a mischievous pup to master obedience, a nipping pup to understand that human flesh is off-limits and an accident-prone pup to learn to be housebroken.
The following seven tips represent vet-approved, battle-tested techniques for training your puppy:
1. Make Training Positive and Enjoyable
Training should be an enjoyable experience for you and your puppy. If you're not in the right mood for training nor feeling particularly patient, then delay the session.
Keep all training sessions upbeat and positive, avoiding negativity and punishment. Nothing is gained - and in fact much damage can be sustained - from yelling, hitting and other forms of negative reinforcement. The opposite of reward should not be punishment, but rather should be no reward.
End each training session on a high note by finishing with a command you know your puppy will obey, then reward him accordingly.
2. Housetraining: Invest Effort Now for Monumental Longterm Gain
Housetraining a puppy is like potty-training an infant: The more time and attention you invest up front, the more rapidly the end result will be achieved. By taking the time to properly housetrain your puppy prior to four months of age, you will save yourself time, energy and aggravation in the long run.
When your puppy enjoys a successful “bathroom run,” he must know he has done something that meets your vigorous approval. Showering your pup with praise, exuding excitement and offering him a morsel of delicious food all are appropriate reactions. Alternatively, when your puppy has an accident inside the house, you must avoid punishing the pup, but rather chalk it up to a learning experience and strive to improve your ability to anticipate the subtle signs your puppy exhibits before eliminating indoors.
With a consistent effort, a puppy can be housebroken within two-to-four weeks… and thus, your collective focus can be shifted to more enjoyable training endeavors.
3. A Crate Is Your Ally
There's undeniably a stigma attached to confinement. When our society perceives a crate surrounded with wire-framed walls, we think jail. As a puppy owner, however, you must learn to reshape this perception.
When it comes to training a puppy, a crate serves as one of your best assets. Not only does it aid considerably with the process of housetraining because dogs don't like to soil their immediate environment, but it also serves as a home-away-from-home or a comfortable retreat for when your puppy needs a break from the rest of the family.
By gradually confining your puppy in his crate without isolation when you're home and rewarding him with treats for entering his crate voluntarily, you can make it easier to utilize the crate when you leave the house. Ultimately, your puppy will learn to rest while crated, and that's exactly the way you want him to feel - at home, relaxed and comfortable in his own little den.
4. Master the Art of Leash Walking
Going for walks on a leash is a fundamental right and pleasure for most every dog. But how can you train your puppy so that you're walking him rather than vice-versa?
There are several ways to train a leash-pulling puppy to walk without pulling, but the common denominator, as in all training exercises, is simple: Appropriate behavior is rewarded while inappropriate behavior is not.
From the standpoint of leash-walking, the reward for walking properly is praise, an occasional treat and the walk, itself. However, you can withhold a walk from a leash-pulling puppy by stopping in your tracks and refusing to start again until the leash slackens. Once it does, praise your little pup and continue the walk.
5. Rewards Are a Dog's Form of Flattery
Puppies learn best when they receive exciting rewards for their efforts. Even the youngest and tiniest puppy will be enthusiastic about food treats and will be eager to work with you. Experiment to find you puppy's favorite reward, whether it's food, a tossed toy or a warm word of praise.
Ensure that your dog's motivation for reward is highest during a training session. If food is the reward, train before a meal, not after. If praise, petting and other aspects of your attention are to be used as a reward, schedule the training session at a time when your dog hungers for your attention.
Puppies, like children and even adult humans, learn best when they enjoy the learning process and receive something in return.
6. Timing Is Everything
As with many aspects of life, when it comes to puppy training, timing is everything. This theme holds true on several levels.
The timing of issuing a reward is important. When rewarding a puppy for a correct response to a command, the reward should be administered within 1/2 second of the command to ensure your dog draws the correlation between his behavior and his prize.
Moreover, timing also reigns supreme when considering the length of a training session. By keeping a training session short and sweet (within the 10-minute range or less), you'll have a far better chance of maintaining your puppy's motivation and attention span for the duration of the training.
7. Don't Isolate Your Pup Completely from the Outside World
While the need to avoid overexposing your pup until vaccinations are complete is legitimate, it must not come at the cost of isolating him altogether. The price paid for failing to adequately socialize your puppy can be steep, especially during the sensitive period of development.
Rather than accepting full-blown isolation, consult with your vet to assess the threats your puppy faces from possible exposure to infection. Perhaps the veterinarian might agree that limited contact with vaccinated dogs in safe locations is acceptable.
Another option involves hosting a “puppy party,” whereby people unfamiliar to your pup visit your home and take turns interacting positively with your young canine. Ideally, this type of arrangement occurs repeatedly throughout a pup's adolescence and involves a diverse array of people (different sizes, both genders and various races).
More Resources for Training a Puppy
Want more useful advice regarding training your puppy? Check out these articles:
How to Be a Good Puppy Owner
What to Expect from Your 12-week-old Puppy
7 Tips to Training Your Puppy