While it is not entirely true that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, it is significantly harder to retrain a dog who has already learned some bad habits than it is to ingrain good behaviours into a young puppy.
This is why, once you bring your puppy home, it is best to start training them as soon as possible. Not only will this help reduce the number of puppy accidents that happen on your rug, but it will also help you build a positive relationship with your pup and put you well on the way to having a happy, friendly, well-behaved furry friend.
1. To recognize and respond to their name
This is training that can start as soon as your pup comes home. Try to only use their name when talking to them, which will help them differentiate that particular set of syllables as being more relevant to them than the rest of our human babble.
Most importantly, make their name a positive association for them by only using it in praise and as part of a reward system. Yelling at and/or verbally chastising a dog is never a good idea for a variety of reasons, and one of them is that it teaches a dog to associate their name with fear, punishment, and generally negative things.
That dog is then more likely to hide when they hear their name, rather than coming when called. A dog who knows and loves their name will be much easier to train as time goes on.
2. How to interact with people
Even with breeds who are renowned for their friendliness and sociability, like popular poodle hybrids, training them to interact with people – socialisation – is crucial. This means, first, training them to trust you, their owner, by associating yourself with positive things like cuddles, treats, and games.
Remember that dogs respond best to positive reinforcement – praise and treats immediately following a desired behavior – rather than negative reinforcement, or punishing undesired behaviors.
Additionally, what humans might think of as a punishment, like a stern talking to, the dog might perceive as a positive thing, because they are getting attention from their owners. Applying this mindset to socialisation, having visitors bring treats that they give your dog when he responds calmly to their presence will teach your dog how to be a friendly but not overly enthusiastic welcome committee.
3. Bite inhibition
This is just the fancy wording dog trainers use for everyone’s favorite puppy trick, Not Biting. Puppies have a natural inclination to nip during play, both with humans and other dogs.
For a play nip, one option is to imitate the same dissuasive technique the dog’s mother or littermates would use, which is to let out a loud, high-pitched yelp. For some puppies, though, this just gets them more worked up, and the best option is to end playtime until they calm down – which should be rewarded with treats and praise.
In general, ending playtime and denying attention is one of the best ways to get a puppy to stop biting. It is also a good idea to substitute the thing they should not bite – your fingers and toes – with something that is okay to bit and chew on, like a toy or rope. Eventually your puppy will learn that biting only the toy means playtime can continue – and puppies love playtime.
Read more on: How to stop a dog biting people: 6 expert training tips
4. How to wear a collar or a harness
This is just the first step in leash training a dog, but it is one that people often overlook. Some owners assume that a collar or a harness will not bother their dogs because they are so light or loose, but puppies need practice for all new experiences.
Choosing a collar or harness will depend on the breed of your dog, their general behavior, and also their own comfort and preferences, so feel free to try multiple types on your puppy, and remember you can always switch it up later, but that will probably mean repeating this step. Whatever your puppy’s first set-up, though, it should be adjustable, so they are already used to it as they grow and do not have to constantly re-adjust to a new feel harness feel.
The best way to get a puppy excited to wear their collar is to make collar time playtime and treat time as well. Hopefully this will not take long, but some puppies may be more uncomfortable in the harness than others, and may need more positive reinforcement about collar time before they are ready to introduce a leash into the equation.
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5. How to wait for what they want
Puppies, like humans, struggle with patience, but training them to wait calmly for treats and other rewards will make them much easier to live with and also help them be happier and less frustrated when they do not receive instant gratification.
There are a lot of easy ways to train this skill in the midst of daily routines, like holding their food bowl above your dog’s head and lowering it to them every time they sit down, and raising it back out of reach as soon as they get overexcited and come out of their sit. This can feel mean, like teasing, but learning how to sit patiently and wait for the good things to come will make both your dog and your lives’ much easier and happier in the long run.
Dog training can feel daunting, but it is also a ton of fun, and the best way to build a good relationship with your puppy and set them up for long-term success as a dog that everyone loves to have around. It will take a lot of patience and liver treats, but starting early with these skills will help your dog grow up to be both happy and well-behaved – which is the outcome you both want.
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