Basic Training

Every dog wants to be a "good dog" -- help your dog be the best she can be with our training tips.


+ enlarge image "I'm ready to learn!"

Preventive training means preventing undesirable behavior from occurring, rather than punishing your dog after the infraction. The best way to prevent problems is by monitoring your puppy at all times, except when he is in his crate. If your puppy doesn't get a chance to develop bad habits, training is quicker and easier; there are no bad behaviors to undo.

Dogs are social animals with an instinct to follow a hierarchy. Preventive training establishes you as the "pack leader" when you encourage or discourage behavior. Spending so much time with your puppy and paying close attention to him also strengthens the bond between you.

Keep these hints in mind when trying preventive training with your puppy:

  • Supervision. The key to preventive training is constant supervision. Keep your puppy in a fenced-off area of your home; have plenty of chew toys to appease chewing urges; and watch your pet closely. When you cannot devote your full attention to your puppy or you have to leave home, place him in his crate.
  • Tone of voice. Dogs listen to your tone of voice when deciding how to respond. High-pitched tones are great for motivating your puppy for example, when encouraging her to come when called; they convey excitement. Calm and direct middle range tones are perfect for commands. Lowered tones convey displeasure and warning, much like a maternal growl.
  • Eye contact. You and your dog can exchange loving glances through direct eye contact. A long stare is also an effective backup to vocal tone when correcting your puppy -- it tells your dog, "No more fooling around."
  • Body language. No matter how irresistible he is, do not reach out for your puppy when he comes near. To reinforce your position as pack leader, let him approach you; praise him for his good behavior when he does. Remember, though, you are (at least for now) much larger than your pet, so you may be an intimidating figure. If he seems reluctant to come close, squat down on his level and encourage him to come to you.
  • Discipline. Hold your puppy's collar and say "No!" firmly when you need to correct her behavior. Try to redirect your puppy to constructive behavior after you make the correction. For example, if you see your puppy chewing on a forbidden object, give your dog one of her chew toys once you have corrected the inappropriate chewing. Never yell at, grab, or hit your dog; it will only instill distrust and fear of you. Use direct eye contact, tone of voice, and body language to add muscle to your verbal correction.
  • Be positive. Your puppy looks to you for guidance when encountering new and potentially scary situations. Comfort your puppy with a cheerful, brisk attitude that lets him know that you are not afraid and he does not need to be, either. Offering a puppy a few pieces of dry food can be a pleasant distraction from a frightening experience.

House-training

House-training is a defining moment in your relationship with your dog. Since elimination is a way to mark territory, teaching your dog where to eliminate confirms that you are the one in control.

There are three types of house-training. Which you choose depends on your living situation. You can outdoor-train, paper-train-then-outdoor train, or litter-train (small dogs only).

It is easier to train a puppy to eliminate outdoors without the detour of paper-training. However, some apartment dwellers or others in special circumstances may not be able to get outside as often as necessary for outdoor-training a young puppy. In this event, paper-training can be an important intermediate step to full house-training. Litter-training is a viable option for someone with a small dog who has limited access to the outdoors. Look in pet supply stores for dog litter systems for dogs less than 35 pounds.

Whatever type of house-training is right for you and your dog, you will need patience, persistence, and a good training plan. Stick with it. Your puppy wants to please you; as soon as she understands what you want from her, she will try to do it.

Outdoor Training

Here are the most important elements of successfully training your dog to eliminate outdoors:

  • The designated spot. When taking your dog out to eliminate, take him to the same place each time, and say the same thing (pick a command, like "Go potty" or "Do your business").
  • Frequency. Take your puppy out to eliminate often. Puppies do not yet have the bladder control older dogs have. As soon as she has eliminated, go back inside and reward your puppy by playing with her (remember, attention from you is the best reward).
  • Regular schedule. A regular feeding, drinking, and elimination schedule is crucial to efficient house-training. Feeding times should be consistent and will set the agenda for your schedule. About 15 to 20 minutes after a meal, take your dog outside to his elimination spot. Remove water a couple of hours before your dog's bedtime to reduce the need for late-night walks.
  • Confinement. Restrict your puppy to a fenced-off area of your home, like the kitchen, where you can watch him closely. Keeping your puppy confined to a relatively small area also discourages soiling; being den animals, dogs do not like to soil their playing and sleeping areas. (See the next page, "Crate Training.")
  • Observation. The more time you spend with your puppy, the easier it will be to recognize the signs of a need to eliminate. Your puppy may head for a certain corner or go toward the door, for example. Once you know the signs, you can react quickly and take your dog out immediately.
  • Leashing. Always put a leash on your puppy when going outside to eliminate. A leash allows you to direct your dog to her elimination spot and to see that your dog has eliminated.
  • Praise. Make praise your dog's favorite reward. Lavish praise on your puppy every time he relieves himself outdoors, particularly in the designated elimination spot.
  • Accidents. Accidents are inevitable and part of the learning process. When your puppy has a lapse in judgment, hold her collar, say "No!" firmly and immediately take her to the elimination spot. Do not yell at, hit, or punish your puppy for her mistakes.

Paper Training

If you need to take the interim step of paper-training your puppy, follow these easy guidelines. Keep in mind that the less opportunity a puppy is given to eliminate indoors, the quicker he will be trained to eliminate outdoors.

  • Confine your dog to a fenced-off area, like the kitchen, and cover the entire floor with several layers of newspaper.
  • As your puppy soils the paper, remove and replace the soiled paper.
  • In a few days, leave a corner of the room uncovered. If you observe your puppy eliminating in the uncovered area, hold onto his collar, say "No!" firmly and place him in the covered area.
  • When you are ready to house-train outdoors, start at the beginning of that training process. Some people will bring a newspaper outside for a time or two, to help the puppy grasp what you want her to do.
  • As soon as your puppy appears to understand what is expected of her outdoors, remove all the papers. While making the transition from paper to outdoor-training, watch your dog carefully and respond promptly at the first indication of need. And never, ever leave newspapers on the floor of your house again.

Crate Training

+ enlarge image Giving your dog her own bedhelps keep her off yours.

Dogs in the wild are den animals. Those instincts are in your puppy, so giving him a crate is like giving him his own personal den. A crate provides a secure, comfy retreat from the household hubbub and a safe place to stay while you are away from home. Puppies are reluctant to soil their den, so being confined in a crate is a great way to prevent training accidents.

You can also have a bed for your dog in another room, such as in your bedroom or a child's.

  • Choose the correct-size crate for your puppy. A dog should have enough room to stand up, stretch, turn around, and lie down in her crate. If there is too much room, however, your dog will be tempted to use one end as an elimination spot. For large breeds, you may have to purchase two crates, a small one for the puppy and a larger one to accommodate your dog's growth; or, you can partition off part of a larger crate.
  • Do not put food and water into the crate; your puppy's bladder and bowels will fill up and he will have to eliminate in the crate.
  • To train your dog to go into the crate, designate a single-word command like "Kennel!" or "Crate!" State your command firmly and toss a piece of dry dog food into the crate. When your puppy enters the crate, praise him and close the crate door. Leave your puppy in the crate for 15 minutes, to start, and gradually increase the time so that your puppy learns how to behave while you are away.
  • No puppy (or adult dog) should spend most of her time in a crate. A few hours is the maximum time a puppy should be crated, though much will depend on the personality and age of your pup. Calculate your puppy's approximate crate time limit by adding 1 to how many months old your puppy is. For example, if your pup is 2 months old, she can tolerate 2+1 hours, or 3 hours, of crate time.
  • As your dog matures, you will learn how much crate time she is comfortable with. Some dogs can happily be crated while you are at work and other dogs can only handle several hours in a crate, particularly if they are also crated at night.

Behavior Basics

+ enlarge image Training makes all the difference between gooddogs and bad.

During your puppy's first six months she will be most inclined to look to you for guidance. Training turns your dog into a reliable companion. As the American Kennel Club's Dog Care and Training guidebook (Hungry Minds, 1991) explains, "Training gives you an animal you can trust. It establishes a channel of communication between you and your dog that significantly enhances your mutual respect and friendship."

Dogs are practical creatures and look to achieve optimal results with minimal discomfort. Training teaches your dog that meeting your demands results in praise and attention while disobedience leads to a correction. Dogs will invariably choose the behavior that brings praise and affection. Remember too that dogs are pack animals, and need a leader. If you don't establish yourself as the leader, your dog won't see the importance of paying attention to your commands.

Every dog needs to know basic commands like come, sit, and heel. You don't need to attend obedience classes to teach your dog the basics, but classes do make it easier, especially if you're uncertain about what to do. The American Kennel Club Complete Dog Book (Hungry Minds, 1997) says that "the key words in training are persistence, confidence and consistency." In other words, you must be confident in your ability as a trainer (and as "pack leader") and your responses -- whether praise or correction -- to your dog's behavior must be consistent and constant.

Check out these helpful hints for basic puppy training:

  • Leash training. Start by outfitting your puppy with a flat, buckled or snap collar. After your puppy is used to the collar, attach the leash and let her drag it around (supervised, of course). When it is time to eliminate, direct your puppy to her elimination spot with her leash. Place your puppy on your left side when walking her on the leash -- this will make it much easier to teach her how to heel.
  • Heel. Now that your puppy is used to her leash, you can teach her how to heel. Stand with your puppy at your left side and issue the command "Heel!" Talk to your dog while trying to keep her engaged and by your side. Inevitably, she will get distracted and pull ahead. You can gently pull back on the lead until you are even with her and repeat the command. Another approach is to say "Heel!" and make a sharp U-turn to the right. Your puppy will then be behind you and will rush to return to your side. Whichever method you choose, be sure to praise your dog and repeat as necessary.
  • Come. Feeding time is the ideal time to begin teaching your dog to come on command. Call out your dog's name, followed by "Come!" at feeding time. When you are outdoors, step away from your puppy, call out his name and say "Come!" Every time he responds correctly, give him plenty of praise.
  • Sit. By the time your puppy is 8 weeks old, she is ready to learn the command "Sit." To show her what you want her to do, say "Sit!" in a firm tone, get her attention with a piece of dry food, move the food above eye level and, as your puppy follows the food, she will sit. Praise her and give her the food. The next time you say "Sit!" skip the food and reward her warmly with praise.

Socialization

+ enlarge image Play with your puppyevery day.

Create a lasting, loving bond with your dog and help her achieve her true potential as a companion animal by socializing your puppy. As you handle and talk to your dog, she is learning how to behave with you. When you take your puppy out and she has contact with other people and other dogs, she will also rely on you to guide her conduct.

Your reactions shape your puppy's reactions. If, when he becomes frightened by a loud noise, you cheerfully reassure him and focus his attention elsewhere, then he is less likely to develop an extreme reaction to loud noises. Too much fuss over a frightening experience may even make a dog phobic.

These suggestions will help you teach your puppy how to approach and interact with the world around him.

  • Give him lots of attention and affection. Spend as much time as you can with your puppy and handle him frequently. Talk to your puppy, call him by his name and pet him, often. The more touching your dog learns to tolerate (or better yet, enjoy!), the easier it will be for others to handle him.
  • Have daily play periods. Be sure your puppy's schedule includes regular playtime. Try to set aside two or three play periods every day. Playtime can consist of playing with your dog and his toys, but it is also the perfect time to begin teaching your puppy basic commands.
  • Meeting and greeting. Once your vet says it's safe to take your puppy outside, start introducing your dog to the world (and people) around her. Create positive associations for your dog by taking her to a few new places each week and allowing her to interact with new people in each place. Introduce your puppy to the mail carrier and other service providers who regularly come to your home.
  • See feeding time as a learning time. Feeding is a great time to work on training because you have your puppy's full and immediate attention. Say, "Come, Rover!" as you put his dish on the floor. When your puppy comes running (and he will), reward him with praise as well as with his dinner.
  • Acclimate your dog to regular grooming. Brush your puppy lovingly and talk to her as you handle her feet, ears, and mouth; this is not only a great way to bond but also will make vet visits and puppy hygiene much easier in the future. Give your puppy a full body massage -- if he wriggles or fusses, tell him "No!" firmly, let him settle down, and then speak to him in a warm, quiet voice. It's important that your dog allows you to gently touch and massage him, as this is an important way of checking him for tumors or infections.
  • Train the kids. Teach your children how to behave with your puppy. Show them how to hold and pet your dog. Help your child to understand that your puppy is a living creature that needs to be treated with care and respect, not a toy. For more tips on children and dogs see the story "Raising Kids and Dogs."

"Raising Kids and Dogs"

  • Enlist the entire family. You will need the cooperation of all family members to establish and reinforce a code of conduct for your puppy. If one member of the household permits an undesirable behavior, everyone else's efforts to discourage it are less likely to succeed.
  • Introduce other dogs. Knowing how to socialize with other dogs is important. Even if you don't plan to regularly visit a dog run or board your dog, a stay at a kennel or even a holiday spent with another pet owner will be a more pleasant experience for everyone if your dog has learned how to interact with other canines. Start by introducing your puppy to friendly dogs you know (make sure the other dog is immunized), and supervise the interaction.
  • Go for car rides. Accustom your dog to car rides by taking him on short trips and gradually extending the time on the road. Taking numerous non-vet-related trips will create an overall positive association with riding in the car. Confine your puppy to a carrier while driving, for your safety and your pet's.
  • Punish immediately and appropriately. If you catch your puppy in the act of destroying property or improper elimination, hold his collar and say "No!" firmly. Harsher punishment, such as yelling or hitting, will only teach a puppy to fear you instead of respecting you.
  • Give rewards for good behavior. Puppies are naturally eager to please. The best way to reward your dog is through praise. Reward your puppy's good behavior with plenty of praise.
  • Teach him to be home alone. As much as you may want to be with your puppy all day long, you will have to leave her alone sometimes. Get your puppy used to your absence by gradually increasing the time you leave her alone. Confine your puppy to a crate when you are gone to minimize unauthorized elimination and chewing.
  • React to reduce stress. New situations can be stressful and scary to a puppy. You can help your puppy handle his fear and reduce the likelihood of future problems by being calm and reassuring. Keep your reactions low-key and it will be easier for your puppy to do so. When your puppy has calmed down, reward him with praise.
  • Remember regular exercise. A daily 15- to 20-minute walk is good for you and your puppy and a great way to socialize her. She will get acquainted with the neighborhood and stay in shape (so will you!). Regular exercise also alleviates boredom and minimizes destructive chewing.
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