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Puppy Training Basics - Establishing Good Behaviour Habits

puppy training basics

... Good Habits Are As Hard To Break As Bad Habits

From the very first day that you bring your new puppy home it is important to establish good habits and to help your puppy avoid the mistakes that all too quickly can develop into bad habits.

The onus is completely upon you as a responsible dog owner to ensure that a program of errorless house-training and errorless chew toy training are established from day one. 

Before bringing your puppy home you will have obtained a portable crate, puppy safe play pen or doggy-den so that your pup has a safe and secure short term confinement area, you will have also puppy-proofed a larger long term confinement area, perhaps in your kitchen or hallway, which will be your puppy’s main play space. 

Nursery stair-gates can be used across open doorways to ensure that your puppy learns to settle down by himself while you can still keep an eye on him.  

It is important to understand that confinement of your puppy in the first few weeks is a temporary management and training measure, the purpose of which is to ensure that basic household manners can be quickly learned. The sooner your puppy learns the household rules the sooner he will be allowed access to the rest of the house, which he can then enjoy for the rest of his life. Your puppy should never be left for longer than one hour in his short term confinement area before being offered the opportunity to relieve himself in your preferred toilet area.

By restricting your puppy to long term and short term confinement areas you are able to better predict when he needs to relieve himself, and more importantly manage where he goes to the toilet. This in turn allows you to praise him for going to the toilet where you want him to and quickly establishes good habits. 

Hollow Kong style chew-toys, designed for puppies, and stuffed with a proportion of your puppy’s daily food requirements will provide your pup with a rewarding focus for his attention, both teaching him to settle down and entertain himself, and to chew appropriate rather than inappropriate objects. While he’s quietly occupied extracting his lunch from a chew toy he is not eating your slippers or skirting boards, nor is he jumping up, chasing the cat or barking at anything.

When you are not at home, leave your puppy safe in his long term confinement area, with a comfortable bed, fresh water, several stuffed chew toys and a toilet area. When you are at home but unable to pay full attention to your puppy, keep him in his short-term confinement area with a couple of stuffed chew toys, if possible keep him in the same room as you or other pets and household members so that he learns to settle down while life continues around him. Alternatively attach a six foot, two metre, lead to the skirting board, your belt or a sturdy item of furniture so that you can continue to work on your computer, get on with chores or watch TV whilst he learns to settle down with stuffed chew-toys close by.

Every hour or so, or each time your sleeping puppy wakes up after sleeping, hurry him outside to his regular toilet area where you will be able to praise him for eliminating in the right place. When he promptly relieves himself in the correct place reward him with three or four liver treats.

Socialization and bite inhibition are crucial life skills that need to be learned in early puppyhood. All dogs are different. Some dogs lack confidence, others are too pushy, some are hyper active others couch potatoes. Shy and reserved, standoffish and aloof or overly friendly and extrovert whatever the personality of your pup, he still needs to be adequately trained, and socialized to enjoy the company of people, other dogs, and other animals.

Most potential dog-dog problems will resolve themselves if your pup is given sufficient managed opportunity to play with other puppies and to mix with older well trained dogs. Puppies virtually train themselves to be friendly and outgoing, and a friendly dog would much rather play than run, hide, or fight.

Your puppy does, however, require significant help to develop confidence around people, especially around children, men, and strangers. Unfortunately fears that set in during your puppy’s formative weeks can and will continue to have an affect throughout his life. 

The more your sounds, sights and different people your puppy is exposed to and experiences in a positive manner during the first three or four months of his life, the more able he will feel to cope with surprises he may encounter when he is older, larger and stronger. 

Your puppy needs to learn to thoroughly enjoy the presence and attention of people. Early and ongoing well-managed socialization will help to desensitize your puppy against situations which may be frightening, these include petting, handling, hugging, and restraint, especially by children, men, and strangers, and especially around valued objects, such as a food bowl, toys, and bones. 

Give your pup the opportunity to enjoy other people. Invite friends, family, neighbours and colleagues to visit, meet, handle and train your puppy. Provide training treats for children and other visitors to reward him with when he says hello, sits or responds to them. Keep a count of the new people your puppy meets each day and aim to meet introduce him to twenty new people each week. Three or four new introductions each day quickly adds up to your new puppy having met one hundred people by the time he reaches 12 weeks of age.

It goes without saying that introductions need to be managed, positive experiences. Don’t be afraid to stand up for your puppy and tell people how you expect them to approach and interact with him. Children need to be supervised and taught how to handle and respect the puppy. Adolescent males and your father-in-law may think it’s funny to rough and tumble with your pup and whizz him up, then tell him off when he gets a little too enthusiastic, but this is not acceptable, appropriate or fair to your pup. 

Other people may attempt to employ inappropriate, outdated, forceful or frightening handling or training concepts on your pup. It makes your job of teaching him to greet people properly somewhat more difficult if early experiences of men, strangers, or children cause him fear, stress or pain. It is your responsibility to ensure all socialization is a managed, controlled and a positive experience for your pup. Socialization parties are a marvellous opportunity to teach a lot of people how to help you train your dog.

Bite inhibition is the most important life-skill your puppy needs to master. Bite inhibition does not mean that your puppy will not react if he is hurt or frightened, but it does mean that if and when he reacts he will not cause injury to a person or another animal. A dog who has developed good bite inhibition may still yelp, growl or even snap if for example a child stands on his tail but he would not bite, or inflict puncture wounds or more serious injury.

Puppies taken away from littermates too early, or those not given the opportunity to play with other pups, are deprived of the experience of play fighting, which is where young dogs learn not to bite one another too hard. When one puppy bites another too hard the injured pup yelps and play immediately stops. When play is resumed it is slower and gentler. In much the same manner your puppy needs to learn, in a non-threatening positive manner, to be gentle when playing with you. By attempting to prevent mouthing and biting too early you are depriving him of the opportunity to learn to be gentle with people. 

Remember that good habits are as hard to break as bad habits, ensure that you provide your puppy with every opportunity to get things right, which you can then praise him for, and no opportunity to get things wrong, which may become bad habits. If your puppy does get something wrong remind yourself that it is YOU who have failed to be observant and attentive enough to prevent the accident from happening.