It's never too late to start training your dog, but the sooner you start, the easier it's going to be. So here are a few training tips if you're a dog owner who wants to train your puppy like an expert.
How to train your puppy - the basics
Get started as soon as possible
Formal dog training used to begin after the first six months of a dog's life. However, that's actually a really bad time to start. Puppies start learning from day one, and although you're still a long way from teaching your dog to 'stay' or 'roll over', puppies are absorbing every single experience. In many ways, this is what defines their character, so puppy training should start as early as possible. But as most dog trainers and experts at the VCA veterinarian hospitals recommend, keep training sessions short and fun. Puppies have short attention spans so you don't want to overload them early on.
Ditch the stick and pick up more carrots
The best of all training methods is the use of positive reinforcement, to which dogs respond very well to. In fact, dogs are motivated by rewards and treats, whereas harsh and aggressive punishments can often have a negative effect. Not only can your dog become nervous and anxious, but it can also encourage the wrong kinds of behaviour. A young puppy can easily get confused, and being ‘naughty’ becomes another bad behaviour to get your attention. It's much more effective to reward your dog for good behaviour when it occurs. So stock up on doggy treats for the best results!
House training a puppy
Your new puppy will need to go just after it’s woken up, soon after eating, and at regular intervals in between. Your puppy’s only concern is doing their business away from where they eat and sleep. So it's up to you to teach them where to go. Keep a close eye on your puppy, and observe their body language - sniffing and moving around in a small circle means they’re about to start weeing or pooping. Gently take them out into the garden and reward them with praise and treats when you see the right behaviour. This teaches your dog that doing his business outside is a good thing. Repeat this process of positive reinforcement and your puppy will learn quickly. But remember to be patient! House training is done over a period of time and does not happen over-night. Don't forget puppies are just young dogs and the odd accident is bound to happen.
Socialising your puppy
This is really important to a puppy’s long-term development. An unsocialised dog is often nervous, anxious, and even aggressive. Many so-called problem dogs and unwanted behaviours can be traced back to poor socialisation. It relates to both people and other dogs, and it’s all about making your dog feel comfortable and secure in new situations. Start by inviting small groups of friends to meet your puppy, and introduce them to as many different types of people as possible. This is a great way of socialising them in a safe and controlled environment. Be careful when introducing your puppy to children; they can sometimes become a bit overwhelmed by all the attention, so make sure you supervise any introductions to children.
Once your pup has been vaccinated, it's time to meet other puppies and dogs. Again, go for small, controlled introductions; puppy playdates are a really good idea. If you don't know anyone with a puppy, try meetup.com - its a social network for people looking for puppy playmates!
How to train your puppy - advanced techniques
Keep them focused
The world is an exciting place for a healthy puppy. Everything is new and interesting so it can be hard to keep them focused during training. But if you begin by teaching them to respond to their names, you can quickly grab their attention. Again, start with a handful of treats. Then, when they're not expecting it, say their name in a bright and enthusiastic tone. If they look at you, drop the treat by your feet and your puppy will soon move towards you. If they don't respond, then try it again! Your puppy is learning an important lesson - if it gives you attention then good things will happen. This might seem simple, but its a solid foundation for its future development and learning.
Walking on a lead
You might think that puppies don't need lead training but get them used to it early and you'll save yourself a lot of trouble - nobody wants to be dealing with an over-enthusiastic young dog that won't stop pulling or yanking on its lead. Its best to start with a harness as leads can be harsh on a puppy’s neck. Little walks around the house and garden is all you need to do - and keep those treats by your side to encourage the puppy to walk next to you rather than in front of you. Once your dog has mastered lead-walking in calm environments, he is more likely to be well behaved in busy environments too! Practice and consistency are key - just like humans, puppies learn best from positive encouragement in safe environments.
Recall is really important; it encourages discipline but also keeps your dog safe. So once you’ve learnt how to focus their attention, introduce a cue phrase or word along with any treats or affection. By linking the phrase to a positive emotion, your dog is learning that recall means that something good is about to happen. Again, start around the house before moving into the garden. After that, they'll be ready for the big wild world!
As with all types of learning, the most important things to bear in mind are repetition and consistency. You’ll also need a little bit of patience! But remember, the right kind of training is essential to creating healthy and well-adjusted dogs.