Puppy training is often considerably easier than training an adult or adolescent dog. One reason is that the puppy is essentially a “blank slate”, untroubled by past training techniques and other issues. Another more indirect reason is that you are probably more likely to spend more time and have greater patience with your new puppy than you would after the “novelty” has worn off somewhat. And it tends to be human nature to have greater patience with young (dogs and people), since we know that they’re inexperienced in life and they’re usually eager to learn.
In other ways, however, the puppy can be a little more difficult to train than an older dog. One challenge to training a new puppy is that puppies are more easily distractible than older dogs. Everything is new to a puppy, and every new experience provides a new chance for distraction. For this reason, it is best to keep training sessions short when working with a puppy, and to end each training sessions on a positive note.
It is also important to allow the puppy plenty of time to play, and to interact with other puppies and dogs. Socialization training is vital to making your new puppy a good canine citizen, as dog aggression is a growing problem in many areas. A properly socialized dog learns how to play properly with other dogs, and overly aggressive play is punished by the other dogs in the play group.
This type of play learning is something that happens among siblings in litters of puppies. As the puppies play with each other, they learn what is appropriate and what is not. Inappropriate behavior, such as hard biting or scratching, is punished by the other puppies, by the mother dog, or both.
Failure to properly socialize can be a major problem with your dog, and it is an important reason for always buying from a responsible breeder, and never taking your puppy home before he is 8 weeks of age. A large proportion of this important socialization experience occurs in those last weeks with the puppy’s mother and siblings.
A responsible and experienced breeder knows this, and will never allow prospective puppy owners take puppies home until 8 weeks of age, but it is nevertheless a very important and useful fact to be aware of yourself. Unfortunately, many puppies are removed from their mothers and sold or adopted before this socialization has fully occurred. In these instances, even more than ever, puppy play sessions initiated by you are a very important part of any puppy training session. Most good puppy preschool training programs provide time in each session for this type of dog interaction.
Introducing your puppy to new experiences and new locations is also an important part of puppy training. Teaching your dog to be obedient and responsive, even in the face of many distractions, is very important when training dogs and puppies.
One great way to socialize your puppy both to new people and new dogs is to take it on a trip to your local pet store. Many major pet store chains, and some independent ones as well, allow pet parents to bring their furry children, and these stores can be great places for puppies to get used to new sights, sounds and smells. Of course you will want to make sure the store allows pets before heading over, and you will also want to keep the visits fairly short, both for your puppy’s sake, and in consideration of the pet store personnel.
It is important for puppy owners to structure their pet’s environment so that the puppy is rewarded for good behaviors and not rewarded for others. One good example of this is jumping on people. Many people inadvertently reward this behavior because it can be cute. While it is true that jumping can be cute for a 10 pound puppy, it will not be so cute when that puppy has grown into a 100 pound dog.
Laughing at your puppy, or paying any attention to him at all when he jumps up, will be interpreted as a reward by your puppy – he will learn that he will receive attention from you when he does this. So be very careful not to confuse your puppy. There are two strategies for undesired behaviors – firmly saying “No” to your puppy, and/or ignoring the behavior completely. For “repeat offenders”, the ignoring method works best, as it is possible that your puppy will be interpreting ANY attention (even you saying “No” to him) as a reward for the behavior.
Conversely, of course, good behaviors should be rewarded immediately (either with treats or simply with lots of attention and fuss – saying “Good boy” in a very positive tone of voice, and stroking your dog at the same time is often just as well received as treats are). This type of positive reinforcement will result in a well behaved adult dog that is a valued member of both the family and the community at large.
The positive reinforcement method can also be used in potty training the new puppy. Teaching a puppy to use a unique surface such as gravel or asphalt is a good technique. The theory is that the puppy will associate this surface with going potty, and therefore be reluctant to use other surfaces (like your kitchen carpet for example) as a potty. Many puppies can, with a little patience, be readily trained to use the same spot for toileting. This is a great technique, as it will train your puppy to go “on command”, and will save you having to scour the back yard when cleaning up after your puppy.