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By Victoria Schade
Dogs are eager students from the time that they’re very young (some breeders even begin basic training with pups as young as five weeks old), so it’s never too early to begin training.
You can start your puppy off on the right paw by teaching good manners from the moment you bring him home. Every interaction that you have with your puppy is a learning opportunity, and with gentle guidance, you can help him understand important lessons like how to greet new friends without jumping up, how to wait quietly for dinner and what to do with those puppy teeth.
Interacting with your dog in a way that seamlessly weaves manners into his everyday life sets the stage for future training. Plus it’s easier to add positive behaviors to your puppy’s repertoire than it is to “un-train” negative ones.
Common Reasons for Training
The most obvious reasons for training your dog are to instill good behaviors and prevent inappropriate ones from developing, but there are many other reasons why working with your dog is important, such as:
- Life skills: Training your dog gives the two of you a common language and teaches your dog how to navigate our world.
- Freedom: Training is your dog’s passport to the world. The well-trained dog can go to more places, meet more people and have more adventures because he follows the rules.
- Ambassador skills: Dogs and humans alike enjoy being around a polite pup that knows how to hang.
- Peace of mind: When your dog has mastered training, you don’t have to worry that he’s going to run out the door and not come home or drag you down the street until your shoulder is sore.
- Bonding: Working through basic training exercises as a team helps to cement your relationship with your new best friend.
- Mental exercise: Dogs need to work their bodies and their brains. Even though many basic training lessons don’t require much physical exertion, the mental aspect of figuring out the exercise can tire even the most active puppies.
When to Start Dog Training
The specifics as to when a puppy should attend formal training have shifted to take the critical periods of dog socialization into account. Traditional advice suggested waiting until a puppy receives a full series of vaccinations, but it’s now understood that the risk of under-socialization during this important developmental period far outweighs the risk of potential illness. According to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, puppies can start socialization classes as early as seven to eight weeks of age. Puppies should receive a minimum of one set of vaccines at least seven days prior to the first class and a first deworming and should be kept up-to-date on vaccines.
Accepted Methods for Training
Dog training has changed a great deal in the past 25 years, and we now know much more about how dogs learn and the most effective ways to motivate them. While dog training in the past relied on being the “alpha” in the relationship and required equipment like correction collars (or choke collars), behavioral science proves that it’s much more effective to use positive reinforcement training, where training is a team activity with both parties working together to achieve goals.
Positive-reinforcement is the methodology suggested by humane organizations, veterinary associations and dog trainers alike. This type of training focuses on rewarding desired behaviors using something that the dog values (typically treats), removing the reward for undesired behaviors and not using physical punishment or fear to bring about behavioral change.
Clicker training is a wonderful way to utilize the power of positive reinforcement. The clicker, a small device that makes a precise noise, effectively marks when your dog has performed the correct action that will pay off with a food reward. Once your dog has mastered the behavior, you can wean them off of the clicker and put it away until it’s time to teach something new. Clicker training can be used for everything from teaching the basics like “sit,” “down” and “come” to more complex behavioral modification for challenges like leash aggression.
Tools Needed For Dog Training
To begin training your dog, you’ll need to following:
- A dog collar or dog harness: choose a collar or harness that doesn’t pinch or tighten. Your dog should feel comfortable in his collar.
- A fixed-length dog leash: opt for a leash that’s between four and six feet; anything shorter might not give your dog enough space to find the right potty spot and anything longer might be difficult to manage.
- Dog treats: use something moist and meaty that your dog really loves.
- A dog clicker: a training tool that makes the process seem like a game.
- A crate: this is your dog’s second home when you can’t watch him and will be used for potty training.
Potty training is a behavior your dog can learn quickly, provided that you supervise your puppy, stick to a schedule and reward successes. Supervision requires that you pay close attention to your dog at all times so that you can pick up on pre-potty signals. Use a properly sized crate for those times when you can’t actively supervise your puppy, as well as for nap time and bedtime. Scheduling your puppy’s life will help make his days pleasantly predictable and will enable you to better track his potty habits. Schedule his meals, nap times, play times and, of course, his trips outside. Finally, make sure to accompany your puppy outside for every potty trip and give him a small treat immediately after he finishes his elimination. If you wait until you get back in the house, your puppy won’t make the connection between his potty and the treat. Find more tips, check out "How to Potty Train Your Dog."
When to Call a Professional
Training should be a pleasure for both you and your dog. Granted, there are often challenges as you work towards better manners but if you find yourself becoming frequently frustrated with your dog, it’s time to get help. Frustration is only a few degrees away from anger and you probably won’t be able to make progress trying to train your dog when you’re feeling upset.
You should also consider bringing in a professional if your dog exhibits behavior that makes you nervous (like growling or biting), particularly if you have young children in your home. It’s safest to begin behavioral modification with a professional when a dog first starts exhibiting troublesome behaviors rather than waiting for them to take root. As the expression goes, dog rarely grow out of problem behaviors, they grow into them.
Finally, it’s okay to admit that you need a cheerleader to support you as your train your dog. A good trainer will help you troubleshoot setbacks, give you a gentle push if you get stuck and most importantly, help you achieve your goals. Having someone hold you accountable is a great way to ensure that you and your dog get all of the training you need!