The number one cause of pet euthanasia is behavior problems. This is why early training is so important, both for your dog and your family. Barking, digging, jumping and more serious problems like aggression can be prevented by early socialization and training.

To understand dog training, you must first understand a little dog psychology. Since dogs are pack animals, their instincts are to obey the pack leader – YOU. However, every dog is an individual, and like children, dogs will test you constantly to define the acceptable boundaries of their behavior. This guide is meant as a training tool; if training is not going well please feel free to call for additional advice.

Up to six months of age, puppies require only patient, firm, consistent behavioral shaping. After six months, when your puppy has more concentration, serious training can start. Consider signing up for socialization and obedience classes with a professional trainer, especially if you have never trained dogs before.

1. Socialization – All puppies should be exposed to as many experiences as possible from the time that you bring them home. Be especially sure to expose them to strangers to give them confidence and prevent later fearfulness. Watch to ensure that these experiences are positive so as not to make negative associations. Socialization with children is crucial and must be done at an early age. You may not have any children in your home, but they will be encountered and experience in these situations will help your dog handle them properly.

2. Consistency – Learning takes place through a series of reputations. It is very important that you use the same commands every time that you ask for a behavior and avoid dual commands. For instance “sit” means to put your tush on the ground, “down” means to lie down completely. So what does “sit down” mean? The following are simple, standard commands commonly used in dog training: Sit, down, stay, come, and heel.

3. Reward – Positive reinforcement is THE most important training tool. A happy, positive tone of voice and petting or rough housing will encourage repeats of the action that prompted them. Food may also be used, but treats should never compose more than 15% of your puppies diet. Proper behavior should ALWAYS be rewarded, even if the reward is only a “good dog.”

4. Discipline – While reward is the key for good behavior, you will occasionally have to reprimand your dog. Avoid using physical punishment – usually a sharp “NO” will distract a puppy from incorrect behavior. If your puppy is incorrigible, try confinement for five minutes as a “time out” for both you and him. As soon as your puppy does ANYTHING right, reward him immediately – this will teach him the difference between proper and improper behavior. Dogs learn from anticipation of reward, not fear of punishment.

5. Patience – Puppies are like young children, eager to please but full of trouble. Consistent repetition and positive reinforcement are the goals of good training. If you feel yourself loosing patience, end the session on a good note by asking your puppy for a behavior that he will ALWAYS do. Don’t expect every session to go well.

6. Have Fun – Schedule training sessions for a time when you have minimal distractions. Keep the sessions short, no more than fifteen minutes two to three times a day. Also, try to have play time immediately following the training session as a big reward for good behavior.

Now that you understand the basics, here are some specific training tips for problems that may arise.

“My puppy won’t housebreak”

First, make sure that your puppy has every opportunity to do the right thing. Puppies should be taken outside every time they:

      Eat – food stimulates bowel movements.

      Wake – most puppies will need to go as soon as they wake up.

      Finish playing – this usually indicates that he is distracted by his need to go.

      Are let out of the crate – this is a high excitement time.

The key is to go out with your puppy every time that he needs to go. Then offer praise and reward good behavior. If you catch your puppy going in the house, tell him “no” and take him outside immediately. Physical punishment only teaches your puppy not to go to the bathroom around YOU, not in the house. Remember this rule: your puppy must always be supervised, confined or outside. Those are the only options, and will provide quick housetraining results.

“My puppy bites too hard”

First, do not encourage puppies to bite any part of a human body. If they want to chew, then offer special toys- a KONG toy works very well when stuffed with special treats. Do not offer old clothes or socks unless you want your puppy to think that it’s okay to chew all of your clothes all of the time. Realize that your puppy has a large amount of excess energy and that need should be met first. Mouthing is normal puppy behavior and is a cry for social interaction. The best punishment is to enforce social isolation for a brief period of time following every incident where teeth meets skin. Either walk away and completely ignore your dog or put the puppy somewhere else such as a crate or outside.

“My puppy doesn’t come when called”

All too often, we teach puppies that “come” means stop having fun and go in your crate, or outside by yourself, or endure some other situation that you won’t enjoy. Essentially, in this way we are actually punishing the behavior that we want to encourage. Initially, puppies should never be given the option to disobey the come command. They should be on a leash until they are completely reliable in all situations. Rewards for coming should always occur more frequently than unpleasant situations. If your puppy does get away from you, then running in the opposite direction will often encourage him to chase you, never chase him. Finally, remember that no matter how long it takes your puppy to come, they MUST be rewarded in some way.

Finally, a note about crate training. One of the best ways to train a puppy is by using a special cage, called a crate, to house the puppy. A puppy crated from a young age will quickly become accustomed to the confinement and even seek it out at times of stress. For the first few nights, your puppy may cry, but resist the urge to go to their crate; this will only teach them to cry louder and you will relieve their boredom. Remember to take the puppy outside immediately after letting them out. Special toys can be provided for entertainment.

Please feel free to call if you have any questions or problems.