When & How To Start Training Your Puppy
So you just brought home the new pup and introduced it to the family, now what? When is it time to begin training? We believe that the right time to begin training your puppy with basic commands/behavior is right away. Generally speaking, most puppies are picked up by their new owners between 8 and 10 weeks of age. Believe it or not, it is never too early to begin working on things such as their name, basic commands like sit, potty-training, mouthing, and prevention from resource guarding.
Teaching Basic Commands
When teaching names and other basic commands at such a young age, positive reinforcement is the name of the game. On top of that you are going to want to make sure that you keep your training sessions brief because as you know, you’re literally teaching a baby. It is also smart to keep their dog food or other tiny treats in your pockets. This is useful because it allows you to train your dog periodically throughout the day. With a name, any time you say it and the puppy acknowledges you say “Yes!” and give the dog its treat. The main purpose of this is to create a positive association with its name and at the same time let the dog know you require its attention. There are many different ways to teach a puppy other basic commands like sit, but the most important thing to keep in mind and enforce is consistency in language and positive reinforcement. Additionally, you should never give a command or train when you aren’t fully engaged or enforcing your commands. If you are inconsistent with your training, the dog will likely be inconsistent with its listening.
I could go on and on on the subject of potty training. As the owner of two huskies, I had issues starting out with both of them, and spent countless hours working on and researching how to correct the behavior (one of our huskies we got at 10 weeks, the other I rescued at around 4 years). The details of the older husky are for a different article, but teaching our Kubo (the puppy) potty training was a learning lesson I was not particularly ready for, and am definitely better from. I will say first that within the first couple of months with Kubo in our home, he developed a bladder infection that made him a living faucet for over a week. The reason I say this is because it segways into my first and MOST important point. Monitor your pup! From experience, and most articles will agree with me, monitoring your dog and correcting them if they have an accident is one of the single most important keys to having a house trained dog. If you aren’t there to catch it enough times, you will start to play a very messy and frustrating game of catch up. When you do see your dog go in the wrong place, disrupt them with the command “Outside” or something similar. It is okay to be loud, but do not yell or be overly aggressive. For me, clapping while I said “Outside!” worked well. It is also a good idea to have your new puppy close to a door so that when it does happen (and it will) you can quickly disrupt them, put them outside to finish, and reward them with praise and food. Naturally, huskies are a little bit more work than most other puppies but it can still be a slippery slope if you are not on top of it.
Moving Past Mouthing/Puppy Biting
Everyone has experienced it, and it is a very natural thing for a puppy to do, especially during the time it is teething. The downside is that it can be painful, and if left unchecked pretty destructive. What worked best for me, and what most resources will tell you is to say “Ouch!” or “Ow!” in a higher-than-normal pitch and pull your hand away slowly. This theory comes straight from mother nature as puppies learn how to control their bite from playing with others, and when one bites too hard the other yelps, letting them know they went too far. This worked very well with my puppy unless I jerked my hand away too fast, then he thought it was a game. If your puppy isn’t responding to “Ow!”, or it makes them more riled up then slowly put your hands in your armpits and stop paying attention. If they continue, put them in a time out in their crate until they calm down. If the puppy stops, reward it with food (but be careful not to get them going again!). Having toys to replace the furniture and finger biting is also a great tool. Whenever your puppy starts going to town on your thumb, give it a toy to chew on. The most important thing you can do with puppy mouthing is to make sure the puppy understands that it is game over with you as soon as it happens.
Beware Of Resource Guarding
Guarding is something that occurs naturally in a lot of dogs and is easy to control if you are on top of it from the start. If left unchecked, you may end up with a dog who is willing to snap at you before it gives up its toy, food, etc. The good thing is, if you are already working with your dog on basic obedience then you’re off to a good start. A great activity to do with your puppy is to play give-and-take with some of their favorite toys and, when they let you take the toy, reward them with praise and food. A great piece of advice that I once received is that you should always be finding ways to show your dog that you are the hand that feeds it. This sometimes means literally feeding your dog with your hand, but also means that you need to show your dog that you own the things it is using. If your dog does begin to show an increase if food guarding, you may want to consult a trainer to start on a behavior plan.
The process of correctly developing a puppy is one with ups and downs and can be extremely rewarding. The most important thing to keep in mind through this journey as that you are developing a relationship. As with every relationship, trust and respect are two of the most important traits to reinforce. Your dog should trust and respect you. This comes from being fair and clear with your dog. If you are training them, train them with all of your attention and never think that hitting a dog will send a message (it will usually just confuse them).
A Parting Note
One of the most important things you can do with your new pup is to let it socialize. Letting your dog hang out and play with other dogs/humans is crucial to their development of social skills, and helps to set your dog up for success in the future. Puppy Class is a safe way to expose them to new environments, strangers, and other dogs while working on basic social and obedience skills. Studies have shown that dogs who have gone through a 6-week puppy course have a significantly higher chance of responding positively to strangers, meaning less worry for you in the future!