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Puppy training basics

Young dogs go through a number of physical and mental stages as they grow and it’s important that we keep this in mind as we train.

Puppies in the 8 weeks -4.5 month stage are growing quickly, but mentally are very immature with a very short attention span.  They still retain a high level of dependency on their owners which translates to a desire to please.  At this stage this willingness makes it fairly easy to train the basic commands, and an excellent time to set the ground rules for what you expect down the road.  You need to clearly establish the house rules now to be effective later.  Often, the puppy will challenge the youngest and smallest in the house and they tend to see them as playmates.  Teaching young children how to handle the pup respectfully is very important – they’re not stuffed animals!

 Behaviors that are totally common in puppies might seem cute now, but will not be as endearing in an adult dog.  It is best to manage them now before they become ingrained.  Behavior such as begging, nipping and chewing in play, jumping up and getting on the furniture are normal concerns – but they can translate into big problems down the road.  Set out your house rules consistently and show your puppy positive alternative behaviors, such as redirecting to a soft floppy toy when they want to grab your pantleg.

All training is cumulative – even small activities can help improve  the total learning of your dog.  Training a dog to come when called is not just about them understanding what the command “come” means, but knowing that they will be rewarded when they listen to you.

Puppies are not good at policing themselves – they naturally need to chew, may not have excellent bladder control yet and don’t have a clear understanding of what is yours or theirs.  Therefore, it is important to limit your puppy’s range both when you’re at home and when you’re away.

Crate training can be very effective for this when done humanely, and can be the difference between coming home to a puppy who you are as happy to see as they are to see you.  Accidents from too much room to roam are going to happen in a young dog – and it is up to the owner to help the puppy be successful.  Baby gates to control the amount of freedom your puppy has are an excellent means of letting the dog be with the family while not allowing them to wander out of sight and get in trouble.

Long days at home alone can be just too much for a puppy, and if given a chance they will look for ways to entertain themselves that might not be so acceptable to you.  A “safe” room, such as a laundry or fenced off basement area, can be an ideal alternative to a crate.   You can leave toys, a chew bones and maybe a corner with pee pad/paper if you have to be away for too long.  This way you can possibly crate at night and have a safe space for the puppy during the day – or vice-versa.  The general rule of thumb is that a puppy can only be successful at housetraining for as many hours as they are months old.  When they’re up and actively playing though, 30 to 45 minutes is appropriate. Working towards helping your dog be successful at being alone is very important in how your relationship develops.