Puppies can be adorably naughty when you first adopt them, but for many this is the best time to begin training. In this article, we’ll look at what makes training so important both for your dog’s happiness and your own.
We expect a certain level of behaviour from our dogs – especially if we live around lots of other people and dogs – so dog training is a really important part of owning a dog in modern society. If every dog in the world were given proper training, preventable behavioural issues would no longer cause thousands of dogs to be abandoned or surrendered to shelters each year.
You may have heard of things like dog obedience school or puppy pre-school discussed as you searched for your new pet. Many people make the mistake of viewing dog training as the use of heavy-handed punishments to teach dogs obedience commands and tricks. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. Training also provides the mental stimulation that
your dog needs to be happy. Combined with plenty of exercise and play, training provides the mental and physical exercise that a happy dog needs every day.
Training is used to draw out desirable behaviours and diminish undesirable behaviours, which will already exist within your dog as a result of their evolution as a species. It’s an essential step in helping your dog to fit into an increasingly loud and confusing human world, which will reduce stress for your dog, yourself and those around you.
It is widely accepted that the most effective and dog-friendly option is reward-based training which includes the positive reinforcement of “good” behaviours by setting the dog up to succeed and then rewarding with a treat, toy or pets. This type of training can positively enhance your relationship with your dog, who will begin to actively enjoy training.
Puppies experience a peak socialisation and learning period between the ages of three and 17 weeks. This is the time when they are most receptive to training techniques as they are open to new things and aren’t afraid of strange objects.
This is the ideal time to begin positively reinforcing “good” behaviour by rewarding your pup for behaviours that you want to keep.
Puppy training is a must for all dogs. With a little research and guidance you can train your pup yourself, or you can contact a dog trainer or puppy training school. However you go about your puppy’s training, you’ll need to make sure they get to spend time socialising with their peers, get used to basic commands and training techniques and learn essential life skills like patience.
In order for a pup to learn how to communicate well with other dogs, they need to socialise with other dogs during their critical socialisation period and pick up the necessary social cues. Teaching your puppy how to be a good canine citizen early on will help set them up for life, as social skills are just important for dogs as they are for people.
Problem Behaviours: Chewing
For many dog owners, one of the main behaviours they want to curb is chewing and biting. Puppyhood is the best possible time to introduce the idea of items that can (chew toys and treats) and cannot (furniture, people and other nonedible items) be chewed. Your dog WILL chew things – all you can do is make sure that the wrong things don’t get chewed. This is the best time to train them out of chewing your possessions and into chewing pet-safe toys, as puppies learn really quickly at this age.
Chewing is a great boredom buster for dogs, so providing an ample supply of chew toys can be a great way to distract them from other, more destructive activities. If your dog is chewing excessively, it’s worth speaking to your vet about the possible causes as they will be able to recommend appropriate actions to take.
You can help your dog through separation-anxiety-related chewing by working on their anxiety with an accredited behaviourist, for example. If separation anxiety is to blame, it’s best to avoid leaving your dog alone for more than four hours.
Moving from Puppy Training to Dog Training
The provision of a good canine education to every dog has never been so important, with dogs now sharing our homes and lives in ever closer ways. And the learning doesn’t stop once your pet finishes their puppy training. To ensure your dog has mastered key behaviours like come, sit and stay, you can continue training your dog yourself using reward-based methods. Yelling at or hitting your dog, shock collars, choke chains and other punishment-based techniques should never be used to train a puppy or dog.
Rewards that you can give your dog to reinforce “good” behaviour might include a tasty food treat or verbal praise such as “good dog!” in a pleasant tone of voice.
Dogs will often view any attention (even shouting!) as a good thing, so if you scold them you may accidentally reinforce negative behaviours. They will tend to stop doing things if they aren’t rewarded for them either with treats or attention.
Some dogs will view even negative attention as being better than no attention. Your dog might see being chased around the room as a fun game, when in fact you’re just trying to retrieve the TV remote from their mouth. Rather than punishing your dog for “unwanted” behaviours, reward-based training methods will generally involve ignoring your dog when they do things you don’t like.
This will help you to avoid accidentally rewarding your dog with undue attention when they perform these actions. For instance, if your dog is prone to jumping up on people, you should ignore them when they jump up and only give them attention when they are standing on all four paws. Where punishment-based training can damage your bond with your dog and erode their confidence, reward-based training will boost their confidence and your bond, and are generally much more effective overall.
Even once your dog has grown into an adult and mastered the basic behaviours, it’s a good idea to train them regularly. This will allow them to use their brains and stay mentally stimulated, and is generally a positive activity that a dog will enjoy. Long-term training will also strengthen your bond with your pet by encouraging you to spend extra time with them.
You can learn more about training your new puppy in the book The Essential Guide to Dog Training,