As a busy Denver dog trainer I have had the opportunity to meet many puppies and their first time dog owners who are about to embark on the journey of raising a new dog and want to do things the right way from the start. The biggest question I get from people who have just obtained a puppy is, “there is so much information about the right thing to do, I am downright confused about what is actually best for my dog?” I have been a pet professional for 23 years now and have steadily seen an increase in misinformation about what is the best way to raise a puppy and teach them the basic training and socialization skills required for their adult dog life that lies ahead. This is due to a rise in “internet experts” and people with little or no qualifications believing in their minds that their misguided feelings of how a dog should be raised and trained is more valid than the actual dog training methods used by experienced trainers who work with dogs and puppies every day. With that said, my goal is to give dog owners the most straight forward and efficient way to train their dogs in a safe and humane way while simultaneously dispelling the myths and misinterpretations many tend to make when trying to decipher how to train a dog properly. Here are some no-nonsense tips on how to raise and train your puppy to ensure they become a happy and well mannered adult dog.
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Puppies are naturally curious. This affords them the ability to learn about their surroundings and socialize. However, this innocent curiosity can quickly lead to trouble if the environment is not structured and “puppy proofed”. By restricting a young dogs ability to roam about and slowly give them increasingly more freedom as they mature, you will be preventing /minimizing the chances of your dog being harmed or destroying your belongings and learning bad habits such as chewing, hyperactivity, and potty training issues. Some ways I recommend my clients “restrict” their puppy’s home environment is to have them on a leash or in a playpen initially when coexisting in the various spaces you share within the home environment. When your puppy is alone, a crate is the safest place for them when you cannot supervise their activity. It is also critical in teaching your dog potty training skills as I will explain next.
Teaching your dog to go to the bathroom outside is a pretty straightforward process. Yet, so many dog owners get it wrong because of the products (and bizarre philosophies) that try to bargain with nature in attempts at accommodating the conveniences of human wants while going against a dog’s natural instincts to keep their living environment clean. In Los Angeles many people live in apartments and want the convenience of not having to go for walks every time their dog has to go to the bathroom even though it ends up being exponentially more work in the long term. With that said, do not use pee pads, litter boxes, or grass patches in your home unless there is a medical need your dog has that requires you to do so. It will only cause problems in the long run! Reason being is that it teaches a dog to go to the bathroom at will versus learning how to go on command and hold it for increasingly longer time periods as their age and overall housebreaking abilities increase. By tapping into a dog’s instincts by use of a crate or small space they will keep clean and learn how to “hold it” and “go” when it is the proper time to remain comfortable until the next scheduled bathroom visit that you dictate based on their age and abilities. I have additional articles and videos on this subject in my Los Angeles dog trainer blog for a more in depth explanation of how to potty train your puppy.
Nipping Vs. Teething
As with many dog behaviors, one of the most misinterpreted is the reasoning by which a puppy chooses to mouth or bite. In most cases it gets minimized and written of as “teething” or “play” since it does not intend to break skin and we see them do it to each other in play amongst themselves. However, if examined from a dogs perspective you will see it has great meaning and should be addressed as soon as your puppy begins to display this behavior. What puppy biting towards you, your clothing, or the leash means (different than chewing furniture!) is your dog is trying to modulate their sensory system and resistance to the physical control that is going to have to be a part of their lives (leash walking, handling, holding, etc.). Although they can figure it out when engaging each other, as a human, it cannot be seen as tolerable since it can cause harm and send your dog the wrong message in terms of your leadership awareness and that putting their mouth on a humans’s skin is acceptable. By teaching your puppy how to relax by other means versus allowing or punishing the behavior when they become too stimulated, you are addressing the root cause of why puppies bite and redirecting the sensory overload to a calmer place via focus-based training and redirection. You may visit my article here that gives a complete overview on puppy teething, mouthing, and biting plus how to deal with it.
From the moment your puppy is born they are making associations with their external world. Because of this, you want to have them associate that people, other animals, and varying environments are an everyday part of life by exposing them to everything as much as possible while they are young. You also want these associations to be reasonably calm and objective so they do not develop a habit of becoming over-stimulated or reactive in new social situations and are more inclined to listen when distracted by external stimuli in the future when you want them to listen to you and not react.
Playtime, Toys, Bones, Etc.
There are many products marketed to new puppy owners. Here in the Hollywood and Los Angeles area there is no shortage of goods and services available for dogs. You can easily spend a small fortune on your pet if you succumb to your indulgences. The fact of the matter is most of this is for us and is not really what dogs want if they could go shopping (or hunting ) on their own. With that said, a simple bone to chew (raw and safe), a ball to chase, and challenging puzzle or stuffed kong type chew toy is all a dog really needs. Be careful with stuffed, roped, rawhide, or easily destroyed chew toys since many puppies have been known to ingest them and this is not safe. It is great to play with your dog. But it is best to engage in more constructive play such as fetch, find it, or some type of training like agility if your dog gets too stimulated / mouthy from one on one roughhousing type play. This makes you more of a “coach” than a “playmate” which a dog who has biting potential when playing requires from us.
You want to begin imprinting the basic commands you would like your puppy to perform as an adult dog as early as possible. Of course getting a 100′ off-lead recall may not come right away. But if you begin to consistently teach your young dog the foundation of what is in store for the future they begin to make the correct associations from the very start. Start practicing and developing the basic dog training commands (Sit, Down, Come, Let’s Go, etc.) everyday in a wide range of environments and situations to help your puppy reach their best training potential.
Although the purpose of this article is to be a straightforward approach to raising a puppy. (dog trainers tend to be this way) it is still important to have fun! Take lots of pictures / videos and indulge in the enjoyment of what makes a puppy so wonderful! Just be aware of the times that thinking like a dog and reacting as such may be more beneficial in teaching your dog the right habits you are trying to instill for a lifetime versus giving in to our human emotions.