You’re staring at the new bundle of fluff you’ve recently brought home, who has managed to destroy your living room, mangle your sofa’s leg, and make a big puddle on the carpet, all in the fifteen minutes that you weren’t paying attention to him in. And you wonder to yourself, ‘well, I could have used three movies on how to train him, for sure.’
Which naturally seems like a massive undertaking. Having to house train a puppy who does not have the vaguest idea of the concept of obedience, feels like a personal Everest to beginners. Especially when it’s simultaneously hard to look into their trusting little faces and teach them to ignore the wonders of everything around them, and focus on rules. You don’t want that kind of severity for your fluffy baby. Except… you do.
Statistics show that dogs who have been trained and socialized live significantly happier lives, than dogs who have been allowed to run amok. The reasons behind this are multiple, from being more accepting of strangers (aka, more people and more pats), to benefitting from more structure in their lives.
The latter contributes not only to your dog’s living schedule, but also to the likelihood that he develops anxiety, distress, separation anxiety, obesity, panic disorders, and many more behavioral tendencies that are directly linked to lesser training and discipline in dogs.
Before you can get to how to train your puppy fancy tricks, you should have a basic command down to pat: the clicker. A clicker is a small device that, well, clicks. Every time you click it, give your dog a tiny treat.
So! If you’re looking for ways to improve your dog’s quality of life and/or save your furniture, look no fur-ther.
#1 Pup-Pee Problems
The biggest problem with training puppies is always: how do you house train a puppy to pee outside? Puppies have the bladder sensitivity and spatial orientation of, well, a puppy. But as insurmountable as the problem initially seems, when confronted with the puddles everywhere, it’s actually very manageable.
The solution is a two pronged approach: short term and long term training. The first thing you need to show your puppy is where he needs to go. Then you can start working on managing the when.
For starters, your puppy needs to be older than 12 weeks to be house broken at all. Before this age, puppies do not have bowel or bladder control. So, training before 12 weeks is not going to have any results.
Additionally, your puppy’s earlier life plays a role in it, too. If your pupper has been in a cage or enclosure for the first 12 weeks of his life, he has very likely been ‘going’ whenever he wanted in the cage.
This desensitises dogs to recognizing bowel movements as something that should be done ‘elsewhere’. Which also means, that these dogs require a little extra training to understand the concept of going to the loo in specific areas.
The first tool in your arsenal is the ‘where’. For this, you have to show your pupper than he needs to go pee in a specific area. Recognise the signs. If your puppy is whining, sniffing the ground frantically, circling in the same spot, or beginning to squat, he needs to ‘go’.
When he displays this behavior, take him out immediately. If you cannot, you can put him on a puppy mat or laid out newspapers instead. The goal is that your puppy needs to learn the association between peeing and the specific place.
To train a puppy to pee outside, it is important to put your pupper on a steady feeding and walk schedule. Taking your puppy out for walks early in the morning and before sleeping will minimise accidents, because he’ll empty his bladder outdoors and won’t have to go again indoors.
In this regard, it’s helpful to take your puppy to the same spot every day, so that his scent is marked there. This will prompt him to do his business in the same spot every day.
On the topic of scent, it is important to note that when cleaning up accidents at home, you should use enzyme based cleansers and not ammonia based cleansers. The scent of ammonia prompts dogs to ‘go’ in the same spot again, which is counterproductive.
Under no circumstances should you yell at your puppy, though. Puppies are not capable of understanding that you’re angry because they peed on your carpet. It will only teach your puppy to fear you. Your puppy may even develop anxiety as a consequence.
You can however clap or interrupt him while he’s doing his business indoors, though. Picking him up and placing him outside is also useful. This will help him understand that you want him to go outside.
Rubbing his nose in a puddle will not help, either. Instead, use positive reinforcement by taking him on walks and rewarding him afterwards. This will help him associate being put on a leash and being taken outside to do his business with getting treats, which is good programming.
#2 No Littering, Puppies!
Naturally, the same rules apply for potty training a puppy outside as well. It can take up to six months to potty train a puppy. To potty train a dog can take even longer, because older habits have to be broken first, before the newer ones can be learnt.
Similarly, when your dog has a spot where he ‘goes’, he will associate having bowel movements with being in this place at a specific time. For this, you have to take him out regularly to the same area at about the same time every day.
If you want to potty train puppies fast, you can place down puppy pads and potty pads for your puppy. This marks the initial ‘where’ for your dog. This is especially useful if your house doesn’t have an attached open area for emergencies, or if you’re in an apartment.
Puppy pads are super absorbent and make cleanup a lot easier. Also, you can move the puppy pad outside, when you are trying to show your dog that he can go outside now.
By this time your puppy will already have made the association between peeing or going potty, and the pad. If you don’t want to use puppy pads, newspapers are an alternative. Fair warning, though, that they are not absorbent at all.
Don’t be frustrated if your dog seems to be not getting the concept initially. Some dogs take longer. And accidents can happen even with the best trained dogs. From your side, creating a schedule will make your dog ‘go’ when the time is right, and not just when he wants to.
While on the subject, it is also important to know how to clean up accidents at home. Dogs’ noses are more sensitive than ours, and therefore, using strong ammonia based cleaners may seem like a good idea to you, but to your puppy, it’s practically a prompt.
You can find special odour-free cleaning supplies online. These will make sure everything is thoroughly sterilized, and won’t leave any traces behind.
#3 What’s In The Crate?
Crate training is the next big item on the list. Crate training is a skill that will serve your dog -and you- all your life.
A crate is more than a box to put your dog in. When looking at how to crate train a new puppy, you should take the following into consideration.
- The crate needs to be large enough for your puppy to stand up in, and move around in.
- However, it should not be large enough for him to have a corner where he can pee or go potty, because this will reverse the potty training you’re giving him.
- The crate needs to be comfortable so that he can lay down in it for some down time. This will come in useful when you’re not at home.
- Your puppy should associate the crate with play and relaxation, not with being closed in a box as punishment. This will come in massively useful while traveling and during workdays, etc.
When crate training a puppy, the crate itself needs to be chosen with care. Ideally, a crate can be large but not too big. They can be made of wire, mesh, or more solid crates, like those made of plastic or wood.
You should pick a crate for your dog depending on what your usage will be. For example, wire and mesh crates are more lightweight and usually more portable. They allow dogs to feel more in touch with the house and family around them even when locked in.
But mesh and wire crates are usually not very durable. More so if your puppy has a destructive tendency (which really, most puppies do, because they’re full of energy and confined in a place).
Also, if you’re transporting your puppy, being exposed to the goings-on around him may make him terribly anxious and scared. Under such circumstances, closed hard plastic or wood crates are more suitable.
Bear in mind though, that solid crates are more uncomfortable. Also, they allow your puppy the privacy to have an accident and then eat it, or be confined in the mess till you finally let him out. These crates are also much harder to clean.
To crate train your puppy, you have to make sure your puppy is entertained inside as well. Use his favorite toys and treats to entice him into the crate. Initially leaving the crate open also helps.
This allows your puppy to feel as though he can go out and in whenever he wants and isn’t necessarily confined in there.
It’s also a good idea to sometimes let your puppy sleep in the crate at night, just as an alternative. This will help him associate the crate with security and safety, and not just a cage he’s put into.
#4 Licensed To Chill
The first word that springs to your mind when you think of puppies is: hyperactive. Puppies are bundles of boundless energy with a two second attention span on top. So getting your puppy to calm down can seem like a pretty hefty undertaking.
The goal here is to train your puppy to obey, not to make him a zombie dog. For example, the minute you enter your house, your puppy comes running or jumps up and down like a kangaroo on steroids, till you out everything else down and play with him.
Adorable? Yes. Healthy? No, no, no. Your puppy will fall into the habit of being hyper anxious for your return and then being hyperactive till you engage with him.
The trick is to train it out of them right from the beginning. When playing with your dog, allow him to be as hyperactive as he likes. But on other occasions, such as when you come home, ignore your puppy’s antics till he calms down.
You should acknowledge your puppy only after he has calmed down. Then, give him a treat to reward his more laid back behavior. Of course, with puppies, the treat may well prompt him to get all excited all over again. The trick is to let him calm down again, and reward his calming down. After a few cycles, he will make the connection.
Next, you can add a verbal command to the action. If you are using a clicker already, it will help you reinforce the order. If not, a verbal instruction like ‘calm down’ will suffice. Reinforce this with the treat after he has calmed down.
Bear in mind that you should not yell at your dog under any circumstances. He will not understand and will simply get confused. Or worse, he may get scared, which serves no purpose.
When your dog finally associates calm and relaxed behaviour with getting treats and being rewarded, you can start teaching him more complex commands. The reason for this is that one, your dog has now made the association between being rewarded and obeying, and two, he’s actually calm enough to be trained.
Once your puppy is responding well to the ‘calm down’ command, you can reinforce the training by exposing him to increasingly stronger distractions and sources of excitement, and training him to stay calm despite the outside interference.
This is a very valuable command for your puppy, because it will allow you to get his attention no matter what the circumstances, or where. And as your puppy gets older, it will become more useful.
Your puppy needs to learn how to be controlled, calm, and not allow himself to be provoked. This will be immensely helpful when faced with other dogs, with people or children who want to pet him, or when you take him to the vet or a to a groomer. He should be able to listen to you and calm down, regardless of the situation.
#5 Eat To Train To Eat
One of the most important ways to make sure that your puppy gets trained well right from the start, is to have him on a feeding schedule. Fixed feeding times allow you to not only ‘program’ your puppy’s routine better, but also to establish more training schedules on top of this.
Your puppy’s potty routine, for example, will depend on his feeding schedule. How much he eats and how he eats it is the next step.
Give your dog his entire meal in one go, and afterwards, remove the dish from its place. Otherwise, puppies develop the habit of not eating properly when they are fed.
At the same time, you don’t want a puppy who will swallow everything down in one go, and then have a stomachache. There are special feeding dishes you can buy that force your puppy to eat slowly. These dishes are designed so that your dog has to navigate between the folds to get to this kibble.
Not to mention, using treats as behavioural reinforcement also works only when your dog is hungry, to some extent.
#6 Don’t Cross The Line!
When looking at how to train a puppy to walk on a leash, the ‘calm down’ command is important for the puppy. When your dog has already learned to listen to you, everything from getting him to wear a leash, to walking with you on strolls, becomes easier to train.
Leash training is more than having your dog wear a leash, though. You can use the leash as a signal for the imminent stroll by reinforcing the presence of the line itself with a treat. Soon, your dog will associate being taken on a stroll on the line with being rewarded.
You can start him off by wearing the leash for short periods of time inside the house. When he is sufficiently familiarized with it, escalate it to taking him outside.
Before this, teach your dog to come to you while wearing the leash. You can sit down or use a hand gesture initially. The clicker is also a great way to introduce the command. Then, add the verbal command to it, so now your puppy knows that he has to respond to all of these.
While this takes some time in the beginning, it is absolutely invaluable training. This is good preparation for the off chance that he gets away from you. But also otherwise, the ‘come here’ command will serve you for ages.
When walking your puppy, you can fully expect him to get distracted and want to chase everything under the sun. For your puppy, the entire world is a source of endless wonder. And we don’t want to stifle his happiness. Rather, just let him have a more controlled outlet to it.
#7 Make a Golden Retriever
Once your dog has learnt ‘stay’ and ‘come here’, you can start teaching him the ‘fetch’ command. It is an absolute misnomer than only retrievers make good retrievers. Truth is, any dog can learn how to fetch, if he is taught how to.
The trick is to make sure your dog is hungry enough at the start of the training session, that the treat interests him. Then, show him the toy that you’re using, and throw it for him to catch.
Initially, you should reward him picking up the object at all. This will teach him that you want him to go after the thing you’ve just thrown.
After this, either use yet another throw to get him to chase after it, or let him drop the toy when he has it in his mouth. Reward both activities. The goal here is to reward him coming back to you.
As the third step, reward him bringing the toy back to you. If your dog is inclined to run away from you or drop the object the minute he has it and get distracted, do the entire thing with your puppy on his leash. You can practice this inside your house as well, with your puppy’s favorite toys. Just remember to reward him well, so that the foundation of the command is laid well.
#8 Side By Side
When walking your pupper on a leash, it can be a struggle to get him to cooperate initially. We all know the comical scene that is big dogs dragging their owners behind them. We all also don’t want to be that scene ourselves.
The best way to get your dog to listen, is to not listen to him. When your dog tries to pull you in a specific direction, the trick is to not move at all. You should not reward his forceful pulling by letting him reach the object of his attention.
Instead, plant your feet down and don’t move at all. This will help you leash train your puppy to obey. When he gives up and waits for your permission to start moving again, then you should move forward with him.
The same is also possible by using a distraction for your dog. For example, if your puppy is strong and keeps yanking you off path, use a toy or something he likes to get his attention again.
It is not a good idea to use treats here, as the command is not clear, and you don’t want your puppy to associate tugging and pulling with being rewarded.
#9 Sharing Is Caring
Teaching your puppy how to let go is one of the next major commands. After the ‘fetch’ and ‘come here’ commands, you should teach your puppy how to hand over the object he has in his hand.
This is important not only for the sake of the command, but also to teach your puppy how to leave things. Your puppy needs to be trained to not have possessive tendencies.
When he learns to share, this reduces the possessive tendency and helps you manage jealousy and aggression better as well. This comes in doubly useful if you have more than one dog or any other pet, or even children at home.
Studies show that people who have three or more dogs, can socialize their dogs earlier. The presence of other dogs helps establish a hierarchy and better dynamics earlier. However, even without additional dogs in the mix, you can get started very early with the training.
Just like children, puppies need to learn that sharing is caring. At the very least, that sharing is behaviour that will be rewarded.
#10 Follow the Leader
However, this is all essential training. Regardless of how big or small your dog is, or how aggressive or relaxed his breed, his training will be the most important tool for you to shape his personality, and your life together.
Dogs who are ruined by a lack of training, or scared by too much discipline, do not flourish. You need to establish yourself as a caregiver, but also as the Alpha and the pack leader, so to speak. Your dog needs to know that you feed him and love him, but he also needs to listen to you, as commanded.
#11 Cuddles Top Everything!
Although training a new puppy requires you to behave as an authoritarian figure, this does not mean that you need to deny your dog affection in any way.
Your puppy is your best friend in the making. No matter what, your puppy will stay loyal to you and love you like no other. He deserves and needs the same kind of love as well.
Making sure that your puppy is well trained, is a part of ensuring his health and happiness. A puppy will not know what is good for him. But as long as he knows that he has to listen to you, you can make sure that he will stay safe, stay loved, and flourish.