So against all advice, you went ahead and got a puppy for Christmas! It has been almost two weeks and you are seeing the benefits in waiting until a better time to get a new family member. Hundreds of dogs given as Christmas gifts are given up within this two-week period. They are given up because no one wanted to take the time that a new dog needs.
Dogs are not Christmas gifts – they are a lifetime commitment. As such, they need to be properly integrated into your family and its routine. You and your family must also make changes to allow for the newest member among you. The best way to do this is through an intentional training program that focuses on making your new puppy a good canine citizen.
The basic topics that training should cover include everything that your puppy needs to fit in with your home life:
- Toilet Training – you can expect this to take four to six months. If you think that this is a long time, ask your parents how long it took them to toilet train you.
- Recall – this means that the dog will come when you call her name.
- Sit, Stay, Down – these are basic obedience commands that require a dog to sit on command, remain in one location until released, and to lie down. These are the basic commands to calm down a dog when she’s excited. Dog’s as young as seven or eight weeks old can learn these, but formal training usually doesn’t begin until the puppy is six months old.
- Walking on a Leash – most communities have leash laws to restrain dogs in built up and populated areas. Even if your dog has a good recall, you should keep her on a leash in case she is distracted by something. Dogs react faster than you can. We had a new dog in the neighborhood run up to my dogs and start attacking them. The owner ran up and continually stated, “She never does this! She always stays with me!” Obviously not. Another good reason to keep your dog on a leash is to keep your dog close by in case of predators. In my semi-rural community, we have coyotes, hawks, and owls that would think nothing of plucking a small, young puppy off for their meal. Leashes prevent tragedies.
- Not to jump on people – This is where learning a good Sit-Stay is useful. Some dogs are naturally excited about meeting new people. Their exuberance can quickly overwhelm your visitors.
There are several sources of training that you can use to train your puppy.
Your local animal shelter is an outstanding resource for finding training courses. My local shelter offers five different types of classes for beginning dog training including a puppy kindergarten for puppies two to five months old. There are two intermediate/advanced classes, three classes in agility/dog sport classes, nine different specialty classes, and three different play groups.
Local shelters can also provide you with information on problem behaviors and can advise you on private trainers. The local shelter costs for these training sessions is usually very reasonable. If you are experiencing financial difficulty, talk with your shelter and see if you can negotiate a lower cost.
Private trainers are usually your most expensive option, but sometimes they are your best option if you are dealing with significant problems behaviors from your dogs. Cesar Milan made his name as the Dog Whisperer dealing with problem behaviors in dogs. To find a good private trainer, talk with your local shelter or your veterinarian. They will have the best information available to assist you in finding the best trainer for your dog.
Some trainers will offer training classes. These will cost more than the shelter, but it might be more cost effective for you than one-on-one private training lessons. Private trainers will also specialize in aggressive behavior. This is money well spent if you have a dog who bite someone or attacked another dog, and you don’t want to lose him to Animal Control Officer.
Private trainers will also use different methods to train dogs. Some will use devices such as shock collars (which do not shock, they provide a buzz to the dog). Some trainers will use only positive reinforcement. Interview the trainer to ensure that their values line up with yours.
Partner with Neighbors
Cost is a major factor in hiring a private trainer. If you situation requires you to go this route, you might consider asking your neighbors if they want to team up to hire the trainer. This will give you and your dogs more social time with their own doggie neighbors and their humans and help defray the cost for all of you. You might even be able to negotiate a group rate and set the time for the training when it is convenient for you.
Get a Book
There are numerous books available on different dog training techniques available on Amazon.com. These include many styles and philosophies from “Lucky Dog Lessons: Train Your Dog in 7 Days” to the “U.S. Military Working Dog Training Handbook” to “Be the Pack Leader: Use Cesar’s Way to Transform Your Dog . . . And Your Life”
There are as many ways to train your dog as there are authors on Amazon. Peruse the books and read the reviews to find the training program that meshes with your own philosophy. This is a slower method than taking a training class through your local shelter or engaging a private trainer. You must read the book and then apply the training. This will slow down the process.
Treats versus Toys
Once you have started training your puppy, how do you reward her for accomplishing a task? Do you provide a small piece of food or a small edible training treat? Or do you use praise only? Or do you use a favorite toy such as a ball or a piece of rope? I’ve seen all of these types of treats used for all different types of dogs. I think that you can use any type of treat or any combination of treats to reward your puppy. Changing up the type of treat will keep your puppy paying attention to you more closely and, therefore, learning more quickly how to be a good canine citizen.
Don’t Give Up!
Regardless of the method of training your puppy, you will experience set backs. Don’t let this derail you. Remember your own time in school – you had better days than others. If you keep at it, you’ll have a good canine citizen and a favored family member.
Please keep the discussion going by leaving a comment.