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Getting a new puppy can be so exciting that it is difficult to remember that part of having a perfect dog is teaching them to be that way.
Owning a dog requires lots of work, mostly in terms of teaching your dog to approach life on your terms. Whether that means walking nicely on a leash, or sleeping in their crate every night. Training is easiest and most effective when it’s started while your puppy is still young. Waiting will prompt ‘bad’ behavior that will be hard to break later.
These skills will form a good baseline to build off of in training your perfect pup.
1. That you are their favorite person:
It might seem obvious that your dog would love you. You love your pup, and you know how much you do for them. It takes time and training for your dog to bond and trust you as the ultimate authority, aka ‘top dog’. Associate yourself in your dog’s mind with treats, games, cuddles, and praise. You want to be respected as the trusted top dog, in that your pup will leave even the most stimulating of situations, to be by your side and come when called. The more they associate you with good things early on, the easier they will be to teach.
2. Teaching How to be brave:
While some breeds like boxers are more adventurous than others. And all puppies are curious and likely smaller than other dogs they may be around. Pups instinctively know this. It is natural for a young dog to have a fear response to some situations. Even situations that their humans know are not a threat. Fortunately, it is a relatively easy process to untrain a fear response in a puppy, if somewhat lengthy.
The basic principle is to replace the negative associations your dog has with, say, the vacuum, with positive ones, by rewarding calmness around the scary thing with treats and praise. For our vacuum example, this might mean teaching them get close to the vacuum when it is turned off, and giving them treats and lots of pets when they remain calm. The next step would be to turn the vacuum on while your dog is somewhere nearby, but not so close that they have a puppy panic attack. Again, reward calmness with treats, and repeat (over days or longer, if necessary) until the fear response is gone.
Crate training might have a bit of a negative reputation, but it is crucial for a young puppy to have safe space in the house that is “theirs” – remember that dogs are descended from den animals. They like small, cozy spaces where they can bed down; even though you should absolutely buy a crate that will match your dog’s adult size, putting in dividers to create a puppy-sized space as they grow will actually teach your dog feel safer in their crate.
The most important thing, though, is creating positive associations with the crate, which means both filling it with toys and giving your dog treats whenever they are in there, but also not only putting them in there at night or when you have to leave. The crate is a good thing, and you do not want to associate it only with the potentially distressing experience of being left alone.
4. Where to go to be out of the way:
This is called a “go to place” command, and it gives your puppy a clear place to be when they need to be Somewhere Else, whether that is because there is someone at the door who would like not to be jumped on by an enthusiastic pup or because they need to be out from underfoot in the kitchen. The place can be anywhere comfy for the dog and out of the way for you; a crate is a good option, or a dog bed or mat on the floor. Whatever it is, make this place your dog’s Happy Place – give them treats when they hang out there calmly; present new toys there. Reward them for simply being on the mat, then lying on it, then going to it and staying there until they hear their release word.
5. Teach “Leave it” and waiting for treats:
This is a great skill for a number of reasons, one of which is that “leave it” is a great way to stop your dog from putting dangerous things into their mouths, but also because waiting for things in general is good training to produce a patient puppy. You can teach a dog to leave it by essentially playing peek-a-boo with treats, holding one in one fist and giving them a treat from the other every time they stop sniffing, pawing, or generally showing interest in the closed fist with the treat in it. Slowly work them through ignoring a treat they can see in your hand, and then one on the floor, until they are ready to keep things out of their mouths until you tell them it is ok.
There is no one-size-fits-all formula for dog training, but these skills are a good place for any puppy owner to get started on teaching their pooch to be the best man’s best friend they can be.