I spend much of my time as a trainer working with young puppies. They're little sponges, absorbing every bit of information we send their way – both good and bad. You'll hear the same puppy training advice over and over: make sure to socialize your puppy, start potty training immediately, and the like. But in my experience, there are some less well-known concepts that can go a long way to helping you have a truly exceptional puppy.
- Teach your puppy that they don't get to meet every person or dog they see on a walk. I cannot emphasize the importance of this enough. Leash reactivity (barking, lunging, growling on leash) is the most common behavior problem I work with. In the majority of cases, it results from the dog's frustration with being unable to get to the other dog.If we teach puppies from a very young age that walks are structured, require focus on the owner, and aren't a social hour, it can help your puppy grow up to have reasonable expectations when seeing another dog on leash. Even with "social butterfly" puppies, we don't greet every dog we pass. When we do greet a dog or person, I teach them to sit and make eye contact with the person walking them before they are released for a brief greeting. This type of structure is critically important in order to have a dog that's friendly and social – but also has self-control.
- Begin impulse control exercises early. On that same note, teaching your puppy to wait politely for his food, to sit and wait before going out the door, and to "leave it" and "drop it," will go a long way to creating a future adult dog that can cope with frustration and unmet expectations. A great trainer can help you and your puppy learn these important skills together!
- Oversocializing can be just as problematic as undersocializing. Oversocializing? That's a thing? Believe it or not, you can oversocialize your pup. Well-meaning pet parents take their puppy to crowded environments, allowing person after person to hold and pet their puppy. While your intention is for your puppy to love people and to be comfortable with handling, "system overload" can result in a puppy that's fearful or wary of people coming their way. Instead, allow your puppy to explore new environments at their own pace, allowing them to stay at a distance where they're comfortable and only moving forward when they're ready.The same is true with other dogs. Poorly run puppy classes with too many puppies in one space, overcrowded daycares, and dog parks are recipes for a puppy to develop issues with other dogs.Look for facilities that emphasize safety and cleanliness, and that carefully monitor all off-leash play, and provide outlets for rest and mental stimulation throughout the day.
Questions to ask a daycare facility or puppy class:
- Do you sanitize your environment?
- Puppy class and playgroup environments should be sanitized before and after each class
- How many puppies will be there?
- This will depend on how the puppies are grouped. Avoid classes and playgroups with large amounts of dogs that are not separated by size and age.
- Do you separate puppies by age and size?
- Small groups of puppies around the same age and size are ideal
- What do you do when my puppy does something right? And when they do something wrong?
- Look for trainers that reward the pup for getting it right, and use humane punishment when they get it wrong. Humane punishment involves taking away something the dog wants, like removing attention or play, ignoring an unwanted behavior, or withholding a reward when the dog gets it wrong.
- Are there breaks throughout the day, or do the dogs play all day?
- Avoid the "play all day" option!
- Do you sanitize your environment?
- Other dogs can be great teachers, or bad influencers. If you have another dog in your home, be aware of their bad habits before bringing home a new puppy. Puppies will learn from and follow other dogs in their environment, which has its benefits and its downfalls. Just as a dog can teach a puppy how to go up and down the stairs, they can just as easily teach your pup to bark wildly at the doorbell, or to steal food off the countertops. Work with your existing dogs prior to bringing home a puppy, or manage your environment so that your puppy isn't exposed to your dog's bad habits.
- Everybody has an opinion, but trust the advice of qualified professionals. If you ask anyone with a dog for puppy training advice, they're likely to tell you what's worked for them. It might be effective and ethical, but often it's not. What worked for their puppy could be highly damaging to yours. In order to ensure that you're using the most effective, science-based methods, trust only the advice of a qualified professional.The dog training field is entirely unregulated, and it can be easy to fall prey to an unqualified trainer. The Pet Professional Guild, VSPDT, and the IAABC all have great resources for finding a quality trainer in your area.
Alex Andes is the owner and head trainer of Peach on a Leash Dog Training, covering Roswell, GA and the surrounding areas. Find more about her dog training services here.