15 Mistakes You Could Be Making When Training Your Puppy
The addition of a new puppy to your household is an exciting time, but unless you have an understanding of basic puppy training, things can get frustrating fast.
Below are some of the common mistakes that we see people make.
Below are some of the common mistakes that we see people make.
- Taking Your Puppy Home Too Soon- The first eight weeks of a puppy's life are when the most vital social skills are learned from mother and littermates. Puppies that are adopted out too young will miss out on these opportunities and will likely struggle to learn proper bite inhibition and how to interact appropriately with other dogs and people. Be sure the puppy you are bringing home is at minimum 8 weeks of age.
- Giving Too Much Independence Too Soon- Leaving a puppy unsupervised is like leaving a toddler home alone! Puppies are extremely curious and can get into quite a bit of trouble unless monitored (chewing up clothing, gnawing on furniture, ingesting something toxic). Every "accident" that your puppy has indoors while unsupervised prolongs how long it takes to achieve potty training. Keep your puppy's world small at first until they are old enough to be "trustworthy"- use a crate when no one is home and keep your puppy on a long leash indoors when you are home.
- Failing to Puppy Proof Your Home- Puppies are incredibly curious and scent-driven. It has even been said that a puppy figures out what to put in his mouth by putting it in his mouth! Be sure to avoid an ER visit by keeping cords / cleansers / solvents / and medications safely put away. Puppies also do NOT understand the difference between a dog toy and an old pair of shoes. Keep clothing, shoes, human toys, remote controls, etc picked up.
- Not Starting Basic Training Right Away- Eight week old puppies are very capable of picking up basic obedience commands. Don't be afraid to start working on potty training, leash training, and verbal commands (like "sit", "stay", "come", and "drop it") right away. Just remember to be patient and use lots of praise. These commands can help keep your puppy safe!
- Failing to Crate Train- Dogs are naturally den animals and prefer and snug spot to rest. Dogs also have an instinct not to urinate or defecate where they sleep or eat. These two facts make crate training a wonderful tool to teach potty training as well as giving your puppy a safe / comfortable place to rest. The crate should be a peaceful place away from loud distractions. Never use the crate as punishment! The crate should be constructed of durable material and large enough for your puppy to be able to turn around and lay down. A crate that is too large might allow your puppy to urinate on one end and lay down on the other - this is counterproductive to potty training. Be prepared to have several different crate sizes as your puppy grows up, depending on the breed you have chosen. The crate should be used anytime that your puppy can't be fully supervised. Avoid leaving a puppy in the crate longer than 4 to 6 hours, so that there is time for exercise and potty breaks.
- Free Feeding- Leaving food down all day for your pup to snack on makes it hard to determine how much they are actually eating. Instead, feed your puppy individual scheduled meals so that you know how much is consumed and when the pup will need to potty. You should divide the puppy's daily allotment of food into four or five meals at first- when they reach adulthood, meals can be twice a day. Remember that the food volume on the back of the bag of puppy food is only a starting point. Allow your puppy to eat as much as they want for a 20 minute meal - if they finish quickly and still seem hungry, it's okay to feed them a larger amount at the next mealtime. Talk to your veterinarian if you have concerns about your puppy weight.
- Consoling Too Much- Dogs do not understand human ideas such as consolation, but they do understand simple action and reaction. For example, if your puppy gets scared of a man in a hat, the pup may continue associating men in hats with danger. When your puppy is scared and you offer consolation (you pick the puppy up and coddle him), the puppy learns that being scared achieves a reward of emotional and physical praise. To avoid cultivating a nervous adult dog, try these steps instead when your puppy is scared. First, make sure that your puppy is safe from any actual danger. Second, use a calm voice to redirect the puppy's anxiety by asking to obey a command such as "sit". Be sure to offer praise or a treat when the command is performed. By redirecting a frightened puppy, you are teaching the puppy confidence in stressful situations while minimizing the chance that the fearful behavior will become engrained.
- Failing to Establish a Routine- Pets thrive on routine. Being able to know when eating, play time, and sleeping time is going to occur helps them to foster confidence especially during the first 6 months of life. A reliable schedule helps avoid confusion and frustration for the puppy and leads to a more confident adult dog.
- Failing to Socialize- During the first 8 weeks of life, a puppies socialization is provided by the mother and littermates. After adoption, the socialization is up to you. Exposure to other pets, people, and situations is very important especially during the first 6 months of life for your pup to grow into a confident, well-adjusted adult. You should avoid uncontrolled environments (like dog parks and pet friendly stores) until after six months of age (when your pup is fully vaccinated). Planned visits from friends or play dates with similarly aged and vaccinated puppies are very useful. You can also sign up for a structured socialization class with other healthy area puppies.
- Exaggerating Greetings and Departures- Dogs tend to overreact whenever people come in the door, which is part of the joy of having a pet! Family members who reciprocate these dramatic greetings, however, can teach a puppy to become agitated or vocal whenever some comes or goes. Some puppies even learn to become nervous wetters and have small urinary accidents during greetings. Instead, try to make departures calm and low stress without a lot of fanfare. When you come home, don't greet your pup immediately. Wait a minute and let your pup calm down before you say "hello"- this is a way of rewarding your pup for calmer behavior.
- Pushing a Puppy's Face in Potty Accidents- Puppies will act "sorry" if you rub their nose in an accident, but they only act this way because they can read the anger and frustration in your body language and facial expression. They DO NOT actually understand what they did wrong if you do this. All they understand is that there is a mess and seeing the mess makes you angry - so they learn to sneak away and hide where they eliminate. Instead use a crate to effectively teach your puppy to "hold it" or keep your puppy well supervised in the house. If you catch your puppy in the act of having an accident- a firm "No" from you is all that is required, then whisk your puppy to the appropriate elimination spot and use praise. If you don't catch your puppy in the act, just clean up the mess with an odor eliminator and go about your business.
- Repeating Commands- When you are teaching puppies commands, use a firm tone of voice and say the command once. For example, say "sit" instead of "sit-sit-sit-sit" until she does it. Repeating commands over and over only teaches a puppy to wait until you say something four times to actually follow through. If you say "sit" once, wait a second for the puppy to comply. If the puppy doesn't perform the sit, then say "No", walk the puppy to a different spot and give the command again in a calm, strong voice while pushing her bottom down or holding a treat high up over her head. When the puppy complies, remember to praise!
- Scolding After the Fact- Puppies have a very poor sense of time (remember how they greet you like you've been gone for ages when you only stepped out for a few minutes?). Puppies also have a very short attention span. Unless the reprimand happens at the same time as the accident, the "sorry" look on their face is in response to your actions and body language, NOT because they "know they did wrong". The golden rule with puppies is that you have two seconds to praise when they do well and two seconds to correct them if they make a mistake. An accident discovered after the fact is an accident discovered too late.
- Hitting- Hitting a puppy only teaches the pup to be fearful of you and distrustful of people in general. Positive reinforcement (praise when the puppy does well) and a firm verbal "No" for reprimand are all that is required.
- Not Being Consistent- It has been said that it takes a village to raise a child. The same is true for puppies- if one family member allows the puppy to do as he pleases while another family member tries to enforce the rules, this will lead to one confused and frustrated pup! Every one in the family should be on the same page when it comes to training techniques, command words and gestures, and methods of praise. Consistency helps your puppy learn faster!
Dr. Sophia Yin, DVM, MS was a veterinarian who specialized in pet behavior. Her website offers many interesting articles on dog behavior, training, and anxiety issues.