An obedient, well trained dog will be happier, more settled and much more fun to own than a naughty one. The most important time to train a dog is between 12 and 18 weeks of age. However, basic training should start as soon as your puppy arrives in his new home and good habits, once learnt, should be continually reinforced throughout the dog’s life.
Rewards and punishment should be given immediately. A puppy will only associate them with its most recent behaviour, and therefore, if rewards come too late, they will be ineffective or at worse, counter-productive. If your puppy has run off and you punish him on his return, he will think that he is being punished for returning, not running off!
Always carry a handful of dry puppy food in your pocket as a reward and be ready to give it immediately after your puppy has responded to a command.
Teach your puppy to understand NO! Say it firmly and with the same tone of voice each time he misbehaves. By teaching this from an early age, your puppy should learn to respect your commands, and should never need to be smacked.
Make training fun. Begin to teach your puppy to understand ‘sit’, ‘heel’, ‘come’ and ‘down’. Use toys and chews, making sure you are controlling the game by taking them from him and giving them back or throwing them. At the end of the game, make sure that you win by taking the toy away, to avoid dominance problems later in life.
Discourage bad habits from day one. If your puppy jumps up, push him down, saying ‘no’. Most dogs learn to control their bite, by nipping their litter-mates whilst playing. If they bite another puppy too hard, the pup will cry-out and move away. Most puppies when they arrive in our homes for the first time, treat us and our families as play-mates, and may nip. By copying the litter-mates behaviour, and crying-out and pulling away no matter how gently your puppy bites, you will discourage biting and mouthing in later life.
At times it may be more effective to ignore bad behaviour than to punish your puppy. Puppies will constantly seek attention and if you ignore biting of shoelaces, for example, they will rapidly move on to something else, whereas if you smack them on the nose they may think you are playing and continue.
Establish your puppy’s position in the family pecking order and your dominance over him. Groom your puppy regularly and spend time running your hands over him and looking in his mouth and ears. After a play session, remove toys and occasionally ignore your puppy completely for 20 minutes or so. This helps prevent your puppy becoming over excited.
Begging for food is as much about establishing dominance as greed and should never be allowed. Puppies should be kept at a distance during family meal times, and the temptation to throw a tit-bit should be resisted.
Introduce your puppy to his collar as soon as he arrives at his new home. Leads should be introduced for short periods initially and associated with feeding times, play or other rewards. To begin with, keep the lead slack and never allow your puppy to pull.
Puppy training can be fascinating and great fun. To find out more and to get the most from your new dog, join a puppy training class. Details of local dog trainers are included in ‘Further information for dog owners’.