Training young dogs

When it comes to training, one of your greatest tools is an early start. It’s never too late to train an adult rescue dog or one who has fallen into bad habits, but training a puppy or a young dog is faster and easier because there are no habits to un-teach.

If you’ve just adopted a puppy, then now’s the time to train! Young dogs are still developing mentally, and that makes everything that happens to them a learning experience that you can shape.

Puppy Development Stages

Consistency and patience are key when it comes to turning your wild bundle of fur and energy into a good puppy citizen. It’s important to start early, to instill good behavior and prevent bad habits from developing. It’s also important to keep in mind your pup’s mental age as you train.

A dog’s mind develops in stages as she grows. As a result, your pup can only handle short bits of training when she’s very young, but her capacity will grow along with her body. Like a human child, though, you can’t just laze around until her attention span develops. The early weeks are a key time to give your puppy the tools she’ll need to understand everything around her and to have positive interactions with the world for the rest of her life.

In case you think this is an exaggeration, consider how different your dog’s life will be if she doesn’t learn how to:

  • Behave at home without barking incessantly, peeing, or chewing the furniture;
  • Get in and out of cars;
  • Sit to have her paws wiped;
  • Politely meet and interact with other dogs and people;
  • Walk calmly on leash in strange places;
  • Tolerate handling, loud noises, and small children.

Training classes can be useful if you haven’t raised a puppy before, but they can’t replace the day-to-day home training you’ll need to do as well.

Consistent, kind, firm, and knowledgeable training

Consistency and patience are two of the tricks behind any well-behaved puppy, but the real secret is tiring her out! If your pup is bouncing off the walls the moment you start to train, then a short walk or play session is probably a good idea before you turn to serious learning. Exercise will take the edge off her hyperactivity and leave your puppy better able to focus.

Once you’ve got your pup halfway tired and ready to listen, it’s crucial that you are:

Consistent — Consistency is important because it makes it easier for your pup to understand what you want from her. You are building, piece by piece, a special line of communication with a creature who will never speak English. You need to develop your own simple language. The more clear and consistent you are, the faster she will come to understand what you want and respond predictably herself.

Kind — A puppy who is yelled at, kicked, left outside for hours, or crated as a punishment only learns to fear her owners without learning anything positive. Dogs don’t remember their own actions for more than a few seconds, so punishment almost never means anything to them except that their master is someone who can’t be trusted. Loving kindness wins out over fear every time.

Firm — Love isn’t the only thing your puppy needs. For her to come to respect you and obey your commands, firm consistency is just as important as exercise, good nutrition, and love. That means only giving a command in situations where you’re able to enforce it if she doesn’t listen–and then calmly making sure she does what you’ve asked of her, without raising your voice and confusing her, or letting her get away with bad behavior.

Knowledgeable — Last but not least, research is an invaluable asset when you’re training a puppy. The more informed you are before you adopt your new best friend, the better you’ll teach and the faster your dog will learn. This may mean speaking with one or more trainers before you go looking for a puppy, and enrolling in a puppy obedience class once you adopt.

Read as much as you can about dog training and dog psychology, as well as about your breed in particular, and you’ll be well prepared for the challenge. There are lots of expert books and websites to help you understand what your puppy is thinking and what she needs from you.