Training dogs and young puppies can often be a daunting task. Many owners wonder if they're doing more harm than good with training methods often developed out of necessity, rather than sound research and experience. I've complied a short list of some of the basic 'golden rules' of dog and puppy training to help you and your dog get the results you want.
Consistency is a necessary element of your dog's life. Not just as a puppy, but for the duration. Dogs thrive on consistency; consistency of command cues and gestures, consistency of routine, and consistency of care. It is important that your dog understand what it is you're asking of them. This is only possible with consistent behavior from you, the pet parent, and any other members of your household.
Reward the Positive, Ignore the Negative
When your dog or puppy performs with good manners and behavior and you reward her, it makes the dog more inclined to repeat the action. To any animal, actions that result in a reward are actions that are worth repeating. Healthy treats are a perfect way to reward your pup for good manners, but like all things, be sure to use treats in a controlled manner, to reinforce the good behavior you want.
Negative rewards, for a dog or puppy, have nothing to do with scolding, yelling, hitting, yanking, etc. Believe it or not, this expenditure of energy on your part will actually reinforce the behavior you do NOT want, encouraging your dog to repeat it again and again. Instead, don't use your voice at all. Avoid making eye contact with your dog or puppy, and quietly, calmly, redirect your pet's attention to the behavior you DO want.
Shorter is Better!
Dogs, and especially puppies, have very short attention spans. They will also get frustrated in long sessions that require their undivided attention, making your job as the pet parent that much more difficult. Instead, keep the sessions short and if your dog's attention does begin to waver, stop for awhile and do something else for a little while. After a few minutes, come back to the lesson you were attempting to teach initially.
Finding the Key!
One of the most powerful ways to motivate your pet is to figure out what her favorite reward is. Sometimes, it's a particularly delicious treat. For other dogs however, it's a game of catch-the-ball, frisbee, or access to their favorite toy. Even just a big heap of love and compliments on their fuzzy heads are all that's needed. No need to overcomplicate this one, dogs are easy to please!
Punishment Never Works
You may be inclined, due to what you've experienced in the past as regards raising a well mannered dog, to punish your pet's bad behavior. Fortunately for everyone involved, punishment of a pet, whether it be physical, verbal, or otherwise, it simply doesn't work. All that punishment of your dog will do is reinforce what you do not want, forcing your dog to become sneaky and hide the behavior. Eventually, your dog will become fearful of you, reluctant to share your affection, and self-isolating. This is not the path to a trusting, healthy relationship between you and your pet.
One of the most powerful ways to motivate your pet is to figure out what her favorite reward is. Sometimes, it's a particularly delicious treat. For other dogs however, it's a game of catch-the-ball, frisbee, or access to their favorite toy. Even just a big heap of love and compliments on their fuzzy heads are all that's needed. No need to over-complicate this one, dogs are easy to please!
Potty training your dog, whether a puppy, adolescent, or full-grown family member, can be a difficult and trying time for any pet parent. Urination is an important method of communication for a wide variety of animals, not just yours! Dogs rely on the odors from urine and feces to communicate with other members of their species.
As unpleasant as it may sound, urine and feces contain a wealth of information, encoded, for dogs to understand. These messages last for days, and are easily picked up by other dogs. This is a deeply ingrained survival tool that is a part of their genetic make-up and history, and is, as we all know, a very natural bodily function!
As natural as urination may be, your dog urinating in your home, and even worse, the homes of your friends, relatives, or caregivers, is simply not very socially acceptable to anyone. One good way to help prevent accidents of this nature is to get into the regular habit of watching your dog constantly whenever they are in a new, non-pee-appropriate, environment. It is critical to catch this behavior the first time they go to 'do' it. Once a dog has scent marked an area once, they will try to do it again. Be sure to follow at your dog's heels to watch for the tell-tale sniffing, squatting, or leg lifting indicative of the need to urinate. The moment you see this occurring, distract the dog with whatever signal you have for going outside. Bring them out immediately, without hesitation, and let them do their business there. If you are able to prevent it from happening the first time, your dog will get the message that indoors is not the place to scent mark (urinate).
It can sometimes happen that a dog starts marking inside even after they are house trained. The reasons for this are numerous, and can be as simple as the departure of a family member, the arrival of a new pet, a new baby, or a significant change in routine. Reactions of this nature are generally related to anxiety in dogs, which is understandable considering the gravity of the situations I've just mentioned. And these are only a few!
In puppies, it is normal to dribble urine when greeting animals or people who they feel have a higher place in the social hierarchy of their group or home. Sure enough, for a puppy this means nearly everyone! Puppies have not yet developed good bladder control, and loss of that control can happen easily. As puppies grow up they usually grow out of this, but some dogs can still suffer from loss of bladder control when they are fully grown.
Nervous or under-confident dispositions can often be the cause of inappropriate urination on dogs. Generating confidence in your dog with regular socialization, play, and adequate exercise can remedy much of that nervousness. It is critical, despite the frustration that comes with having to clean up repeatedly after accidents, that the dog never know that you are upset or angry with them in this situation. An emotional reaction will simply make the dog even more anxious. Whatever you do, find a way to release your frustration in a way that the dog does not negatively experience. Offer them patience, love, and calm to help resolve the problem.
Camille Salter is the founder of All Dogs Toronto and a certified, knowledge-assessed dog trainer (CPDT-KA). She is the author of two books on dog behavior: Pandemic Puppy, Decoding the Dog Park, and the Big Book of Dog Training.