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The Fundamentals of Training a Puppy
Cute, But Challenging
Finding The Right Puppy.
Step 1: Do your homework!
Taking time to research which breed of dog meets your lifestyle preferences is the first step toward adding a dog to your family, in my opinion. Why? Well...just for example, what does it matter if you think the Beagle is the cutest breed you've ever seen... and therefore that's the breed you want to own... if you hate dogs that bark most of the time? Or...what if you love a big dog (that loves to run & play) to make you feel safe at home...but your home is a teeny, tiny studio apartment in a four floor walk-up? The option NOT to research the breed that best suits you is yours...but I think you'd be a fool not to. If you research which college to attend, or what car to buy, you can make time to research what dog will make you happy. It's no waste of time.
Step 2: Puppy vs. teen or adult?
Now, for this article, let's assume you prefer a puppy to an adult dog. This, therefore, implies you want to train your dog personally...from scratch. Everything from commands to housebreaking...you have the time, the confidence, and the desire to mold your baby dog into the adult dog you want he or she to become.
Step 3: Check under the hood.
After you've visit the shelters, if you want to adopt, or the shopping malls, if you want a purebred you can't find in your community through breeders, it's a great thing to visit the puppy you plan to acquire before you actually "seal the deal." Perhaps the breed is right, the price is right, the time is right, but the particular dog itself is not the personality that will work with yours. It happens. Go see the pup before you take him or her home. Try to plan a visit where you are certain you won't be leaving with the animal right then, even if you decide to make him/her yours in the end. Make sure you see yourself with this specific dog for the rest of his/her and your lives. Give yourself time to think it over, away from the cuteness. Think of all the early morning trips outside for potty training (in the snow, hours before a big meeting with your boss). Think of all the chewed up possessions should you take your eyes off your teething treasure for more than a moment. Be sure...then go back and bring it home.
Step 4: Take the plunge!
You've made your selection and you're riding home with your new baby! Congratulations...you're a new parent!! Even if you have kids already, human or animal, this animal is a new "ball of wax." If you already have dogs you've trained, then you have the advantage of experience, sure. But every single dog is different. Be ready for anything.
Step 5: The Honeymoon
If you've found it helpful, you've brought home your new "child" on a day that suits your schedule. You're not working today. The weather could even be ideal for potty training. You've stacked the deck in your favor. Kudos...every little bit helps! But this is the honeymoon phase. The time frame where you aren't annoyed if the new pup eliminates on your lap. The time when you have the availability to let the pup out every 20 minutes to do their business outside instead of in. It's not a bad thing...but the real challenge is when you're on your way to work and the same success needs to happen. Don't fear...it will all happen IF you work at it.
But for now...you've found the right puppy for you. Good for you. Enjoy!
Step 6: Keep it simple - commands: So you work, all throughout this honeymoon timeframe, to instill the basic commands and make this pup understand who's alpha in your home. If you don't...the puppy will run your household. If that's fine by you...read no further. Instead, kick back and let the mayhem commence.
If, however, you want to continue to be master of your domain, start with the basics. A baby can only absorb so much material. My recommendations are to speak, demonstrate, and instill, "No, good girl/boy, down, and come." Master these basic commands first...then move on to others, like, "stop, heel, etc." Whatever core commands you choose (and the choice is all yours), stick to 2-5 of them like scripture until the puppy is well schooled. No sense movingt on to others if the core commands are not yet mastered.
Furthermore, save your "no's" for things that cannot be tolerated, like chewing on anything you don't want chewed...from your toes, to your couch. If you bombard the puppy with "no's," about every single infraction, he/she will just take it lightly. And why is that bad...because if he/she is about to cross the street in front of a car, you want "no" to stop them firm. Replace "no" with a yes that includes an alternative to whatever bad thing they want to pursue. If they're nipping your heals...stop...sit with them and give them a Nylabone. Side note: no raw hides for teething newborns...they're stomach's can't take it yet.
Step 6b: Keep it simple - Housebreaking:
A new puppy's bladder is teeny tiny. Stack the deck in your favor. Take the puppy out every 20 minutes to start. Every time he/she does business where you want them to...praise, praise, praise...seriously, 'til your voice is raw. They'll get the picture, but you have to sell it. Between successes, don't scold. Just clean up the accident and move on. The puppy wants nothing but to please you. If going to the bathroom inside your home yields no feedback, but going outside yields, "good girl, what a good girl you are!" they will prefer to go outside. They want to know they've made you happy (a great thing about dogs.) In between potty breaks, keep them entertained. A bored pup is the one that finds a quiet corner and squats. A puppy playing with the one who brought them home is too busy to recall they need to empty their bladder. Stretch the time between outdoor breaks and/or use indoor pads. Whatever you want them to do, they can learn, if you are will to teach it.
Step 6c: Keep it simple - Play Time:
The puppy has made you their whole world in however many minutes it took to get to your home. They want to play with you...every minute, of every day. If you're not game...consider returning them. Take the time to play. When they chew your finger, give them something you approve they chew. When they get under your feet, kindly remind them to take care and that you apologize for hurting them. When they bore of whatever toys you've provided, improvise. Find a clean empty box. Find a few empty plastic Easter eggs. Find a shoe you were about to donate to charity. They want to play...denying them that will alter your relationship, and not for the better.
Step 7: Behold, the crate!
This puppy is like a newborn human baby; it needs a 100% safe place it can remain when you're unavailable for whatever reason. This safe place is not a prison, it's not a punishment...it's a haven, a place they (and you) can rest easy, knowing the puppy can't get into trouble until you return. Whether the interim is 5 minutes while you use the bathroom in peace, or 5 hours while you go to work...this crate you should have purchased is the puppy's home when you can't be there. Talk to your local pet supply retailer on what size will suit your breed. Some like less space; some need more. I recommend using this space at night to train the puppy that bedtime is sacred time alone. This will help the puppy understand that you're not cruel...rather, you care enough to provide a space for both of you to take a much needed break from each other.
Step 8: Back to Business
Sooner or later, the life you had before you added this adorable member to your family must resume. There's no leave of absence for animal family additions. So the honeymoon ends and you must try to accomplish your day to day tasks while housebreaking, surveilling, and managing the new puppy. It's no easy task. Try holding the pup in one hand when he/she won't wait for attention as you do what must be done to get out the door in the morning. And the key to this critical time...don't despair. What was once a seamless routine, will be once again. You will make that happen.
Care & Feeding
Your puppy training is moving along. You should be noticing, with each passing day, the more effort you put into training, the more results you see. Keep up the good work...and celebrate every training victory. Now it's time to say a word about feeding the puppy.
What Kind of Food?
Ideally, you should have inquired what the pup ate before you brought him/her home and continue with that. But things happen. Maybe the puppy was just being weened off milk. Maybe you forgot to ask. Maybe the kibble the original owner chose is the most expensive brand on the market today. If you decide to switch brands try to make that change immediate. Then puppy will realize, new home, new rules, new food. Personally, I use Science Diet dry kibble. It's bagged by breed size, age, and lifestyle need (e.g. weight control formula), should that apply. It's not the cheapest brand, but the puppies I've raised to adult using it have never been sick...not one day. Find a brand you trust and can afford to use consistently. Dogs thrive on routine. If you're still unsure how to proceed, ask your vet.
If you notice the first day or two or even three that your new puppy is not eating...don't panic. Some breeds are snobs. If they think they can pose a hunger strike and get the kibble upgraded to wet food or, better yet, people food, of course they'll try to win that...wouldn't you? Don't fall for it. They'll eat when they're hungry. If you notice weight loss, keep your vet abreast of your situation and let the vet advise how best to proceed. Don't let the puppy dictate the meal, or that will be the norm going forward. Another great trick to get them to eat is to use the kibble as rewards for training successes. In that vein, it could be months before you ever need to buy dog treats.
Beggars Can Be Annoying
Want a dog that doesn't beg, don't feed it people food. Simple as that. Not from the table, or when your preparing the meal, or when your loading the dishwasher. My oldest dog doesn't even know what begging is. A scrap or crumb of food may fall from the table, and sure, she knows it's food...but she leaves it alone. And it's no surprise why...she was trained to leave it alone. She has her food, we have ours. Again, how strict you are with any house rules you set is entirely up to you. But before I leave this subject, consider this. Many health issues pets develop over the years can be linked back to what they've eaten. Countless people foods are harmful to dogs instantly (e.g. chocolate), but some can do long term damage. We have a local ice cream shop that hosts a monthly dog night where your dog can score a free ice cream treat. This event always draws a good crowd, and that's the whole idea. But I was surprised that the free dairy treat is regular ice cream. Dogs who consume dairy products can be more prone to kidney stones and bladder infections. Just keep it in mind when you do with your dog what you will. A free ice cream today, a huge vet bill down the road...it can happen.
Now when you start out, you are usually the most diligent in your care & training of your new pet. But even if you keep begging out of your house, it's natural to want to spoil your dog on special occasions. Doesn't he/she deserve a taste of your holiday roast? Isn't he/she entitled to a tiny nip of cake on a birthday? Again, you decide. New toys or supplies (a bigger bed, a shoe they're permitted to chew) make great stocking stuffers. And special occasions are great times to break out those dog treats you hardly use because you train with kibble rewards. There's also dog friendly food treats you can have to tell your dog how special they are to you. My oldest dog doesn't need another toy, so for her birthday we get her some plain steamed rice from the Chinese take out shop. Sometimes we'll broil a boneless chicken breast, seasoned only in its own juices, and cut a bit of that into the rice. She loves it and she's safe from having tummy trouble or thinking she no longer a kibble eater.