Early education for puppies
When a cuddly puppy moves in, many new owners wonder when is the right time to start training. It used to be commonly recommended to hold off entirely for the first year and then start out full speed ahead. These days, that advice is outdated. When a puppy arrives in its new home at the age of eight or ten weeks, it is in a developmental phase characterized by intensive learning (the socialization phase). This is when the puppy forms its relationship with its two-legged family members and form an impression of the world around it.
It would be a shame to let this time pass unused, for one thing. But it wouldn’t be good for the dog, either, because then, at the age of one year, there would be sudden changes in a lot of things that were previously normal. In nature, too, wolf and wild dog pups and many other young animals are trained and raised right from the start so that they learn the rules of coexistence and important survival skills.
What is part of early education?
A reliable baseline level of obedience is important for any dog, so you can teach your puppy a few small exercises through play. These include things like simple sitting, but also a signal to call the puppy back to you. Your puppy should also learn to focus first and foremost on its people when you are outside so that it doesn’t lose its way.
House training is another must, of course. New “puppy parents” view it as the most important thing at first, which is understandable. The other exercises deserve appropriate attention, too, though. Putting in the necessary time and working diligently now will save you a lot of time and effort later.
There are also some other aspects of early education for your puppy. For example, puppies need to learn that they are not the center of the universe. Having lot of physical contact and play is important, but it is equally important for a puppy to learn to be calm and quiet. The most effective way to do this is to use a cozy dog crate where your puppy can relax undisturbed. Many puppies can soothe themselves, while others need a little help to wind down. Especially if there are children in the family, it’s important to make sure your little furry friend gets enough rest.
Puppies generally learn quickly that their “toilet” is outside. At this stage, they still have to “go” fairly often, so you should carry your puppy outside every time he wakes up and after every meal, and in between for quick potty breaks whenever you notice that your puppy hasn’t relieved himself for a while. If your little one sleeps with a limited radius of movement (in a crate, say) close to you at night, he will let you know when he needs to go, and you can also take him outside at night. It won’t take long before he is housebroken. Important: Never get angry with your puppy if he has an accident inside! He will readily associate the scolding with the fact of relieving himself, not where.
The bonding walk
It’s very pleasant to go out with a dog and have him always look to see where you are instead of the other way around. To teach your puppy that, you need to use his instinct to follow. After about a week of settling in, you can carry your pup to an unfamiliar area where there are no distractions. It might be a path, a field, or part of the yard or garden. Put the puppy down there without a leash, beckon him a little if necessary, and set off. He will follow you. It might be a little “bumpy” at first, but that won’t last long. Change directions from time to time, especially whenever he starts to overtake you. If he lags behind because he is sniffing something, pick up the pace or hide behind a tree. As soon as he catches up, just keep walking.
At the start, five minutes is enough, but as your puppy gets older, you can extend these “bonding walks.” At least one of these kinds of walks per day would be good. It is best to do this on your own. If you want to go for a walk as a couple, it’s best to do so silently and arm in arm so that you stay close together and move in the same direction and at the same pace.
Carry the puppy home when your bonding walk is over.
Coming when called
This exercise is one of the most important things your canine companion needs to learn, but it does take structured practice over several weeks. First, look for a striking word. You might use and extended “heeeere,” for example. It is best to practice with a helper who can hold the hungry puppy by the chest or collar. Quickly walk away a couple of yards with the treat, then turn toward the dog and crouch down. The puppy is focused on you and wants to get to you, but can’t. Now the helper can let go of the puppy. While he bolts off toward you, say “heeeere,” loud and clear. Once the puppy reaches you, hold him by the collar with one hand while he eats the treat out of the other. This is a good way to train your puppy to associate being held with something positive at the same time. That’s important, because when you’re out with your dog later on and call him, he is supposed to stay with you after coming to you. One he has eaten, you can release him and say something like “all done.”
Limit your practice to the house at first, and then the yard, gradually increasing your distance from the puppy. After that, eliminate the helper and call the puppy to you several times a day, at home or in the yard, but only if he isn’t distracted. Then you can add a little distraction, and only then should you try this when you are out and about – but still without distraction in that case. Offer a reward whenever your puppy is quick to come to you.
If you don’t have a helper, you can motivate your puppy to come to you quickly by walking away and using an exciting voice. Just before he gets there, you can crouch down and say your call-back signal. Everything else is the same as described above.
Don’t use your call-back signal when you are out and about, and definitely be sure not to use it if your puppy is busy with something else, at least not until it is firmly ingrained. If it often doesn’t work because the puppy is still overwhelmed, he can’t really learn it.
This is the simplest exercise, and you will often need your dog to know the “sit” command later on. Your puppy will catch on in a flash – you’ll see. Hold a tasty treat over his head without saying anything. If he jumps, just close your hand, hiding the treat. After a short time, the puppy will sit down to think. Now quickly give him the treat. After a few repetitions, the pup will sit down as soon as you hold the treat over his head. This is the right time to introduce the word. Right away, start saying “sit” as soon as the puppy sits. Then offer the treat and say “all done” to let him know he is allowed to stand up. After a few more repetitions over a few days, try saying “sit” without a treat in your hand. The puppy will sit down, and then you can give him the treat and let him know the exercise is over.
Over time, you can extend the amount of time spent sitting. The puppy sits when you say “sit.” Wait a few moments, then reward him and let him know it is all right to stop sitting.
Ending an exercise
As you’ve read above, you need to finish any exercise in which you give your dog a command. One way to do this is to use a consistent word or phrase like “all done” when you are “releasing” the dog afterward. Another is to move directly to a different exercise. For example, if you want your dog to lie down after sitting, the “down” exercise ends the “sit” one.
Letting your puppy know the exercise is over is very important right from the start. This is the only way a dog can learn to engage with the exercise for long enough. As an example, you might have your dog sit next to you because several bicyclists are passing by. Then you wait until they pass before releasing the dog from the “sit” exercise. That way, nothing bad can happen.