Puppy Training Hints

by Laura Reynolds
Consistency and positive reinforcement equal successful socialization.

Consistency and positive reinforcement equal successful socialization.

Puppy training strategies are often absolute: use treats; never use treats; reward good behavior only; punish bad behavior. Proponents of each theory are often absolute about its effectiveness. Whatever system you use, be consistent.

Puppies Are Babies

There can be no more understanding creature than a well-trained, effectively socialized family dog. Imagine human babies given to a group of dogs to raise: Romulus, Remus and Mowgli aside, several historical feral children have provided evidence (see Reference 1) that a baby socialized by another species will assume that species' behaviors. If we expect dogs to adopt our ground rules at a tender age, keep in mind that they require the same patience and love as any baby. They are puzzled and often frightened by our expressions of frustration when we try to force them to do what we want them to do. Given enough time, they'd probably pick it up on their own. Training guides the process.

Training Requires Commitment

New dog owners are advised to sign up for obedience training. This good advice is often essential for the humans as well as the dog. Local humane societies, technical colleges and vets frequently offer low-cost courses. Visit courses and decide what kind of training you can discipline yourself to apply consistently. Find courses that have "students" that resemble "Baby" in size and abilities---expecting a Great Dane to perform agility exercises with a class full of Shar-Peis and Chihuahuas is unfair. Find out how soon Baby should be enrolled (trainers usually want housebroken dogs old enough to concentrate for three "reps" of a behavior) and sign him up. Whatever training you choose, repeat lessons on at least a daily basis, doing three repetitions of each behavior before reward, praise or play. If you have a serious attitude about training, Baby will follow your lead.

Babies Make Mistakes

Babies come with two handicaps: They have remarkably short attention spans and little retentive ability. Both develop with age. When Baby "arrives," design for success. Take him to his toileting location after eating and awakening and watch for the signs at other times that he needs to "go." If you ignore him, he'll start to have accidents. All he's ever known is that Mom takes care of it and you need to help him learn new behavior. Remember that dogs are pack animals and that you're the top dog; don't put Baby out of sync with his place in the pack---like in your bed or standing over you. Although an older dog might adapt, Baby will be confused. Use his name without adding diminutives or "pet" names. He needs to learn his name in order to respond properly; he'll know how you feel about him by your tone of voice, not what you call him. Punishment is an extreme response---use only gentle verbal expressions of disappointment at the moment of the incident to avoid confusion. Concentrate on providing loving praise for jobs well done and Baby will respond with enthusiasm and repeated success.

About the Author

An avid perennial gardener and old house owner, Laura Reynolds has had careers in teaching and juvenile justice. A retired municipal judgem Reynolds holds a degree in communications from Northern Illinois University. Her six children and stepchildren served as subjects of editorials during her tenure as a local newspaper editor.