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Congratulations, you’ve got a puppy! Here’s how to avoid the biggest puppy training mistakes.
Whether your dream is to raise your young dog to be a laid-back member of the family, a working dog, star athlete, guard dog, or some combination, training good puppy habits is smart. We recommend paying extra attention to these mistakes puppy owners often make. If you let them slide, life with your adult dog is likely to be… challenging.
First, it’s helpful to have a game plan when it comes to training your puppy. Try this 1-2-3 approach:
- SET GOALS for what you want your dog to do, and when.
- Use CONSISTENT, CLEAR COMMANDS for each action you want to train.
- Be AWARE of your puppy’s attention span while you’re training him or her (like with children, it’s hard for puppies to concentrate for long blocks of time).
Making a fuss when greeting your puppy
- What it looks like: you (or others), start speaking excitedly, petting them, rolling the adorable ball of fluff around and/or encouraging him or her to jump up.
- Why that’s a bad idea: You’re training your dog to go wild at someone’s arrival—cute when small, but as they grow, it’s both annoying and potentially dangerous. Pups underfoot put anyone carrying bags, babies, etc., at risk, (and your puppy can get hurt, too).
- Goal behavior: A puppy (and later, dog), that approaches and sits until you give them the signal (e.g., whatever your release command is).
- How to train your puppy to greet nicely:
- Greet your puppy by name, but don’t respond to their twirling antics.
- Tell them “no” in a calm, firm voice (no shouting needed).
- Walk or turn away if they carry on or jump.
- Once they’ve calmed down and are sitting, you can pick them up, pet them (don’t rile them up again!), and start to play if you want to.
Allowing your puppy to bite, nip, or snap
- What it looks like: While playing with your dog, you grab things from them as they lunge (e.g., toys, sleeves, towels, rope), encouraging them to bite. You allow them to nip at your hands, ankles, or other body parts. Or, when you attempt to take something from them and they snap at you, you do nothing.
- Why that’s a bad idea: This move is a normal part of dog-on-dog play, but as they grow, and their jaws get stronger, biting can do serious damage. Dogs learn from how we direct them, so if they think biting is something you’re okay with, it can become part of their behavior set.
- Goal behavior: Your dog does not seek to put anything inside his/her mouth other than what’s safe: food, treats, their toys.
- How to train your puppy not to bite:
- Tell them “no” calmly but firmly, while removing whatever’s in his or her mouth.
- Ignore them until they stop trying to nip or bite.
- Give them a toy to bite instead.
- If these steps fail, try putting a few drops or a squirt of a bad-taste training spray on whatever they’re biting (probably not a good option if they’re nipping your hands).
- Remember to give lots of praise as soon as they stop.
Ignoring bad dog behavior (that you’ll regret when they’re grown)
- What it looks like: Jumping on you or visitors; straining at the leash; chewing stuff not designed to be chewed; digging, jumping on or gnawing at the furniture; knocking down children, etc.
- Why that’s a bad idea: Behaviors you allow are likely to become hard habits to break. And while many actions are cute when your dog is pint sized, things will look very different when they’ve grown into clever, stronger, gallon- (or pony-) sized dogs.
- Goal behavior: A dog that follows house rules—including leaving people and things alone that aren’t theirs, unless by specific invitation.
- How to train your puppy to have better manners:
- Tell them “no” in a calm, firm voice.
- Re-direct their attention from what’s bad, to a behavior that’s better.
- Put them on a leash while you train if necessary.
- Give them a toy or two for when you’re home, and a few they get only when you’re away. (The tips in this recent article about barking can give you some ideas, too.)
And the worst of all puppy training mistakes: being inconsistent
- What it looks like: Sometimes you use good training methods, ignoring bad behaviors and praising good ones. Other times you let him or her run wild, shout, yank on a leash, and/or are too tired or rushed to wait until they do what you ask.
- Why that’s a bad idea: Owners who use this Jekyll-and-Hyde approach to raising a puppy are more likely to end up with stressed out—confused, anxious and/or disobedient—adult dogs. And, potentially ingrain bad or dangerous behavior.
- Goal behavior: A puppy that gradually starts to realize he or she won’t get anywhere by acting up, and starts paying attention to your directions.
- How to train YOURSELF to be more consistent:
- Constantly remind yourself that this training period is SHORT—far shorter than what’s required to raise a child, and probably even shorter than the time it takes to change your own habits!
- Take a deep breath and count to 10.
- And follow the 1-2-3 game plan outlined above.
Many puppy-training issues are easier to correct when you have a clear vision for the good manners you want to instill. Plan ahead (just a little), to make sure you’re able to be patient, and give your dog the attention, and patience he or she needs to learn.
It can also help to get instruction and support from a pro like our trainers at White Mountain College for Pets, too. So give us a call and trade puppy training mistakes for puppy training mastery!