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Starting Your Puppy's Training Off Right


Let me begin by saying that each and every puppy is different.   This means that there is no hard and fast rule for what will work when it comes to training your dog.   While most basic training concepts will work for the average puppy, you will often need to adapt and change the finer points of your training routine to fit your unique situation.  You may also have situations crop up in which you will have to try several approaches before you find the one that works for you and your dog.   


Remember that there is a ton of information and advice available from your breeder, your veterinarian, from books (see my suggestions for reading material by CLICKING HERE) and on the internet (see my LINKS PAGE for other training resources).  These resources can help you quickly resolve training issues and can help you stop unwanted behavior before it becomes an ingrained bad habit.   However, regardless of how knowledgeable your resource is or how much experience they have had with training dogs, you must always keep in mind that YOU are the one in charge of your puppy's training and you are the person who knows your puppy and situation the best.  Just because someone claims to know how to train dogs doesn't mean they always know what's best for your dog.


If one of your training resources suggests a training routine or activity that makes you uncomfortable or that you think is inappropriate for your puppy,  then DON'T do it!  The fact that someone has written a book or has an article posted on the internet does not make them an expert on YOUR puppy.  You must always consider your individual situation and use your own best judgment when working with your dog.    If one person's technique makes you uncomfortable or if you don't think that approach is right for your dog, then find another resource for information.  Continue reading, asking questions and researching other options until you find something that you are comfortable with and that you feel is appropriate for your situation.  There is no one "right" way to train a dog!  Keep looking and learning until you are satisfied that you have made the right decision for how and what to teach your dog.


Formal Training:

One of the first things I suggest doing, even before you get your puppy, is to research your local kennel club.  (This can be done from the AKC web-site's Club Search page.)  Your local kennel club will often sponsor puppy kindergarten and obedience training classes.   I think a puppy kindergarten and at least one basic obedience course are a MUST for ALL new puppy owners.  These classes are a great tool in helping you learn to train your dog, helping you teach your dog basic manners and in helping socialize your young dog with strange people and other dogs of various sizes and shapes. The puppy must be 8-10 weeks old for the kindergarten class and six months old for the regular obedience class.


I recommend your local kennel club's classes over most other training facilities because the people teaching for the kennel club are generally all people that are (and have been for some time) involved in training and showing their own dog(s).  Trainers at other facilities may have taken a two day training course from their employer and been pronounced knowledgeable enough to teach others to train their dogs!  Or they may have just hung a sign on the fence and taken out an ad in the yellow pages because they have owned a couple of dogs and they think this qualifies them to teach others.  Be sure to thoroughly investigate any company or group you choose, or if you are referred to a specific teacher or organization, be sure your referral is from a reliable source. 


No matter where you take your dog for training, keep in mind my advice from above.  YOU must always be the one in charge of your dog's training.  There can be bad teachers in any organization and you must always be prepared to do what is right for your puppy.  This could mean having to withdrawing your puppy from a class or activity that you do not feel is safe or appropriate for your dog.  Even if it is embarrassing or means losing the balance of monies paid for a series of classes, please do not ever let someone push you into doing something that you believe is inappropriate or unsafe for your dog. 


Making Your  Training Work:

Remember to be flexible but also stick to your guns when it comes to making your new puppy mind. Like children, puppies will push their limits sometimes just to see what you will let them get away with. If you are consistent in requiring your puppy to do as you ask, he will quickly learn that he must mind you all the time. Of course the secret here is to never give a command that you cannot enforce. Telling Fido to "sit" from across the room and then having to chase him down to correct him is NOT the right approach. NEVER give a command unless you are WILLING and ABLE to enforce it!


Acceptable Behavior:

Before you bring your new puppy home, you need to make some decisions about what behaviors you consider appropriate and inappropriate for the new puppy.  Have a family meeting with all the family members present that will be helping to train the puppy.  Make a list of the behaviors that each person feels are important for your puppy to learn and that each person feels are inappropriate.  Your list should be personalized to include all of the things that will help you make your new puppy a true family member.


Remember that if you have neighbors with children or animals, your puppy must learn to interact with them.  If you entertain frequently, it will be important to teach your dog to behave properly around a lot of people.  If you travel it will be important that your dog adapt easily to different sights and sounds.  One of my personal pet peeves with canine behavior is animals that bolt through open doors.  This is not respectful of the owners position of authority, is dangerous for the dog if he should be able to run into the road and can cause injury to humans that get tripped by the pushy animal forcing it's way through the door.  The above examples are just a sampling of situations you should consider when thinking of what will be important in your puppy's training.  There are any number of other considerations that will influence how you would like your puppy to behave, so consider your situation carefully to be sure that you have a full understanding of issues that will need to be addressed once you get your puppy home.


Now is the time to decide whether Fido is allowed on the furniture, in the kitchen or dining room during meal times, sleeping in the bed, etc., etc.  Be sure and include things like licking, jumping and chewing.  Have every one contribute to a list of the pros and cons of each behavior and then discuss this information with each other.   Some examples of questionable behavior are:

  • Giving Kisses - many people love to get kisses from their dog(s), but others are thoroughly disgusted by the thought. 

  • Jumping Up On Your Legs - some people want their dog to jump up to say hello, but what if you have a young child visiting that is easily knocked down or intimidated by a puppy that jumps up?  And will you really want Fido to jump up to say hello when he has wet feet and you're dressed to go out?

  • Playing Rough - some people like to play slightly "rough" games with their dog and don't mind light tooth contact from the dog.  However, homes with young children need to discourage all types of mouth contact with humans. Children are not capable of setting consistent limits for the puppy and "rough" play can quickly get out of hand.

  • Begging - many people find this practice annoying and do not want their dog to put on a show every time they open the refrigerator.  Keep in mind too, that if you feed your dog from your plate, he may feel free to snatch food if someone should leave a plate unattended.

Once you and your family have made your decisions on what behaviors are acceptable and which are not, make sure that everyone in the family understands that it's not fair to the puppy for one person to allow the dog on the furniture if another family member is going to discipline the puppy for that behavior.  Everyone must be consistent in what they expect of the puppy. 


Making A Comitment:

A dog that is well-trained is a joy and pleasure to have around.  An untrained dog is many times viewed as a nuisance and cause of frustration.  Many dogs ultimately wind up relegated to the backyard with little or no attention, or abandoned entirely, because the owners are unwilling to make the commitment necessary to properly train the dog.  Before you purchase a puppy, PLEASE be sure that you are ready to make a commitment to that dog for his entire life-time and that you and your family are willing to do what it takes to ensure that the dog is well-trained and an accepted member of your family.


House Training:

House-training is, of course, at the top of the list of desirable behaviors.  I have a couple of separate articles dealing with this issue, so please click on the following links for further information on this issue: 

The Pack Leader:

The first (and most important) step in training your new puppy will be establishing yourself and other family members as the dominant "pack" leaders.  Like wolves, dogs are pack animals.  In the wild, each dog would have a specific place in the pack that is determined by age, condition, sex, etc.  These rankings are necessary to keep order.  Most dogs prefer to be on the lower end of the rankings where they are told what to do and will happily assume a subordinate position if they feel that they have a competent leader.


As the "pack leaders" of your family, the adults in your household will need to be the puppy's dominant figures.  The pack leaders' body language and the way each of your family members deal with your puppy are very important.  Pack leaders must not appear hesitant when dealing with the puppy.  Be confident, move quickly and surely when you are handling him.  When you have your puppy in your arms, roll him over on his back and make him stay there for 20-30 seconds.  This is the most submissive position for a dog and one you should insist your dog be willing to assume.  If the puppy fights and you can't do this with him in your arms, try laying him in the indention between your legs.  You can rub his tummy and talk to him while he's on his back but try not to let him up until he has quit fighting has remained passive for at least 10 seconds.


Teaching your puppy to be submissive and to submit to you rolling him over is a very important exercise.  This behavior will not only help you establish his position as a lower member of the pack but it will also be quite handy when you have to brush his long coat out after he is all grown up!   In addition to your puppy letting you roll him over, you should also get your puppy used to having his muzzle held and his mouth inspected.  Dental hygiene is important and you need to be able to inspect your dog's teeth regularly for problems.  I assure you, your vet and groomer will thank you for this training. 


Another handling/training goal is to be able to pick up and handle your puppy's feet.  Like teaching your dog to roll over and lay quietly, teaching your puppy to have his feet handled is a dual training exercise.   This type of training helps establish your dominance in the pack AND will help you take better care of your puppy too.   Being able to handle your dog's feet will help considerably if you need to trim the dog's toenails at some point and will be necessary during wet weather when you will want to dry Fido's feet before he comes inside. 


There are many other dominance exercises that you can use to show your puppy that you and/or other family members are the boss.

  • Don't feed the puppy until after the family has eaten. In the pack, the "alpha" dogs always get to eat first.

  • If the puppy is lying in your way, don't step over or walk around, make him get up and move out of the way.

  • Always lead the way - go through doors first; when walking, make the dog change directions - if he's pulling to go left, make him go right.

  • When the puppy is young, he will be afraid to be left alone. Take advantage of this by deliberately turning your back and walking away when you know he's watching. Encourage him to follow you and don't go very far without stopping to reward him with ample praise. The idea is for him to get used to having to follow you. This will also encourage him to pay attention to you. If he doesn't want to be left alone he will have to keep his attention focused on you.

 Equal Opportunity:

Your new puppy must bond with all the members of your household, not just one.  Allow everybody (that's old enough) to have some individual time with the puppy and take turns with the clean up, care and feeding. If the puppy seems more attached to one family member, try having someone else feed him, take him outside, supervise his playtime, etc. The idea is to teach your puppy to love everybody, not just one person. 



Your puppy will need to socialize with strangers on a regular basis.  This is where the puppy kindergarten classes can really help.  They are a great way for your puppy to interact with strangers and other animals in a controlled, non-threatening environment.  And as an added bonus, you'll both pick up some training tips too! 


Whenever possible take your puppy out with you - to the park, the pet shop, a walk around the block, the bank (most drive-up tellers keep dog biscuits on hand!) Let him meet new people (bring some treats for the new people to give him), and let him see and experience new situations as often as possible.  For more information on this subject, check out my SOCIALIZATION page.


A Positive Relationship

Try to keep your relationship with your new puppy 100% positive.  It is much better to prevent your puppy from making mistakes than to have to correct him because you were inattentive.  All puppies are going to have accidents and make mistakes, but the damage can be mitigated if you are vigilant.  Do your best to help your puppy by paying attention when he's out of the crate and by using your crate correctly.  There is so much a puppy has to learn and it will take a lot of patience on your part to get through it all.  Remember that Cockers are very sensitive and are easily disciplined by a simple change in the tone of your voice.


Training Tips:

One of the most important commands you will teach your puppy is "come".  This command is essential in keeping your puppy safe.  If your puppy should get away from you or should happen to get into something that's potentially harmful, you need to know that he will willingly come to you every time you use this command.  This is one of those crucial times that during training, you never use this command unless you know you can enforce it.  When you do use this command it should always be said with a happy, positive voice and there should always be a huge reward when the dog complies.  NEVER, EVER use this command to get the dog so he can be punished.


It is relatively easy to start this training when your puppy is small as they will usually come running any time you whistle or kiss to them.  Not only that, a young puppy will want to stay with you and will gladly follow where you lead.  This means that you can practice the command often and with predictable results.  As the puppy gets older, be sure and practice this command with the puppy/dog on a leash so you can reel him in if need be.  A regular "refresher" training course with this command is highly recommended to be sure your dog knows he must always come when called. 


Earlier I mentioned that you should walk through doors first as the dominant pack leader and that a well-behaved dog should never bolt out an open door.  The following training tip will combine these two goals and, as an added bonus, it helps your puppy learn to let you know when he needs to go outside. When it's time to go out, take your pup to the door and ask him to sit.  In the beginning you will have to push his butt down to get the correct response, but that's OK. Once he sits, open the door and take him out. Do the same to come back in.  As the pup gets older, make him sit to go out, to come in and once again when he's inside the door. This is handy when you need to dry his feet during wet weather too! This training can also help with dogs that submissively urinate or that have excitement urination issues when greeting people at the door.  Giving the dog a  job to do will let them concentrate on something besides the exciting or threatening arrival of a new person coming into the house, so it can help eliminate these unwanted behaviors.  As the pup gets older, he will also learn to go to the door and sit when he needs to go outside.


Teaching An Old Dog New Tricks:

Most training techniques are good for dogs of all ages.  You CAN teach an old dog new tricks if you are consistent and committed to the process.  Remember that when training dogs, failure is usually the fault of the teacher, not the student! 


In Closing:

Don't forget to reward your dog or puppy the instant they respond correctly to a command. Positive reinforcement will encourage your dog to respond to your commands instantly and consistently.


Also keep in mind that every walk, every playtime, every single minute of time you spend with your dog is a learning opportunity.  Use your time wisely.  Think about the ways you interact with your dog and be sure that you are encouraging appropriate behaviors and discouraging those that could lead to unwanted behavior.


When introducing your puppy to new people, places and things, remember to go slowly.  Don't overwhelm the puppy with 20 new things every day.  It's stressful enough leaving mom and siblings to go to a new home without being confronted by a zillion other scary new experiences at the same time.  Take time to let your puppy adjust to the new family and home before gradually introducing him to other new experiences outside of the home. 


You also need to take your time with how many commands you are asking a new puppy to learn.  Remember that you are already asking him to perform in a number of new ways - walking on a leash, staying alone in a crate, interacting with new family members, eating, drinking and pottying on a schedule.  Don't rush ahead with too many more commands until he has settled into a pretty solid routine and until you are sure he has a good understanding of the basics.


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Copyright Sandcastle Kennels 2004

Last revised: January 06, 2006