Puppy Training: Better Taught Alone, Online or At Class?
Puppy training! I LOVE puppy training. Puppies are such young, pliable loving balls of joy.
To be honest, I just moved and I have a little bit of “puppy-itis” and yes, I am certain that Webster’s dictionary should add this to their dictionary. It means that every time you see a puppy or smell puppy breath you have a desire to have your own furry bundle.
It seems everyone at my veterinary clinic has gotten a puppy lately, and those who haven’t acquired or rescued a puppy seems to be thinking about getting one.
And, I haven’t had a young puppy in almost 8.5 years. I watch old videos of her when she was just a year and a half and it melts my heart to see her learning and building the foundation to her obedience. My male dog was given to me at 6 months or 9 months (I’m getting too old to remember ha ha) and he just turned 7!
Anyway, I have a huge case of “puppy-itis”. I almost fostered a Doberman Pinscher puppy (7 months) last week.
But I believe that I have very different ideas about puppy training.
After all, 25 years of experience and literally hundreds of dogs and puppies in my house over that quarter decade have taught me a lot of things. First off, please don’t think I am a hoarder I have worked with several assistance dog programs and fostered many dogs in my time. Thankfully it has taught me a lot about puppy training, dog training and just general success with dog obedience.
And, I think my interpretation of what I like is very different.
Let me explain!
Let’s just admit it, not everyone is a dog trainer or a good dog trainer. For more on that click here https://thedogtrainingsecret.com/blog/dog-trainer-hour-owners-beware/
Not everyone knows how to teach their dogs or pups impulse control and respect and these are just the basics of being a canine good citizen. These things should begin the moment your puppy crosses the threshold to his new home.
But dogs aren’t people, they aren’t really even close to being like people when it comes to their thinking.
If a dog thinks he can snatch your freshly made sandwich before you can get to it; he has won. He doesn’t understand that there is anything wrong with this behavior. In the wild, this is what would keep this dog alive and well sustained.
I might also mention that puppies don’t come home understanding that going “potty” in the house is wrong, much less BAD. He pees and poops when he needs to; this is how he was raised his first 6-8 weeks. Babies don’t pop out of the womb using the toilet or never making mistakes either.
But somehow the barrier between species gets lost and it is up to us humans and dog owners to learn how to communicate effectively when our new puppy comes home.
There is a fine line between losing your temper when your puppy has an accident or steals an item once and allowing him to continue these behaviors for months. I personally like as little correction as possible.
So, rewarding good behavior is crucial in teaching puppies.
I Recommend Online Puppy Classes and Impulse Control Classes First
I teach puppy kindergarten classes, so don’t misunderstand me. I love my puppy classes!!! But my puppy classes won’t delve into your potty training issues, nipping or impulse control too far. Of course we discuss it and I ask for problems people are experiencing each week. But, I don’t live with you or spend an hour with you; I have to split my time with all my clients issues.
For the most part puppy classes are for socialization (more on this in a bit).
First off, I don’t want you to wait for 4 to 6 weeks to get into a class before you begin training your puppy in puppy kindergarten classes.
I want you to learn to reward good behaviors.
I want you to reward your puppy when he sits.
I want you to reward your puppy when he lies down.
I want you to reward your puppy when he is just chilling with his toys in his toy box (yes, get him a toy box). Chewing is his toys is what you want him to chew right?
We spend SOOOOO much time telling our puppies what they do that is wrong. Get down, stop chasing the cat, drop it, leave it!!!! NO, NO BAD DOG!!!
But how often do we reward the puppy for things that are good or a better way to say this; for things we “expect”. We may expect him to lay down and chew his toys, but how does he know you like that if you are not praising and rewarding?
Please remember this is a different species with different rules. Although he wants to please you, he doesn’t really know how unless you tell him! Imagine going to a different country and they slap you or add pain when you do something wrong. You may quickly learn what brings the pain… but will you learn what these people want if they never praise or reward you? In essence you would live in a world of the unknown and fear of correction.
Personally I like keeping my puppies on leash when they are in the house, it helps with housebreaking and it forces you to train your puppy. If you ever sign up to raise a guide dog puppy they will force you to do this and within a few hours, days, weeks you will see why. A dog on a leash won’t be allowed to show the naughty behaviors that a dog with total freedom has and this helps to condition him and form good behaviors instead of constant wars of compliance.
I will tell you, having your puppy on a leash is a pain in the a*% but it is certainly crucial in their development. It also keeps them from eating and swallowing what is inappropriate. At my veterinary clinic alone we have seen or referred about 8 obstruction surgeries from dogs that are chewing or eating things that they shouldn’t. I guarantee if your dog is on leash and he grabs your $30 underwear you aren’t going to let him chew up and eat them!!!!
Leashes are also great for house training. When my puppy is on leash with me and we are watching a movie, him with his toys, me with my wine… I notice when he begins to do the “potty dance” and it keeps him from wandering off and having accidents. He is still going to make mistakes but they are certainly going to be less! Once he has the idea I can teach him to ring a bell and tell me he has to go outside.
Online dog training allows you the ability to understand more about where your dog is coming from and focus on the mundane until you are ready to move on to more advanced obedience.
I use “mundane” a little tongue in cheek because this kind of training is the most important.
Dogs who nip, dogs who have potty training problems, and dogs with impulse control issues end up on death row at the shelter. It is never the dog that doesn’t “sit” fast enough or have a pretty “flip finish”.
That doesn’t mean you should take this phase too long, set up homework for yourself and train at least 5 times per day but work at home where there are no distractions. This is the best environment for your dog to learn.
People have often thought they needed to take their dog “out” for training; this is just another myth. We learn best when distractions are lessened and where we are comfortable. We don’t take our children to the zoo and expect them to learn!! We put them in a quiet classroom where distractions are little to none and it is easiest to learn.
Puppy kindergarten class is like asking your child to learn at the zoo or Chuck E Cheese… this kind of environment is not conducive to learning. YOU might learn some basic things but it is likely to leave you frustrated because it is not advantageous to the dogs’ learning.
The next phase of training, once I have gotten my feet wet, is training alone.
I have already learned from my online classes.
I have taught impulse control and the basics, and I have a dog I am pretty darn happy with at home! After all, we spend most of our time at home anyway!
Now it is time to add distractions!
At first I actually recommend training on concrete or in a parking lot. Parking lots hold less smells that can add to your dog’s distraction and your frustration.
A raccoon that just ran through your back yard is much more odoriferous than the same coon that scooted across your church parking lot.
This allows me to keep my rewards and jackpots plentiful as we train, and it also helps to set him up for success. I, for instance, would never choose to take my herding dog to a field of sheep and expect him to keep up with his basic and advanced obedience.
I want to add distractions slowly. YES, he will make mistakes but if you set him up for success both of you will be less frustrated. I also take time of day into account. I am not going to train at 530 pm on Wednesday when everyone is off work and at the church. I am going to choose 1 pm on a Tuesday as a better time for success.
Work HARD! This doesn’t just come down to a month or two or work; this takes time. Eventually you should be able to walk through Walmart parking lot (on leash of course) and have his focus on you as well as impeccable obedience. Honestly I used to train inside and outside the dog park, so aim for big things!
Dog obedience training classes definitely have their place in your training regiment! For help finding a good one click here.
Can I admit, even I take obedience class? I never tell the trainer that I too am a trainer, although I suspect it is fairly noticeable, but I do it strictly for the socialization and proofing my obedience.
My dog is not obedient if he/she cannot listen around other dogs.
The best way to have a semi-controlled environment of dogs is in an dog obedience class.
I would mention, not all obedience trainers are created equal, go to a class where you agree with what is going on with the dogs in the class. Also get comfortable refusing to do things that you think aren’t going to be good for your dog.
One of my dogs is not over fond of dogs. So after our initial dog obedience and advanced dog obedience I enrolled him in a class. If you aren’t familiar with me and my training I am an advocate of eye contact and focus; so when stressed he looks at me. He doesn’t snarl or lunge or show negative behaviors but sometimes the trainer would ask me to work or socialize too close and I would refuse. I know my dog, I know what I trust with my dog and I ultimately am in control of him and his behavior.
It is much better to refuse to do a behavior and look like a conceited difficult individual than it is to have an incident where someone needs sutures and my dog is deemed dangerous. Ironically now we can literally touch other dogs when getting ready to dock dive, but it wasn’t worth the risk at the time. Trust your instincts, only you know your dog!
Actually you will learn a lot about how to handle and how not to handle other dogs. Your dog will be totally well trained and proofed while other dogs are whining and barking and pulling and this teaches you and confirms that classes are not the place to learn. Your dog is excelling because you gave him the skills he needed prior to the class.
I do like good puppy socialization classes. Most of the time you can’t achieve the kind of obedience I describe in a dog under 6 months old.
So a little class and puppy play time can be a good thing… and a bad thing.
Be cautious again with your trainer. Some dog trainers will let all the dogs chase one dog or play too hard. Make sure your trainer knows what they are doing. It is better to avoid socialization class at all than it is to allow puppies to traumatize one another.
The only myth was that puppies under 6 months wouldn’t hurt each other, and while that is partly true they can traumatize each other mentally and that can last a lifetime.
Again, if you aren’t comfortable grab your puppy and exit, better safe than sorry.
This is a soul that you are going to have as part of your life for the next 10-15 years, so make sure you set him up early for a lifetime of success and being a good canine citizen everywhere he goes.
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.