Puppies are so cute and so soft and snuggly. They hold so much potential and are such a source of joy. Yet in our family getting a puppy is also a lot of work. We run a 2-3 week BOOTCAMP for puppy and kids and parents. Laying most everything else aside we start creating the experiences that we want later on and for the rest of the dog's life.
There are so many amazing dog training books out there but they are not all created equal and I've spent many years reading books and talking to family who have been very successful for dog training and we have a bit of dog training program that has always been very successful for us.
Dog training for me has two part- building the relationship and defining expectations.
Building the relationship is the fun part, the snuggles and playtime joy of watching them discover new things like snow or toys or even their own tail.
Defining expectations is a bit more tedious. We believe that a dog who knows what is expected of them is a better dog and a happier dog. So from the very first day we set those expectations. I don't want to have a dog for the next 10 years that is a handful, that is not reliable and that I am always stressing about. I feel that a bit of hard work during the puppy stage is well rewarded for the rest of the dogs life.
Our motto when training is
" Don't give a command that you cannot make them do or they will think of it as a suggestion"What that means is that you cannot, from across the room, yell "sit" and expect that will be successful- we teach the children , and remind ourselves that we have to be present and physically able to follow through so that the dog actually is successful EVERY SINGLE TIME that word is said. The only exception if the command "go pee!"
When we first bring puppy home it is a big and scary place and there are lots of rules and expectations. We try to help the puppy be successful by not letting them ever navigate alone in those first days. If puppy is really young (8-9 weeks old) we actually keep them in our arms for most of the first three days, with a couple of hours a couple of times each day in the kennel unless we are outside then they are onleash. They are in our arms because when they have to pee they will squirm and we can rush them outside to their pee spot and say "go pee" and be ready to reward them with treats and snuggles as soon as they pee. When they are outside playing with them onleash and they go to the bathroom we repeat the command "go pee" . We also have a hand signal for every command. It works so much better for the children to have a hand signal because otherwise they sometimes end up saying "do you have to go potty, now is a good time to go" or rather "blah blah blah blah blah" to the pup!!
Within 2-3 days every pup is fully housebroken to our home. It will take much more time before they are housebroken to other homes!! And then pup spends more and more time out of the kennel in the house on leash. Yep, puppy stays on a 6-8 foot leash attached to my belt loop for those first few weeks with the exception of training which may also include a leash but usually a longer one!
This umbilical chord approach does two things protects and defines roles. First of all it protects the children, I know where the dog is at all times and have the control to be able to pull back the dog if it were to try to hurt them. That has never happened mind you. What it has done many times is save the puppy from getting into trouble or getting hurt (or getting over loved by the children!). It also sets the tone in the family and there have been times when the puppy was particularly nippy with one child so I would attach the leash to that child for the day and the puppy would learn that they are a dog and that position is at the bottom of our family pecking order!
The most important command is "COME". A dog that doesn't have good recall is a dog that is at risk. We start teaching this command from the very first day. When puppy is running into our arms we say COME. We also do two or three training sessions per day. Little puppies only can handle 5 mins at a time but older puppies can enjoy 20 mins of training and since we use food rewards we always do it BEFORE a mealtime so they are a little hungry and more motivated.
Why is recall important? Why do you have to know that your dog will always COME on command ? That's easy- how many dogs have gotten out of their leash while out for a walk? Slipped under a fence? slipped out the door when company came over or when the child didn't close the door? Every single dog I've ever owned has had at least one of these experiences. I believe teaching COME is a life or death command.
Putting the puppy on a long and heavier leash (I like the metal ones that are really thin so they are not super heavy but have a bit of weight to them) we set them up with a toy and then move a little bit away and firmly say COME holding our arms open and holding a treat. Once puppy starts to come we repeat the word again - COME- then when puppy gets to us we have a party with lots of snuggles and excitement and head pats and the treat. Sometimes puppy doesn't come immediately, they are distracted or don't' associate that word with them. Then we repeat the word COME and we pull the leash steadily towards ourselves . We do not jerk it or jiggle it, just pull it and repeat the word COME as they are "coming" and once they reach us we have a party and they get a treat.
After about a week or so they learn to love that word COME- no other word gets such a party or such good treats. Then we move to the lighter weight leash and go farther away and continue to teach this word many times a day. Sometimes with a treat, sometimes without but always with a party of excitement when they reach us. Finally we move to fishing line. This is an important step because now you can be far away, maybe even out of sight and the puppy doesn't know why they are coming (if they are getting pulled along) but they just do it. They believe that they must come at that command. We take turns with who does this command and we do it inside and outside but always on leash. It generally takes about 2 weeks for this to be a solid command- some puppies have learned it in a day or two but we continue hard core for a few weeks and then reinforce it at least once a day when we can make them do it- this is probably for the first year to be honest. It is easy to get into the habit of using the COME command and having a party. We never use the command if we are discipline our dog. Which brings us to motto number 2.
Puppy will NEVER be punished for obeying a command .
We have found ourselves chasing a puppy to pull something out of their mouth but wouldn't' use the word COME in those early training months because then COME is associated with them losing out on something.
Puppies need to explore with their mouths and we believe that it is super important to give puppies lots of things to chew, different textures and flavours! It has been recommended that we put a drop of vanilla extract on everything that is the puppies so that they associate that scent with what belongs to them. We haven't done it yet but I think it is a good idea and had meant to do it this time. Having puppy attached to you means that you can correct puppy immediately if they are gnawing on your baseboards or trying to chew the mittens.
Puppies should ever have their teeth touch human skin. Nipping , biting and mouthing are normal puppy behaviours but they do not have any room in our home. Every time puppy's teeth touches skin we yelp and turn away ignoring the puppy for 30 seconds. Usually very quickly puppy learns that if he wants to play he will need to have manners. One of the best ways to keep the play going is to have a toy in one hand ready to put gently in the puppy's mouth before they reach the hand. If puppy is biting hard or cannot calm down then they will get some time out in the kennel.
Kennel training is a new thing for us in the last few years. We had gotten a rescue dog that was kennel trained and part of the agreement was that we would provide a kennel. We had no idea how amazing a kennel would be! There are lots of great resources for kennel training. We try to start with the end in mind so we included kennel time right from the beginning because it would be a regular part of pups day at least for the next 2 years!
4 am (or whenever they cry) wake up to take puppy out to pee, putting them on leash and not speaking at all except to announce "pee" when they pee. Putting them back in the kennel.
7 :00 am wake up and taking puppy out to pee. Once they pee then a bit of playtime outside and training. Then we all have breakfast as a family and then after we have eaten we take 5-20 mins to do playtime and training for puppy. After this puppy eats and goes back outside right away. We try not to play before they do their "business" because we always want them to go as soon as possible.
8:30 puppy goes in the kennel for 3 hours while we do our daily tasks/chores
11:30 puppy gets taken outside to pee and then playtime and a bit of training and then will come and stay on leash for a few hours at my side.
3:00 puppy gets taken outside to pee and then playtime and a bit of training and then into the kennel until after we finish supper. We might go to the store or we might stay home and just get things done, the puppy learns that the kennel is a normal part of their day.
6:30 after we are finished eating supper puppy gets taken out to pee and then training 5-20 mins and then gets fed again. Then needs to go out again for the next 20-30 mins outside. Then we have family reading/snuggle time so puppy gets some cuddles or gets to play with toys at our feet. We often will barricade the living room and take them off leash and put out toys to have a bit more freedom for an hour or two as we are present but not necessarily working with puppy. No more water given
8:30 puppy goes into the kennel while we do bedtime routine as puppy is never in our bedrooms.
9:30 puppy goes out to pee and play and train and then comes inside to go to bed for the night.