By Mel Lee-Smith
Published: 09/18/2020, edited: 08/10/2021
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All pet parents face the dilemma of figuring out the best time to start puppy training, but the fact is that behavioral training begins at birth. Like human babies, puppies start learning about their surroundings and proper behavior from the moment they open their eyes. Mother dogs teach their young appropriate behaviors and responses through vocal cues, nipping, and by setting examples through their own conduct.
Most dog training classes won’t accept dogs under 6 months old, but many experts insist training should begin far earlier. By adolescence, untrained dogs may be set in their ways and have behavioral patterns that are more difficult to break and may follow them into adulthood.
A lot of puppies are responsive to simple commands at just 2 months old. Training a very young dog can be tricky since they’re excitable and have trouble focusing on a single task for long periods. Praise and treats can help keep a puppy’s attention for a little while, but frequent breaks may be necessary.
When should I start puppy training?
Many experts say you should begin working on basics from the very day you bring your pup home. Not all training is intensive or even looks like training; in fact, some of the most effective training styles for puppies are based on play. Even playing tug of war or petting your fur-baby can teach manners like not biting and being respectful.
By 7 to 8 weeks old, your pup may begin to respond to simple commands like “sit” and “leave it” At this age, their attention spans are still very short, so keep this in mind when structuring training sessions.
Before you delve into intensive training, test the waters with your pup. Prioritize activities that keep your pup’s attention. Tug-of-war and fetch are fantastic interactive games to engage your dog and hold their attention.
As you progress into basic commands, try different reward tactics to see what your dog is most responsive to — is it food, toys, praise, or play? Use your dog’s interests to your advantage as a way to reward good behaviors.
Start small with basic commands. “Sit” is an excellent starting point since it’s a natural behavior and is the simplest to teach. The single most important task when beginning puppy training is to be consistent. Don’t let bad practices go without correction, or good behaviors go without praise. Keep in mind that like humans, dogs learn at different paces and may take to some commands faster than others.
Set your puppy up for success by training in an environment that’s conducive to learning. Pick a quiet time with minimal foot traffic to train. Cut off the TV and close the blinds to further minimize outside distractions. Try to schedule training times when your dog isn’t overly excited, tired, or hungry.
Pet parents must manage their expectations when first starting puppy training, obedience and behavioral training take time and repetition for both the puppy and the trainer. Your dog may be a fast learner, but they aren't going to grasp every command the first few times.
Patience and consistency are crucial for successful training. Don't overwhelm yourself, either. Refrain from using harsh verbal and physical punishments since this can make your dog not want to continue training.
Effective training methods for puppies
Let's break down some of the best training methods for puppies with short attention spans.
Food Lure Training
Find a healthy treat your dog likes. The food must be appealing to your dog since it’s placement will guide your dog’s behavior. You may substitute treats with a plush or toy your pup likes if your pooch isn’t food-driven.
To encourage your dog to sit, hold the treat over the back of your dog’s head, and say “sit.” Your dog may try to turn around or jump up to get the treat but tuck it into your hand. Wait until your dog completely sits on the floor before rewarding them.
After a few successful repetitions with the treats, make the same over-head motion and command without a treat in hand. After your dog, assumes the sitting position, reach for a treat and give it to them.
With consistent training, your dog will start to respond to the “sit” command without treats or hand gestures.
Food-lure training can be used for a variety of commands, just use the lure to guide your pup in the desired manner. When working on “lay down,” hold the treat in your palm, with your fingers facing the floor. Once your pup is flat on their tummy, release the treat and praise them.
If you want your dog to heel, say “heel” while holding the treat at your waist. Wait for Fido to settle down in the sitting position beside you to release the treat.
Clicker training follows many of the same principles as food lure training. Clickers are devices meant to highlight acceptable behaviors with a clicking noise. This tool is often more effective than verbal praise because it's an instant response, so there’s no confusion about which action is being rewarded. Food lure and clicker training go hand and hand since most trainers use the “click and treat” method to mark and reward desirable conduct.
Start with a basic command like “sit,” “down,” “stay,” or “come.” Lead your dog into the desired position using a treat or toy as a lure.
As soon as your dog completes the desired action “click” and treat them, you may also praise them verbally and with pets to reiterate the praise.
After several repetitions over a few days or weeks, you can phase out the treats and only use the clicker to reward positive behavior.
Crate training helps minimize destructive tendencies and accidents in the house, though it won’t help you teach your dog commands.
It’s vital that your dog views their crate as a safe place and not a place of punishment. The idea of crate training is to prevent soiling in the house and eliminate behaviors caused by separation anxiety. Leaving your dog in a crate for prolonged periods won’t teach your puppy anything and will likely worsen accidents since their bladders are small and unable to hold their urine for long.
First, start by introducing your puppy to the crate. Try to make it cozy with some blankets (preferably ones that smell like you), toys, and a water dish. It may be helpful to give your dog some treats or a new toy when getting them acclimating them to the crate to forge a positive association.
Encourage your dog to "sniff out" their enclosure and lay down inside with the door open. Don’t force your puppy into the kennel since this can instill fear.
After your pup is comfortable in their new spot, try leaving them in the crate with the door closed for 5, 10, and 15-minute intervals, praising them and taking them out to potty as soon as they exit the cage.
Make sure you take your pup straight out to potty after removing them from the kennel; this will create a schedule and let your dog know what you expect of them. If your pooch potties outside after leaving the crate, treat and praise them enthusiastically.
Gradually increase increments of time your pup spends in the kennel to a maximum of 3-4 hours. Remember, puppies cannot hold their waste as long as older dogs.
Always take your dog to potty before putting them in the cage to minimize accidents.