One of the biggest errors of judgement novice dog owners make is the assumption that their puppy, just because she's started to obey all the basic commands at 4 or 5 months of age, is 'trained'. Puppies have a great way of reminding us that they're not quite as 'trained' as we think they are...they turn in to disobedient little teenagers!
Never fear. Most dogs do this. It's a lot easier to deal with when you know it's coming and it's by no means an excuse not to work on the basic training elements when they're young, it's just a good idea to be prepared for that time when they start to rebel, says Ryan O'Meara.
Here we'll take a look at some of the best things we can do to prepare our obedient little puppy for that time when they make the transition to adulthood.
Training in Different Places
Most often people train their dogs and puppies at home or at a dog trainer's facility. The dog or puppy learns how to do basic commands and acclimates to the home or training facility and becomes easier to handle in those particular environments. Think about it like this: how differently do children behave in the classroom compared to what happens once they've heard the school-bell ring on a Friday afternoon? Learning to teach basic commands in a variety of different places is one of the best things we can do to teach our pups to be well behaved no matter where they are.
For many owners, when their dogs are taken into another environment they are surprised to find that the dog or puppy is out of control. What we should keep in mind is that training in different environments will teach the young dog that every new place is somewhere exciting to learn and perform their basic obedience commands.
We should think of each new environment as ever expanding circles.
Before we know that a dog is ready to go on to a new environment with a particular behaviour we need to test the dog. Let's start with the 'sit' command and we can also grade the various levels of obedience.
Let’s say in your home your dog will sit 4 out of 10 times when asked to sit. At this level your dog is a 4 and is not ready to go into another environment, especially if you had to lure your dog into those 4 sits you received. In another two days your dog is now able sit 9 out of 10 times without a reward each time. At this point your dog is a level 9 and is ready to move to a new environment, in this case you would go from the house to the backyard.
Once in the garden the dog now drops back down to a 5, or only a 50% response/success rate. You return to rewarding more often and in just a day your dog is back up to a 9 in the backyard. Now move to the front yard with the dog and repeat. What should eventually happen is in the front yard your dog may only drop to a 7 this time. Why? Your dog is starting to generalise and should need less training in each new environment. Be cautious not to jump too quickly to the next area. For example, you move from the front yard to your local dog park and the dog drops to a 1. This indicates you jumped to an over-stimulating environment too quickly, a better area may have been quiet, less travelled park. Dog training is about timing and moving forward in small increments.
So, you see, by following this simple system we'll be able to make a statement on the following lines: 'In the home, my dog is a 10 out of 10 sitter. In the garden, she's a 7 out of 10 sitter, at the park where other dogs are present, she's a 3 out of 10 sitter.'
Our goal is now clearly defined, to take learned behaviour to a 10 out 10 (or as close as we can get) in as many different environments as possible. Once we've got a 10 out of 10 park sit, we can move to the next commands using the same system - so stay, recall, lie down and so on.
Teaching our Puppy to Walk Nicely on the Lead
For most new owners, if given a chance when the dog pulls on lead the owner immediately pulls back causing the dog to pull again and a vicious cycle begins. What we should be doing is altering our walking pace, occasionally stopping, waiting and then changing directions. We can very easily establish a pattern in the dog's mind that we're going in a certain direction and they want to get their as quickly as possible.
We should be looking to disrupt this thought process by changing things up. Something that many owners never think to do is get the dog ready for a walk, step a few yards out of the home, then turn right round and go back to the home to do some basic obedience commands. This builds in a degree of variety to the dog's training. One the obedience work has been done, then we carry on with the planned walk. Pulling is normally most common at the start of the walk....so disrupt it and make it a positive training experience.
The 2 Most Important Commands a Young Dog Can Learn
These are learning the stay and recall commands. Teaching a solid stay can provide the greatest foundation for the way your dog behaves for the rest of their lives. Knowing that, if the situation calls for it, you can have your dog sit or lie calmly for a sustained period can be incredibly useful. Recall, in simple terms, is not just useful but can actually be a life saver. I'm sure I don't have to paint a picture of the disasters can occur if a dog goes off chasing things and won't come back. Let's be direct about this; dogs have died as a result of having poor recall skills.
Teaching Your Dog to Stay
This is the command that you should be willing to spend the most amount of time on with your young dog. Trust me, every minute you spend teaching this will see you rewarded ten-fold as your dog gets older. It requires plenty of patience, lots of time dedicated to it but is also one of the most rewarding ways to strengthen the bond of trust between you and your dog.
We have got a fantastic video for you to watch that will set you on the right path to teaching your pup to stay using positive training. You can view it here: https://www.k9magazine.com/teach-your-dog-to-stay-the-super-simple-way/
Teaching Your Dog to Come Back Using a Whistle
I started to train my first dog from the moment he came home with me. It was fun. It was, if I’m totally honest, pretty easy, too. He was a Labrador and his eagerness to learn and please me made training him fun, enjoyable and almost without exception, flawlessly simple. Then he grew up. Things began to change. Luckily for me, I discovered the most important dog training tool I’ve ever used. I swore by it then, I still do now. I’ll gladly tell you what it is.
Jackson was my first dog. A handsome yellow Labrador (pictured below at 3 years old).
As a puppy, I taught him to do lots of things. Sit, stay, come back, walk to heel, lie down, bark on command, give a paw – all, so much fun, so easy to accomplish.
Then, almost overnight, he started acting like a teenager. Probably because he was one!
More worryingly, I had moved him on to a point where I actually wanted to compete with him in working tests and trials. He had everything in his locker; he was fast, strong, intelligent, REALLY intelligent and he loved to work.
But his recall was – at best 50/50.
If I’m totally honest, he’d only ever recall if the level of distraction and temptations around him were minimal. Fortunately for me, I was learning the art of whistle training.
Every dog I’ve ever trained since – regardless of breed, regardless of discipline, regardless of exactly what level the dog was at – have ALL been trained using a whistle.
It’s only now, at a point where I know more of the theory of canine learning that I appreciate just how and why whistle training is so incredibly potent.
The whistle, you see, is constant, consistent, emotionless (unlike your voice) and incredibly easy to operate – you don’t even need to charge it up, follow an instruction manual or get a new one every other month.
They cost less than a tenner, yet I still have the same whistle I used 10 years ago and which has been utilised to train hundreds of dogs.
I have put together a detailed explanation of how to teach your dog to come back using the whistle and have been delighted to receive the feedback of many dog owners who have read this guide and thanked me for it. It can be life changing, particularly if you have a troublesome dog who just likes to run away and come back on their own terms.
You can read the full whistle training guide here: https://www.k9magazine.com/dog-whistle-training/
So now we've examined the best ways to prepare our young dog for adulthood in a behavioural sense, what else can we do to set our feisty young Fido on the path to becoming a well balanced adult who's the envy our friends and every other dog owner?
Here's a quick summary of the things to take in to consideration as we look to take advantage of this, the last period in our dog's life before they break out in spots and start playing that awful music in their bedrooms at a decibel level that's sure to raise the dead.
1. To neuter or not to neuter. You may have already made this decision. It's a complicated one and is surrounded by lots of myths, the main one being that neutering will magically turn a very badly behaved dog in to an angel. It won't. We've got a nice guide for you if you're weighing up the pros and cons of neutering your dog: https://www.k9magazine.com/dog-spaying-neutering/
2. Trust. Establishing trust between you and your dog is one of the most valuable aspects you can take from their time as an adoring puppy who looks upon you as if you were the creator of the entire universe. In their eyes, you're God. Building trust is something that will travel with you and your dog through their entire life.
Always keep in your mind that dog training mistakes can be corrected, bad behaviour will rear its head for time to time and accidents are par for the course with puppies but, no matter what, you should never do anything that dents the bond of trust between your puppy and you. Keep your patience and good humour in tact. Your puppy adores you and what can seem like troubling times as they navigate their way through adorable fluffball to teenage tear-away will eventually come to an end. Don't snap at them and always make sure you end every interaction with them in a positive way.
3. Travel. Getting puppies used to the things that they may have to do more frequently as an adult is something you should spend time on. So get them used to travel. Get them used to seeing different people and places and give them exposure to as many different environments as you can when they're young. It's a lot easier for a young dog to take in new scenarios and get used to different places and people than it is for an older dog who has been sheltered for too long.
4. Food. Your puppy will need a diet befitting of a growing animal. As they transition to adulthood, you'll need to make a decision on what type of diet is best for their particular age, breed and lifestyle.
5. Insure them. This is a no-brainer. Insuring your dog for their entire life is easily one of the best decisions you can make for both you and your dog.
6. Establish an open line of dialogue with your vet. You'd be surprised how many people don't do this and also how many people don't actually like or particularly trust their own vet. If that's you, find a new vet. Simple. No ifs or buts.
Share your puppy tips and funny stories with us by commenting below – we'd love to hear from you and help fellow pet owners with your own advice!