Training – The Early Years to ‘Terrible Teens’ & Beyond

Just as children do, dogs go through early developmental stages in their lives that are reflective of their physical and mental capabilities. A puppy can change very, very quickly and the type of training and social interaction the puppy is exposed to can last their entire life. With that in mind, you can see, this early training period is absolutely crucial.

Get it right and you're setting your dog up for a happy life. Get it wrong and you could end up playing catch up (in some cases quite literally) for years to come, says Ryan O'Meara.

I've always said, training a dog is a lot like building a house. It is quite possible to build a house with no foundations. It'll still, on the surface, look like a house. It'll pass as a home, for a while. But, sooner or later, perhaps when the weather gets a little choppy, that house is gonna come tumblin' down. Putting the foundations in is not sexy. It takes time, patience and plenty of consistency but boy will you appreciate the work.

puppy photo

Before we start. You want that puppy peeing outside, right? Let's cut to the chase. I've owned plenty of puppies, it's the first and most prominent thing we want to get a handle on. Well, here's the article you need for that -

Now, let's crack on.

Puppy Training Rule 1: Don’t over-train your puppy

A one year old dog is, effectively - give or - take, the same as a 7-year old person. It is a good rule of thumb to keep reminding yourself ‘would I expect a 3, 4, 5 or 6 year old child to accomplish some of the tasks I am asking of my pup?'. Manners, house-cleanliness and the very basics (including socialisation) are all you should really seek to instil in your puppy until such a time as they are mature enough to undergo a more formal training regime.

Puppies can deceive you into thinking they are ready for more advanced training than they actually are but will often ‘rebel’ against discipline as they get older. Ensuring you have taught your puppy to respond to his or her name, what is and is not acceptable in terms of house-manners and establishing an uninhibited relationship with your pup is more important than any other discipline in the early stages of any dog’s life.

One of the tricks I use when questioning whether my puppy is ready for a particular challenge is to remind myself of this; whilst I might be able to teach a young child some words of French, I wouldn't necessarily expect them to sit and pass a GCSE French exam at 7 years old. Puppy training is the same. It's about getting them used to the idea of action and reward. You give a command, they comply, reward comes. Getting this notion in to their minds is the basis from which all training works. It's really not about teaching the 'perfect' sit, it's about the puppy understanding the relationship between hearing a word and performing a desired behaviour. The 'perfect' sit comes later.

Remember this. Your pup will do things wrong, it's normal.

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The Name Game: Your puppy's name will be with them for life

Make sure they know it by associating it with all things pleasant and fun. In the same way dog’s cotton on in a very positive way to words such as ‘walkies’, ‘biscuits’ or ‘dinner-time’ they should be given the same association with their own name. Too often the only time the puppy hears his or her name is when they have done something naughty. ‘Jasper, stop doing that!’, ‘Buster, leave that alone!’.

It’s tough but try to ensure that you NEVER use the puppy’s name in a negative scenario only positive ones. Instead of ‘Jasper, leave that alone!’ simply, ‘Leave that alone!’ or better yet ‘No!’. And instead of ‘walkies’, biscuits or ‘dinner-time’ try ‘Jasper, biscuits!’, ‘Jasper, walkies!’, ‘Jasper, dinner-time!’ Golden rule. Your puppy should associate his or her own name with all that is pleasant and fun and nothing that is negative. The word ‘no’ is negative and it is enough to cover all undesirable behaviour.

Playing lots of fun games and associating the puppy’s name with them will not only keep them occupied and mentally stimulated, it will provide an invaluable link between their name and the concept of enjoyment.

Remember this. Your dog's name is the first step in teaching the recall. The recall is, in my view, the most important of all commands in the dog vocabulary. You'll be using their name when you want them to come. If you use their name too often, without reward or - worse - associate their name with a telling off, would you be in a rush to run to someone in response to a potential tongue lashing? Always associate their name with positive things. Every time. Make it a rule. Correct anyone in your household who (perhaps accidentally) uses the pup's name too often or in a negative context.

The Importance of Puppy Play

For our canine friends play is a very important part of their daily activity and as well as providing physical exercise it also offers essential social interaction with both owners and other dogs.

After the enthusiasm of puppyhood the dog often settles into a routine but regular interaction through toys and daily exercise are essential if you are to get the most out of the relationship with your mature dog.

Selecting appropriate games will depend to some extent on your puppy but all play needs to be controlled to some extent and you need to ensure that it is a calm but rewarding activity for both you and your pet. Intense physical play which induces high levels of arousal and frustration in your puppy should be avoided and if young children are going to play with your puppy you must ensure that they do so under adult supervision. Read more here:

Socialisation for the Young Dog

Early socialisation is probably one of, if not THE, most crucial of all the initial puppy training steps you can go through. Exposing your pup to different kinds of environments and experiences is a very important step in his learning process. In order to develop a healthy mental well-being. He needs to know that the world is a fun place to explore. This can only be achieved through proper and continuous socialisation.


Socialisation is the process of preparing your pup for healthy mental development by exposing him in a positive way to different sights, smells, and sounds. Socialisation also includes interaction with people, dogs and other animals, as well as other objects like moving cars.

Taking your puppy to a training class is an excellent way to introduce him to a variety of experiences. However, socialising your pup calls for much more than teaching him training skills. Socialisation teaches your pet to interact with different situations, explore without fear, and get to know as much as he can about the world around him, thereby giving him a wholesome life.

Preferably, socialisation should begin in your pup's first home. His breeder, or rescue/foster carer, should introduce him, along with any friends, to a variety of stimuli from the moment they are born.

For instance, they hould be exposed to different bedding materials to get them used to different textures and surfaces. Objects like balls, squeaky toys, bubble wraps, plastic bags, and other items should be introduced slowly and often. This helps them approach new situations with confidence.

Below are a few examples of objects and situations that your pup should see and experience from the moment he opens his eyes:

* The sounds of different appliances in the house.
*A trip to the vet.
*Going up and down the stairs.
*Meeting different people of different ages.
*Meeting other puppies and dogs (Keep pup on your arms and under closed supervision).
*Meeting people using wheelchairs, walkers, and canes.
*Meeting people wearing hoods, hats, coats, and loud clothes.
*Watching children play.
*Watching small animals such as birds and squirrels (do not allow chasing).
*Riding in the car inside a crate with windows rolled up and then rolled down.
*Light traffic.
*Light crowds.
*A flying kite or balloons.
*Introduce the pup to different objects like plastic bags and fire hydrants.
*Experience different sights, sounds, and smells of different objects.

As Your Puppy Gets Older

All of the above is about building a solid foundation for your young dog. Socialisation. Commands followed by rewards. Teaching their name. Getting them to understand when you're happy with them and when you're not. As your dogs gets older (the terrible teens) keep this in mind. They might begin to show signs that everything you've done up to now has been a waste of time. That all your efforts were wasted. That they have forgotten everything you've shown. This, and trust me here, is a phase.

They will test boundaries with you. They will disobey command that they previously complied with. They will show more interest in other dogs. They might run away from you. When all of this is happening, keep calm. Be kind and consistent. Remember it's a phase. I'll say it one more time, remember it's a phase. Carry on with the training, keep socialising. Teach them to sit and stay, but do it for a little longer. Constantly remind them of all the training exercises you've done before. Don't run before you can walk, in fact, just walk a little further.

Keep this in mind. You're building foundations here. Spend as much time on them as you possibly can because they'll last a lifetime.

Bonus Time!

We don't like to just ensure you've got the resources you need to turn your dog in to a well behaved, model canine citizen. We want you to have a superstar dog. So here's an extensive bonus tip that, if you follow it well, will make a world of difference to your puppy/adolescent dog.

Change Up Your Dog Training Environments

Most often people train their dogs and puppies at home or at a trainers 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 enviroments, so says pro dog trainer Eric Gilbert.

Here's his advice...

Unfortunately, when the dogs are taken into another environment the owners are surprised to find that the dog or puppy is out of control. This is due to a couple of factors, not completing training the dog to respond in one environment before moving to a new environment and training in only 1-2 different environments.

With my recent addition, a 1-year-old rescue Akita, I applied my own dog training advice. In just 4 months Jade as met over 200 dogs, rode in an elevator and has been in 2-3 new environments each week.

As a result, she is non-reactive in any new situation and in each new experience I perform the same Come-Sits, puppy push-ups, stay and downs. If I get less than 80% success, she’s less than an 8. I return to those areas until she is at least an 8 and preferably a 10. I have the advantage of having access to hundreds of dogs at Wayside Waifs. Jade’s current goal is to do all of her exercises while 4 other dogs play off-leash in the same area as her. At this point on the leash, she’s about a 7, off-leash a 2-3. Ultimately, my goal is a perfect 10 off-leash.

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Making Your Own Dog a Perfect 10

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. For example I will use 'sit'. 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 2 days, your dog is now able to 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 backyard 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 the dog may only drop to a 7 this time. Why? The dog is starting to generalise and should need less training in each new environment.

Be cautious not to jump to 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 timing and moving forward in small increments.

With each new area you may have to use a reward with each repetition, but only for the first 10 repetitions and then move quickly to every other, every 5th repetition and eventually 10 reps without a reward.

Here is my suggested training transition schedule for an average dog:

Inside the home
Front yard or driveway
Neighbours yard
Gas station parking lot or wide open public area.
Local park – baseball diamond (fenced in)
In the presence of another dog (10-100ft away)
Parking lot of pet store
Inside the pet store
Dog park parking lot/entrance
Around one loose dog
Around 2 or more dogs
Dog park

You can pick just one behaviour you want the dog to do or wait for your dog to master several in each environment.

In my situation, I would visit all these areas and get my dog to a perfect 10 on a leash then repeat working these areas with my dog off-leash or with a long lead. Since I train primarily with a long lead or no lead I moved through the above areas in 8 weeks with Jade.

I would not suggest moving the dog to the next area without working the dog up to at least a level 8. This may sound like a long process, but for the basic commands 'Look' and 'Sit' this is just a 5-10 day period.

Remember, if you have no control over your dog you probably transitioned to a particular area too quickly. You can take your dog to the dog park or pet store before they are a perfect 10, but be aware they will not perform as you expect if you did not work up to the new areas.

Leash Walking to a Perfect 10 (the 2-leash method)

I found that if given a chance when the dog pulls on leash the owner immediately pulls back causing the dog to pull and so the circle begins. To alleviate this problem and save hand, arms and shoulders of the owners I thought of a 2-leash method to walk dogs.

Begin with 2 leashes on the dog, one that will drag on the ground and the other you will hold lightly in your hand. Now imagine that you have a plane of glass that extends out to your left and right side.

Start by standing on the drag lead at about the 3-foot mark and hold the other leash in your hand. Take 1-2 steps and then step on the drag lead and change directions This will stutter the dog a bit and he should turn to follow you. Repeat 2-5 times and then increase the number of steps you take before you step on the drag lead.

Do not tighten the leash you are holding in your hand. This leash should stay loose and give your dog the full length of the lead. Now take 3-4 steps and step on the drag lead, but do not stop. Try to keep a normal walking cadence as you tap the drag lead. We are trying to teach the dog without yanking back to walk within 3-4 of us, stop when we stop and turn when we turn. When you do stop, step on the drag lead and reward the dog.

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Walking to a Perfect 10

I measure how well a dog walks on a leash by pulls per 10 feet inside and pulls per 100 feet outside. Beginning inside, I will leash the dog to me with a 6-foot lead and walk down a hallway. If I am using the 2-leash method I will count the number of times I had to tap the drag lead. My goal is 0 taps per 10 feet in the house and 0 taps per 100 feet outside. This is a bit opposite of the 10 philosophy. With leash walking we want the dog to be a 0. Once the dog is non-reactive to the leash in the house and will walk around the home with me and not pull I am ready for the first transition, the backyard.

Once in the backyard, I start counting my pulls or taps on the drag lead. If I can walk the dog 100 feet without a tap he’s ready for the front yard. Once I master the front yard I will then measure the number of houses I can walk by before I have to tap. Once I can walk by 10 houses without a tap I progress to the next new area. Again, I want to teach the dog these basic rules, walk when I walk, stop when I stop and turn when I turn – without prompting. In this case, you want to work your dog from 10+ pulls/taps to 0 pulls/taps per 10 or 100 feet.

Level 10 'Stay'

Stay should be taught as no motion whether the dog is sitting, standing, lying or on its back. Stay simply means do not move. Start with your dog on a 6-10 foot leash and just let the leash sit on the ground. If the dog should try and bolt, step on the leash and say Stop. Put the dog in a sit and present a flat palm to the dog and say Stay. Count to 5, reward the dog. Repeat 10 times doubling it each time up to 20 minutes(10 times). With each repetition take one step back from the dog.

At the end of 10 repetitions, you will be 10 feet away and the dog will be on a 20-minute stay. If the dog breaks at any particular point, work at that distance and time interval until they do not break and move. Once you can work up to 10-20 feet away from the dog and can get 2-5 minute stay 10 times you can move to the next area- backyard, front yard and so on.

To increase the dog’s staying power, during the initial phases start to wave your arms, turn around and make noise. Adding these distractions in will help desensitize the dog to distractions. Once the dog knows a Sit/Stay work on Stand/Stay and Down/Stay. Eventually, the dog will learn that Stay means no movement in whatever position they are in.

Training - The Early Years to 'Terrible Teens' & Beyond

Level 10 'Come'

Recall is the least practised and most frustrating behaviour for dog owners. To create a perfect 10 recall you need to train in several different environments, but also list your dog’s triggers. A trigger is what set’s your dog off or gets them excited. It could be cars, cats, birds, noises or anything that will distract your dog and cause him not to respond to Fido Come! The training starts the same as others, in the home.

In the home take the dog’s food and split into 10 portions, get Fido in front of you and say Come and reward the dog like this the first 2 days. Then randomly call the dog to you in the house, once he comes when called 8-10 times in a row progress to the backyard and eventually the front yard. Use a long lead (15-30 feet long) in the front yard so the dog does run away.

Figure the Triggers

A trigger is anything that sets your dog off. List out your top 10 triggers and figure out at what distance your dog sees and the reacts to it. Your goal is to interrupt the sequence of events at the alerting stage and call the dog back before he reacts and bolts off. Be sure to have a long lead or a regular leash on your dog when practising this. Set up situations that you can work on your dog’s top 10 triggers and start with the easiest one first. Once you can call your dog back 10 times from the easiest trigger move on to the next trigger.

Making your dog a perfect 10 is not difficult, just test your dog and establish his current level in different situations. If the dog is put in a situation you know he is not proofed for, don’t reprimand, but train him to react appropriately in different situations. The more places you train your dog the less reactive he will become and the more control you will have. Try this little tip, any new environment you go to with your dog, have them do 10 quick 'Come-Sits' as soon as you are there. It sets the tone for the adventure!

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