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Puppy Training Success: the Do's and Don'ts

Puppy sitting down

You've just gotten your new puppy, and are ready to start on the journey of new dog ownership. You've read every single article online about training your puppy, and have read every book full of conflicting information on everything from housebreaking to basic commands, and now you're thoroughly confused. Where do you even start when nobody can agree on the right way to train your new puppy?

Let's start at the very beginning, and clear up a few misconceptions and fallacies: Puppy Training Success: Do's and Don'ts

DO Realize That Your Puppy is Unique

Your bond with your new puppy is yours, and yours alone. It can not be recreated or imitated, and will never fit into the one-size-fits-all model of Every Other Puppy out there. From how your puppy learns, to their past experiences, nothing about your puppy is comparable to any other puppy. Just as children need to be raised as individuals capable of their own thoughts and ideas, your success in creating a happy, healthy bond with your new puppy is dependent upon you seeing who your new family member really is: a unique individual with their own view of the world.

And that leads us to the first pitfall of puppy training...

Puppy chewing

DON'T Compare Your Puppy to Other Puppies

So your sister's neighbor's aunt got a Golden Retriever puppy from the same litter you did, but her puppy is already housebroken, whereas you've decided to rename your puppy "Puddles". What are you doing wrong?

You're comparing puppies.

Just because Puddles is taking a little longer to housebreak doesn't mean that you're doing it wrong, or that your puppy is being stubborn. Comparing puppies, even from the same litter, is as nonsensical as comparing human siblings.

So maybe you're envious about Puddles' littermate already being housebroken, but you may not have the full story: her owner takes her out for potty breaks every 45 minutes and wakes up 3 times each night as well. Also, Puddles' littermate has also chewed through a 5 pairs of shoes, 2 remote controls, and a laptop charger.

By comparison, suddenly Puddle's occasional accidents don't look so bad.

DO Give Yourself A Break

A favorite saying of mine is: "God created crates and iPads to keep us from killing our dogs and our kids."

As I wrote about in this article addressing the myth of consistency in dog training, sometimes you just need a break. It's not about raising the perfect puppy any more than it is about raising the perfect kid. Don't worry so much about being consistent. It's okay to occasionally ignore some behaviors. It's the follow-through that is key. If 9/10 times you address your dog jumping on you, you are still going to have an amazing, well behaved dog. You're just taking the scenic route and enjoying the journey through puppyhood, rather than focusing on every negative thing.

DON'T Make Excuses

Just like kids, puppies and dogs do like to see where their boundaries are, and they can utilize some very unsavory tactics to find them. Don't make excuses for that behavior.

So while your puppy isn't bad when they nip at you, their behavior is not acceptable, and must be addressed. Don't chalk it up to it simply being "puppy biting" and hope they'll grow out of it. Your puppy is demanding something in a very unacceptable way (and would most definitely have been addressed by their mom).

There's a saying: "Only your mom tells you when your face is dirty".

You are responsible for helping your new puppy understand what is rude behavior, and what is acceptable behavior.

Love your puppy enough to help them sort through those behaviors rather than struggle through them on their own.

DON'T Underestimate the Importance of Activity and Mental Work

A bored puppy is a destructive puppy. Just like children, puppies are at an age where they explore and learn about their world. Limiting the opportunities they have to learn only leads to frustration and destruction.

Let them learn within the safe boundaries you have set for them. Give them opportunities for benevolent frustration, which leads to learning opportunities. Enrichment feeders, learning tricks, or even just battling against that rope toy you just got them can provide mental work. Going for walks, puppy playdates, or teaser sticks can be a great way to give some activity to your hyper puppy.

Short answer is that if you don't provide your puppy with activity and mental work, they will find a way to get it themselves. And puppies can be quite creative.

Puppy playing

DO Have a Plan

Puppy training is so much more than just teaching your new puppy basic commands and housebreaking them. Actually, I find "training" to be a rather stodgy, ineffective term. You don't train kids, why would you train a puppy? Further, training tends to fall into that one-size-fits-all category that I so loathe.

Puppies, like children, are very curious about their world; they question things, and I love and respect them for that. Training a puppy sets them up to respond to a specific set of stimuli in specific way, for example, training your puppy to walk on a leash nicely rather than pulling you.

Unfortunately, typical puppy training classes don't always account for behavior. So you train a puppy to sit when you give them the command. But what if your puppy decides to start nipping at you? That's a behavior, and needs to be addressed.

Think of the difference between puppy training and puppy behavior as similar to sending a kid to school to learn to read vs. addressing their behavior when they balk at being told it's bedtime.

So rather than merely training your new puppy, take a more holistic approach: learn how to address your puppy's behaviors as well.

Puppy sleeping

Dog Training vs. Dog Life

By focusing on dog life, rather than dog training, our goals can become so much more attainable and clear-cut. Most of us don't want an obedient dog, we just don't want a dis-obedient dog. Robot-style dogs who are afraid of stepping out of line are for certain types of people I guess.

But that's not my style. That's why I developed the Piloting method of dog training over 20 years ago, a force-free method of dog training and puppy training that didn't rely on abusive shock collars or cruel prong collars, yet didn't constantly bribe with non-stop click-n-treat style dog training. I want a bond with my dog based on trust and communication.

Learn more about our Piloting method of dog and puppy training here.

Find out more about our private in home 30 Day Best Dog Ever and 30 Day Best Puppy Ever training packages here.

Have questions about our puppy training or dog training?

border collie dog

Kerry Stack

Darwin Dogs

Dog Training and Puppy Training

Greater Cleveland Area

Northeast Ohio

1 Comment

Stumpicus Kat
Stumpicus Kat
May 20, 2023

Thank you for this great review of how to start out with a new puppy. It is very timely for me, as I have an 11-week puppy, and I had to dust off my knowledge of how to raise one. Thank you. It was very reassuring.

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