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Set yourself up for success

When em-barking on this journey with your fur baby, there are some common training questions that we hear all the time from new puppy parents. Set yourself up for success with these recommendations from Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA) and Behavioural Specialist, Shannon Noonan.

What mindset should pet parents have when starting puppy training?

When bringing a new puppy home, it’s important to understand that you are not taking a puppy to “get trained” in a matter of weeks. Expect it to take up to a year of consistent, dedicated effort, and taking advice from a qualified trainer will help you speed up that process. Training a dog is about building a relationship so that they will respond to your guidance and direction when life gets busy, the environment gets scary, or there’s too much excitement. The biggest mistake I see pet parents making is waiting until “show time” to expect good behaviour from their dogs, and then punishing or scolding the dog for not performing a behaviour that hasn’t yet been taught. “Patience and practice” should be your mantra.

What essential items should you have to start training?

In order to teach fundamental skills such as recall or loose leash walking, you’ll actually need a LONG leash (20-30ft), preferably not the retractable kind but just a long line. Many well-meaning pet parents go off-leash too soon which creates and reinforces bad habits. Keeping your dog on a long line allows for freedom of movement, choice and agency for the dog; you can train hands-free heeling and walking close to you, but you are still being safe and preventing failures.

You should also have a puppy-safe confinement area in your house to prevent failures in housetraining, a variety of toys and puppy-safe chews, a treat pouch, and a mixture of low, medium, and high level rewards (treats!) to train your puppy. You can also use your puppy’s daily allotment of food to train all day long, rather than simply feeding them from a bowl. Puzzle toys, snuffle mats, and Kongs are all great enrichment tools for keeping a puppy busy and entertained for 10-15 minutes at a time so that you can get a break during the day or when guests come over. Anytime someone enters your house, set your puppy up in their confinement area with a longer enrichment project or duration chew, so they don’t rehearse chaotic greetings at the door.

What is a good exercise or verbal cue to work on first?

My suggestion to develop a solid relationship is actually to start with no cues at all. Only use a reward marker (such as a clicker, or the word “yes) to mark behaviours you like as your puppies perform them. Too many words and cues too early teaches your puppy to ignore your cues down the road because they don’t understand English right now. Guide the puppy when they are about to do the wrong thing; you are a smart human and you can anticipate when your puppy is about to do something undesirable if you’re watching closely.

Here’s an example using loose leash walking:

  • Walk at a normal pace with your puppy (not a crawl or a sprint); ideally in the middle of a very quiet street (not right next to the grass where there are a million smells to distract them).
  • When the dog forges ahead and is about to cause tension on the leash, pat your leg or make a “kissy” noise, turn 180 degrees and begin walking in the opposite direction.
  • Praise and encourage the puppy for following you and deliver a treat as they catch up to your side.
  • NEVER follow a pulling dog. 
  • Repeat the above exercise while training for 3-5 minutes, and then let the puppy take a break and go sniff and do whatever they want while you follow and give calm praise for just being a good puppy. Good sniffs!

Why are puppy classes a good idea?

Puppy classes will reduce the likelihood of developing fear, anxiety, stress in novel situations, or aggressive behaviours. They are positive environments for multiple reasons: everyone around you has a puppy who is the same age and level of protection with their vaccinations, in a sanitized environment, with similar goals in mind. Dog parks and daycares are not the right place to take your young puppy, in order to be properly socialized.

The AVSAB released a statement in 2008 emphasizing the importance of early socialization, prior to 3 months of age. Click here to read more!

If all that doesn’t convince you – you should do it because it’s fun and a great way to spend time bonding with your puppy.

When should you ask for support in puppy training?

PROACTIVELY, before you start seeing problem behaviours. We trainers have so much nuanced information, we can give you many tips in just one session that will set you up for a lifetime of success. It is also our job and responsibility to stay current on the most up to date, science based information about what is best for both the animal and human wellness overall.

Contact Shannon at Spot On Dog Training if you have further questions on puppy training, or if you’re interested in learning more about puppy classes. Also be sure to come see us at one of our Global Pet Food locations for all your puppy training essentials!

Shannon Noonan

Training and Behavioural Specialist

Whether it’s for basic manners or more complex behavioral issues, Shannon is focused not only on training your dog, but also teaching you how to effectively communicate with them without using fear, submission or intimidation.

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