Michael is an avid content writer, blogger and researcher on topical themes related to pet care, having himself raised a number of pets.
Developing Your Puppy's Behaviour Through Training
If you are a pet owner, you may be asking when the best time is to begin training your puppy. According to new studies, the actual process of training starts before the puppy is even born! In the past, there was no technology available to observe unborn puppies. Therefore, the prenatal period was not viewed as a stage that could influence the growth and development of a dog. But now the equipment is in place and it is possible to observe through ultrasound what takes place in the womb as far back as the fourth gestation week.
Puppies respond to touch from the time they are born. Scientists have formed a theory that this conditioning starts before birth and it is likely developed through nudges from the mother. Research has shown that animals born of mothers that are petted and shown affection are calmer and easier to socialize.
Within the first two weeks after a puppy is born, it may be able to establish some connections and recognize the human that is taking care of it, though it is still too early for any lessons to be permanently imprinted in its consciousness at this level. From the third week to the twelfth week, the puppy starts to develop a concept of behaviour. Playfulness, curiosity and exploration begin to have a role in the puppy's development and the understanding of its identity as part of the household. There is need for the puppy to have contact with its mother and littermates so that its skills and abilities grow naturally and the learning process proceeds unhindered.
Puppies are able to pick up basic commands and practices when they are eight weeks old and will continue to do so at a rate that is determined by their ability to concentrate, their physical stamina and coordination. Each pet is different in terms of how it builds relationships and how perceptions develops over time. Attending obedience classes can help a pet owner learn which approach works best for their own pet and how to optimize the learning process.
More importantly, they will also be able to learn how best to communicate with their animal in a manner that it understands. While there are trainers who prefer to provide socialization sessions soon after the puppy has been settled in its new home, it is preferable to start obedience classes when the puppy is around 3-6 months of age after vaccination.
Procrastinating or putting off training means more difficulties later for the dog and its owner. This is especially so if the animal has already started adopting bad habits and negative behavioural tendencies. It is always easier to instil proper manners early than to try and reverse negative ones later on.
Age is not the only factor when trying to establish the best time to begin the training process. One needs to look also into how mature and stable the animal is. Training is a two-way process and a handler should always be attentive to the signals coming from the dog, rather than only being focused on how well it is responding to his commands. Remember that if your animal is frightened, stressed, distracted, unwell or confused, this will sabotage the learning process.
Since a puppy has a huge affinity for learning quickly, take advantage of this and begin to get it used to a schedule immediately you bring it home with you. Train it by ensuring that you conduct activities at the same set times each day, including the meal times. In every step of the process, ensure that your training is patient, methodical and systematic.
If you have had the chance or experience of raising a puppy, you are aware of how much behavioural instruction and correction they need in order to develop them as pets. Again, it is essential that behavioural training be done when they are still as young as possible so that you are not stuck trying to break their bad habits when they are already grown up. Unfortunately, eliminating problem behaviours is one thing that most dog owners eventually face. Here we will focus on a few of the most commonly encountered behaviour problems and how to curb them.
Factors to Consider Before the Training
The following are key guidelines to bear in mind before training your puppy.
Recognize that your puppy is new to the world and as such, it will not be able to cope with undue physical, emotional or mental stress. Anything that exacts a lot of pressure will take its toll on the pet and may lead to problems later on.
Therefore be careful not to rough-handle the puppy in the course of its formative period. If the training is characterized by stress and fear, this will be a hindrance to the learning process and it will become counterproductive in terms of what you intend to achieve in the end. Remember to be firm but gentle.
When it comes to learning, a puppy has a shorter attention span than a child. Once your puppy gets tired physically or mentally, the learning process becomes impaired and the training ceases to be effective.
The puppy will continue to learn as long as its attention is focused on you as the trainer. Therefore ensure that the activities that you select in order to develop its skills are not lengthy or tedious but brief and straight to the point.
We live in a world that demands easier and faster outcomes and there is a compulsive, obsessive addiction to instant results. However, when it comes to moulding a puppy's behaviour through training, it is necessary not to set your expectations too high by assuming that the process will begin yielding changes overnight. It will only result in frustration.
Recognize that puppies learn in spurts, and they are going to have lapses in memory. Therefore you should not feel despondent if your puppy seems to have forgotten the activity lessons of the previous day. Have patience from the outset and this will save you from much exasperation.
The simpler the steps you put the puppy through during your training regimen, the better your results will be. The best way to do training is to adopt a method that the puppy will enjoy following rather than one that it has to endure.
If the activities are too intensive or complicated and the puppy seems to be struggling, try to see how you can break them down into smaller sessions or sequences that the puppy will find easier to follow and master.
Confidence is key to a healthy dog, and this process needs to start when it is young. Work on building the confidence of the puppy by engaging it with your attention and affirmations.
Refrain from always taking on the role of a trainer and instead make time to play with it and allow the puppy to enjoy your company. Once your pet is secure in the feeling that it has a friend in you, the training process will easier and more effective.
How to Solve Puppy Problem Behaviours
1. Messiness and Disorder
One of the most important aspects of puppy training is teaching it to maintain hygienic standards and cleanliness around the home. Typically, a dog will make a distinction between the place of feeding, the place of rest and the place where it relieves itself. However, its previous upbringing plays a role in the ability to make this distinction.
This is where the background of the puppy comes into play. If it was previously kept in derelict, squalid or cramped conditions, the puppy will be more difficult to housetrain. So, the first step is to ensure that you only purchase a puppy from a breeder who has facilities that separate the sleeping, feeding and toilet sections.
Ensure that if there is no one present to supervise or monitor its activities, the puppy remains in its crate. Then set aside a room or a section of the house which you can use to practice and develop the puppy's abilities as far as cleanliness and hygiene are concerned. This place should not have much furniture or any items which have sentimental value to the family. Before you start working on your pet, clear the area of anything that you would deem as valuable.
As long as the puppy continues to obey your instructions and cooperate in the training, is not messy, aggressive or destructive, but maintains cleanliness, then it should be allowed to have freedom in the room. If there is a setback and it relapses to an undisciplined state, you will need to bring it back to the crate again or to the most recent stage of the training and start the process all over. So, the principle is that the more cooperative the puppy is, the more freedom you gradually allow it to have to explore other parts of the house.
2. Jumping on People
The habit of jumping on people is something that owners, unfortunately, encourage without their conscious knowledge. People usually get excited by the fact that a young, adorable puppy is expressing delight and affection toward them in this way. While this may be fun and pleasurable when the puppy is young and harmless, the behaviour can prove to be harmful and dangerous for both adults and children when the dog has fully matured.
Our family kept a dog once which had developed this practice. Since the habit was not managed when the pet was a puppy, no amount of reprimand could change the behaviour and it continued to do so to everyone it met, irrespective of the mess it was causing. So how can this behaviour be stopped when the pet is young?
The way to curb it is to always ensure that you hold the puppy when it jumps and then place it down again on the ground gently. Praise and encourage it when it stays on the ground without jumping up at you or anyone else. Compliment the dog for staying down by lowering yourself down to the ground such that you are almost on eye level with your pet.
It is important to know that behaviours can be rechanneled. You can change the way a dog behaves by simply providing an alternative habit for them to develop—a new behaviour that replaces the undesirable one you want to get rid of. For example, instead of jumping up at you, you could train the puppy to express its delight in a different way, for example by extending its paw. You could train the dog to do this as a socially acceptable way of expressing friendship. Some owners teach dogs other ways like rolling over on the ground which is still better than jumping on someone.
So, the key to curbing this behaviour is to try and redirect the exuberance and energy to other forms of expression. The puppy needs to learn that the behaviour is inappropriate, so other members of your household and friends who come into contact with it should not encourage the habit by picking it up and hugging it.
3. Howling and Whining
It is normal for dogs to vocalize their feelings as a way of communication, but this is a practice that can easily go too far if it is not managed quickly. It can pose a major problem in a crowded neighbourhood or within apartment buildings. It stirs up tensions between neighbours and is not the best way to introduce your dog to the community. Here are some of the ways you can curb the habits:
- Always investigate the cause of the whining. Is there a misplaced toy? Are the feeding bowls empty? Are the temperature levels normal?
- Howling or whining can be due to the fact that the dog has been confined for too long in the crate and it needs to go relieve itself. So ensure you do not confine it for too long but instead provide ample opportunity for it to relieve itself.
- Train the dog to overcome separation anxiety and make it comfortable with being left on its own so as to avoid accumulating undue stress.
- Ensure all the social and physical needs of the dog are properly met by making it comfortable and providing it with adequate food, water and toys to play with.
- Avoid feeding the habit. Don't do anything that will encourage the dog that it has to create a fuss to get what it wants by barking, howling or whining. This is a sign of immaturity. If for example, it wants to get your attention by whining and each time it whines you rush to it immediately, you are reinforcing the habit and strengthening the likelihood that it will occur again. You will be rewarding the behaviour instead of curbing it.
- If everything is provided for, but the dog still whines and howls though it is not sick and there is no cause for distress, it needs to be reprimanded.
4. Chewing and Biting
Anyone who has been nipped by a puppy can attest that it is not a pleasant experience at all. Dog skins are tough enough to handle nipping during the course of an interaction without any issues. However, human skin is not the same and the nip of a puppy can easily penetrate.
There are owners who have had their fingers bitten through by Jack Russell and Rottweiler puppies less than 3 months old. The owners' reactions were shock and grief at the reality that their pets may have to be terminated.
When a dog crosses the line and goes on the attack, serious measures have to be put in place. Fortunately, owners do not have to wait until it is too late. There are steps that can be followed to ensure that a puppy does not grow to become a problematic dog.
So the first thing to understand is that the puppy is not gnawing at your leg with malice. Young dogs tend to do this. It is something that comes naturally to them when playing with their kind and is part of the way they engage with their environment.
In the natural setting, the immediate family members step in when the behaviour becomes excessive—in this case, the mother and the other siblings. However, most puppies are separated from their original family before they have developed such skills and are therefore untrained. So, the solution is to allow your puppy to intermingle with other dogs. Their natural way of having fun is to jump about, chase each other, dash about and roll over. If your puppy's activities become too excessive, the other dogs will be able to put it in check.
So socializing with dogs which are different from yours will help your puppy to control its nipping behaviour. It will also help your puppy overcome the fear of other dogs, and will allow it to spend its energy such that it is calmer when interacting with your family members and friends. If the puppy does not have a place to expend its energy and playful nature through socializing with other dogs, it may end up becoming hyperactive and even wild. It will start adopting behavioural patterns that are difficult to manage.
A puppy needs to be socialized well in order to have the proper canine skills and control itself from being too aggressive when it is confronted by new and unexpected situations. Introducing your pet to new dogs and even other humans will be a big contribution to its learning process.
How you handle your puppy also bears upon its behavioural development. Avoid being aggressive when dealing with your puppy. Do not assault, hit or slap the puppy when it does something wrong. Treat the puppy with the same level of consideration and respect that you would want extended to you.
Physically punishing the puppy will induce the element of fear. Your training will be hampered if the pet is afraid of you. It will not encourage the puppy to abstain from nipping but may have the opposite effect.
Aim instead at training your pet through positive reinforcement, providing it with treats and compliments and instill the knowledge that your puppy can still enjoy itself without having to nip at you or others. Always try to divert its attention to other activities.
Another way to change your pet's behaviour is to divert the puppy's focus from the chewing habit with toys that it can play with. To keep the dog from gnawing at items like shoes and bags, you need to provide it with a lot of chewable toys that will keep it preoccupied on a daily basis.
Keep essential items out of reach of the puppy around the house and ensure that such items do not find their way into its normal play area. If you find the puppy has already seized such an item, be it a boot, shoe or bag, use something to distract it with and then replace the item with a toy. Once the puppy occupies itself with the toy instead, compliment the action in order to strengthen it as a replacement habit.
Also communicate this information to everyone who is involved with the puppy on a consistent basis, that the puppy is not to be allowed to chew random objects or nip anyone. If everyone disallows the puppy from nipping, but one person does not, then the training process is set back and curbing the behaviour becomes more difficult.
Unless this behaviour is completely curbed when the puppy is still young, it will result in the dog biting people when it is fully mature. The habit tends to worsen over time and the dog feels that it is a valid way to express anger or frustration. So, a biting puppy must be corrected immediately. Unruly behaviour of this nature needs to be confronted and discouraged as early on as possible before it grows on the puppy and becomes irreversible.
Bear in mind that the mother who bore the puppy would not allow herself to be bitten even if the puppy was just playful. She would respond by biting the puppy back. This would hurt the puppy without injuring it grievously. The result would be that the puppy learns the lesson while still young and refrains from nipping the mother.
Now since the puppy is no longer with the mother and other littermates, it is necessary to bring it into an environment where its behaviour can be managed in the right way. There are classes sponsored by communities and animal organizations where pet dogs can be able to come together and have fun and learn from one another. They can also learn in these venues, how to interact with members of their kind as well as the right way to interact with humans.
It is recommended to socialize your puppy before it attains 3 months of age. As noted before, if a dog is poorly socialized or was never socialized at all, it will tend to pick up undesirable habits. Do this before the dog matures to a level where it can pose a threat to certain members of the society like children whose parents would not allow them to go near a fully grown dog. When it is still a puppy, everyone is more comfortable with handling the pet as opposed to when it is fully mature and strangers are wary of how it would react to them.
5. Fear of Stairs
One of the first things the puppy will need to master is climbing stairs especially if you are in a multi-story building. Even if you live in an apartment without any stairs, it would still be necessary to accustom your dog as this could be beneficial. If a puppy is hesitant and reacts to stairs in fear, there is a need to develop its confidence. How can this best be done?
The way to build a puppy's confidence is not to begin at the top, but at the bottom of the staircase. Take the first step and then motivate or encourage your pet to join you by speaking reassuringly or by using toys or treats. Once the puppy has joined you on the first stair, step back down and then repeat the action until your pet is able to ascend that first stair without being aided. Follow this procedure for the rest of the stairs. Thereafter, you will be able to apply the same method when training the puppy to descend the stairs.
As with other aspects of the puppy training process, it is important not to rush this lesson, patience is required in order to completely cure the puppy of its fear of stairs.
Preventing your pet from leaving your home to roam about the neighbourhood independently is simply the responsible thing to do as an owner. Roaming not only exposes your pet to harm, but all the damage that may occur as a result of its actions will be traced back to the owner who will then be held liable. Lots of places have laws against this and you would not want to find yourself in the middle of an expensive lawsuit.
Though this often occurs when the pet slips off without the owner's knowledge, it is much easier to work at preventing any escapes that to recapture the pet afterwards. Boredom is what leads dogs to plot their escape and this can be long in the making. They will explore nooks and crannies to find an escape route to a better place if possible. However, if the dog has all that it needs—proper accommodation, good food, clean water, proper grooming, favourite toys—then it will tend to stay put and busy itself until the owner comes back.
If the dog has a lot of pent-up or unspent energy, it will also want to escape. Therefore, try to identify energetic play activities during the day which the puppy can engage in, especially if it does not have other playmates around. Having well spent its energy, the dog will be more calm and relaxed.
Ensure also that your property is escape-proof. Regularly check your fences for likely wear and tear, or for damages that could potentially allow a dog to escape. If your dog is in the habit of burrowing in the ground, you may need to extend your fence deeper using metal stakes. If the dog has a habit of leaping over objects, ensure your fence is high enough. Avoid placing any items propped up against the fence that the dog might use for leverage.
If none of these work, then it would be better to keep the dog confined either inside the house or in some other enclosure when you are not available.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Michael Duncan (author) from Germany on February 12, 2020:
I agree, Carolyn, it is happy work! The simplest way is to invest quality time during the formative stages after which the lessons become second nature to the pet. It is smooth sailing thereafter for owner and dog alike. Hope you find an amazing pup if you decide to acquire one!
Michael Duncan (author) from Germany on February 12, 2020:
Thanks for your comment, Liz. Great to know that your pet has developed well as a member of the household. Indeed, our four-legged friends make for delightful companions!
Carolyn Fields from South Dakota, USA on February 12, 2020:
Wow! That's a lot of information.
We were just talking about getting a puppy this morning. This is a good reminder that there's a lot of work involved - although it is happy work!
Liz Westwood from UK on February 11, 2020:
I wish I had read this guide before we had a puppy join our extended family over 3 years ago. He is now a much loved member of the family.