When a new puppy enters your home, there is a lot to think about and prepare for. You have to get toys, food, treats, a leash and harness, a collar, tags, a comfy bed, and a crate. The list never seems to end. The parts leading up to bringing your new four-legged best home are exciting and carefree.
That’s not to say that when you get your puppy, the excitement goes away, but really the anticipation of what comes next sets in. How will your puppy behave? Will they have funny quirks? Will they require special needs and assistance? You never know how your puppy will behave until you have them in your home.
What comes next is the hard stuff: training your puppy to become a well-behaved dog. Everyone’s definition of well-behaved is different, and there might be some training that you do differently than others.
This all depends on what your goals are for your dog, as well as their breed. It’s important to thoroughly research the breed (or breeds) your soon-to-be pup is; for example, Border Collies will likely need a significantly different lifestyle than a pug.
When it comes to training and disciplining your puppy, there can be conflicting messages out there, and every dog is unique.
Read on to learn more about the variety of methods you could use to help train your pup.
Is Punishment OK When Training a Puppy?
The short answer is: no. Punishment is never OK to use with your puppy, simply because they don’t understand what it means to be punished. Instead of teaching good behaviors, it can instead traumatize them.
When you first get your puppy, you’ll want to show them that you can be trusted and that you are a safe space for them. They should know that you are a consistent and predictable part of their life. They should never fear you — that does not set up a strong foundation for trust.
Your puppy doesn’t necessarily know why you’re angry at them. Therefore, puppies will associate scary behavior with you as a person, not resulting from something they did, like chewing the sofa. We want the opposite of that. We want to be seen as safe people that they can always come to.
A dog is less likely to respond positively to their pet parent’s requests if they tend to be unpredictable people. Dogs thrive on routine, including what is expected of them. It’s sort of like how human kids struggle if one parent allows candy before dinner while the other doesn’t.
Patience, kindness, love, and consistency are all you need to begin seeing the changes in their behavior that you are seeking. Your puppy wants to please you! You just have to learn the best way to communicate your needs with them and learn their needs as well. Soon enough, you’ll be the picture of the perfect duo at the dog park!
Basic Puppy Training Methods
There are four basic puppy training methods that can help you to get desirable behaviors from your pup. Your puppy is going to make a mess or a mistake every once in a while, and you need to be prepared for that. Even brilliant German Shepherds and Poodles can’t be potty trained overnight. The most well-meaning Golden Retriever might destroy unattended shoes for months before you see improvement (or learn to place your belongings out of reach).
As mentioned above, patience, kindness, love, and consistency are key. We all must remember that puppies are young and navigating puppyhood without a litter of pups beside them. They aren’t getting corrections from their mother anymore, which means we have to learn how to do so. By behaving calmly but sternly, we can set a tone that informs our dogs we would rather they didn’t bite through our new sunglasses.
One of the easiest ways to train your pup is to associate good behaviors with positive reinforcement. If your puppy barks or whines at the door to go outside for the bathroom, you reward them with a treat and a command similar to, “Yes!”
When coming up with commands, it’s always best to keep them simple and different from the rest so your dog can easily identify them. You should begin by pairing the command with a treat so that your pet develops a positive associate with the action and the word.
In many cases, clicker training can help during positive reinforcement training. Like with the command “Yes!” the clicker sound becomes associated with a reward. Your dog might end up “sitting” over and over, looking for a treat.
If your dog barks a lot and it’s beginning to become an issue for your neighbors, you might try a “Quiet!” command associated with a click and reward with a treat whenever they listen and quiet down. Positive reinforcement is used in training frequently and can help teach your dog desired behavior. It’s used in leash training, potty training, crate training, and when trying to calm an excited pup down.
Conditioning is paired with positive reinforcement, but the goal is to teach a dog a desired behavior. This can be very helpful in learning how to train a puppy without punishment because it focuses on positive associations.
Potty training can be a process. You aren’t always sure when your pup is going to go, and not every pup lets you know when they need to go. Puppies have accidents, which means you are the one who has to clean them up every day. To minimize these accidents, potty training is essential.
One way to use conditioning during potty training is to get a set of bells that you can hang on whatever door brings you outside. Whenever you bring your puppy outside to use the bathroom, gently guide their nose to the bells and have them ring. Then take your pup outside and let them relieve themselves. Soon, they will begin pairing the bells with their need to use the bathroom.
Now, dogs can make mistakes and mess up from time to time; stay calm and guide them back to the door to ring the bells before going outside. If your dog does have an accident, it’s important to still bring them outdoors. That way, puppies (or adult dogs) can understand that there is a difference between the two locations.
One of the most critical aspects of successfully training a dog is remaining consistent. Conditioning can work and does work, but if you aren’t upholding the reaction to certain behaviors, your dog will get mixed signals and not understand what you want from them.
While puppies don’t have the longest memories, timeouts after bad behavior can work to correct behavior. If your pup is exhibiting undesirable behavior, like jumping, nipping clothing, overstimulating another dog, or mouthing your hands and arms, taking them away from the stimulus can help calm them down.
If every time this behavior occurs, you remove yourself or the dog from the scenario, your dog can begin to associate the bad behavior with a total halt in interaction. This signals to your dog that something they have done is not wanted.
These timeouts do not need to last very long, especially because your dog will forget what it is you’re correcting them for if it goes on for too long.
An example of this behavior would be turning your back to a dog who is constantly jumping up on you to lick you. Eventually, your pooch will realize that they aren’t getting the attention that they want by jumping. Pair this with positive reinforcement when they sit and wait for you to pet them; they will understand what you want a whole lot faster.
Replace Forbidden Objects With Toys
When your puppy participates in undesirable behaviors, you can replace what they are doing with acceptable behavior to deter them. For instance, if your dog is chewing on your shoes, don’t get angry and yell at them. Instead, tell them “No” and replace the shoe with something they are meant to chew on, like a toy.
If your dog nips at your hands, grab a toy to act as a replacement. If your dog won’t stop jumping on you and trying to play, providing an acceptable alternative is the best way to distract them and divert their energy elsewhere.
How Not To Discipline Puppies
While there are many methods that you could use to help discipline your puppy without punishment, there are clear actions you should avoid. The golden rule applies to dogs, just like people.
Yelling or Intimidating
We don’t want to try to scare your dog by raising voices, screaming, staring down, or intimidating. A tone of voice is telling enough.
They don’t associate intimidation with their individual behavior but rather with that of their pet parents. Yelling and raising your voice will not produce the results you think they will, and rather a calm and firm tone will do the trick. If you want your dog to understand and listen to you better, keeping your tonal flares to a minimum can help with the training process.
We feel as if this should be a given, but it needs to be addressed. You should never move to physical punishment in order to discipline a dog. When you physically punish your dog, you are telling them that aggression is acceptable as a means to communicate. Punishment provokes fear and aggression in your dog, as two wrongs do not make a right.
Shock Collars and Electronic Fence Collars
Shock collars have been in the dog training community for a long time. However, these are never recommended for general use. Some dogs might not understand why they are being shocked or hurt.
Since the dog doesn’t necessarily pair cause and effect, these collars might not even help solve long-term behavioral issues. Instead, these collars can instill fear or anxiety into the dog. They can never be too sure when they might be hurt, so they are always tense and on edge.
E-collars or electronic fencing collars are used to establish boundaries when a physical fence isn’t present. Often these collars will emit a tone to a pet, letting them know the boundary is approaching, and then issue a shock when the perimeter is crossed. However, since the collar will also shock the dog upon re-entry, some pups will opt not to come back inside, potentially leading to a lost dog situation.
Training the Trainer (You!)
With puppyhood comes a variety of new questions — almost daily. If you don’t know many others who have raised puppies before, seeking professional help might be useful. When you sign up for AskVet, you have the ability to ask as many questions as possible.
We get that raising a puppy can be scary, so we want to be there for you through it all. Whenever something pops into your head, you can go into the AskVet application and chat with a Certified Pet Lifestyle Coach™ at any point in the day. Your CPLC™ will create a 360° Lifestyle Plan to help keep your dog (or cat, lizard, horse, or fish) on the best path possible.
If you have questions about your puppy’s health, behavior, or training method recommendations, AskVet is there to help you for just $9.99/month.