Training Puppies

The three most important things your puppy needs to learn are:

  1. The world is a safe place.
  2. It’s okay to be alone sometimes.
  3. Where the potty area is and how to hold it.

These are in order of importance.

Teaching a puppy that its world is a safe place is top priority because there is a short window of opportunity to teach this. Before the age of 12 to 16 weeks, a puppy is more accepting of new experiences and the sights, sounds, smells that come a long with each experience. After 16 weeks, a dog becomes less accepting of new things and will be cautious and uncertain at first. Sometimes this can go really wrong and cause severe behaviours through adolescence and into adulthood.

Separation anxiety (and the unwanted behaviours that come along with it) is a complex problem that is very difficult to change once it becomes moderate to severe. Puppies are not designed to enjoy being alone, but it is a skill they will need (sometimes very quickly upon arriving to a new home). The unwanted behaviours associated with separation anxiety are in the top reasons why dogs are surrendered to dog rescues and animal shelters.

Housetraining is also one of the top reasons people give up their dogs. Training this successfully is a lot of work at the beginning but it’s worth it because it saves you a lot of work later. Going potty is a “self-reinforcing” behaviour (it feels good to the puppy to relieve the discomfort of a full bladder or full bowels), so it’s essential that you start early to teach a puppy that it’s more reinforcing to potty in the right area.

There is much more to training a puppy, but the three listed are the most important for raising a happy, confident, well-mannered puppy.

My Dog Can Behave in Class But Not at Home

“My dog can do it in dog class but won’t do it on a walk.”

“My dog is okay around other dogs in dog class, but my dog is out of control when I walk my dog in the neighbourhood.”

“Dog class is too stimulating for my dog; the minute he sees the building he is out of control.”

These are common complaints, and they are valid. A lot of dog training is about “proofing” skills (increasing the level of difficulty of the skill by increasing the duration, distraction, and distance you are from your dog), and part of this involves generalizing the skill to new locations. Just because a dog knows how to walk on a leash beside you in the dog training facility, doesn’t mean that dog can do it in the neighbourhood. Traditional indoor dog classes often fail to help dogs transfer skills to the real world.

Don’t get me wrong — indoor dog classes have their benefits. They are sheltered from poor weather and some distractions, and in the case of dogs with less than robust immune systems (e.g. puppies that do not have their full set of vaccinations yet), quality classes can reduce the risks of infection/disease/parasites if the facility operators implement a robust cleaning regime and restrict participation to dogs meeting specific health requirements.

But traditional indoor dog classes have their limits in “real-life” training.¬†Unless the dog owner wants to participate in dog sports and shows, many traditional indoor dog classes are not serving the average dog owner who wants the dog to have manners at home, in the car, and on a walk.

The best places to BEGIN the training are in a low-distraction environments, such as the dog’s home, yard, or very familiar and somewhat “boring” places in the dog’s neighbourhood. (Think of areas with minimal wildlife and plant material/greenery that would contain wonderfully distracting scents.) After the skill is learned at a beginner level of competency, the best places to proof the skills are where dog owners want their dogs to perform the skill (in the car, at the pet supply store, at the park). ¬†Traditional indoor dog classes are good for proofing the dog’s skills — skills the dog already knows — but these classes are generally only useful if the dog will be expected to behave in an indoor environment around other dogs. For the average dog owner, a traditional indoor dog class is not very helpful.

Here are my top 5 picks of the best places to train dogs in Regina (after the dog has learned the skills in a low-distraction environment such at at home):

  1. Neighbourhood Park (the one you will use the most often)
  2. School Yards (not during school hours)
  3. Wascana Park (when it’s not too busy. Start easy and work up to more difficulty)
  4. Pet Supply Store (this is a HUGE challenge, so work on the skills well before trying them in this location, especially Leave It).
  5. Outside the dog park (far enough away that the dogs in the park are a bit of a distraction but not too much)