Starting Puppies Off On the Right Paw

Pulling on the leash, nipping, jumping-up, food guarding, house soiling, destructive chewing, bolting through doorways, ignoring recalls . . . oh, the joys of owning a dog! These are some of the top “problem behaviors” that land pre-adolescent dogs into animals shelters prior to their first birthday. So what can a breeder do to reduce the chances of the puppies they’ve produced from ending up in the pokey? A lot! As a breeder, you have control over much of the pups’ potential and whether or not they reach it. Setting a strong foundation in training is one more weapon in your arsenal for the fight for your puppies’ lives. By teaching your puppies seven simple life-saving tasks you can greatly increase their chances of becoming well-rounded, lifelong companions.

What are these seven tasks? How long do they take to teach? How difficult will this be? What fancy equipment will I need? The answer is simple. The task includes teaching puppies to look at you, to sit, to come when called, and to walk on a loose-leash (not a formal heel). By teaching a young puppy these four simple tasks at this age it will set a strong training foundation for the future. Each task takes just a couple minutes a day with each pup and all you will need is a little peanut butter or a few pieces of soft cheese (smaller than half the size of your pinkie nail or smaller, if possible), a quiet place, and an eager pup.

“Watch me!” 
This command teaches puppies to look to their human friends for a number of important reasons. First, because it makes further training MUCH easier. You can’t train a dog that isn’t looking at you. Second, it will also keep the puppy out of trouble in the future as an adult dog. After all, a dog can’t spot and chase a cat, another dog, or a person if they are diligently paying attention to their human.

Sit is an easy trick to teach to pups, and the benefits are endless. By teaching puppies to sit in place of other unwanted behaviors, you can wipe out nearly half of the their “problem behaviors,” such as jumping on people (dogs can’t jump if their bottoms are on the ground), bolting through doors and gates (they can’t bolt if their bottoms are planted on the ground), and chasing after other objects and animals (it's impossible for them to run if the bottom is on the ground).

“Loose-leash walking” 
Pulling on the leash is a problem that almost every single dog in an animal shelter has. And it IS a problem, especially for medium to large breeds. Even small breeds can make walks problematic if they are constantly straining on the leash. Teaching them to walk in a relaxed fashion on a loose leash is simple and fun for you and the puppies.

Recall is the most important command a dog can learn, and the earlier they learn it, the better. Teaching puppies recall commands at an early age will save new puppy owners trouble in the future and can even save the puppies’ lives in emergency situations (chasing something across a busy street, approaching other unfriendly dogs, running off, etc.)

“Early potty training and chew toy training” 
Puppies begin teething and pottying in specific locations around 56 weeks of age. This is when all puppies should be started on housetraining and chew-toy training. Encouraging puppies to chew on certain items and not on others, and by encouraging puppies to “potty” in specific areas (outdoors, on a puppy pad or newspaper), will eliminate future destructive chewing and house-soiling. It’s simple to teach to your puppies, and it can improve both the life and quality of life of each puppy you send into the world.

“Soft mouths” 
This is perhaps one of the most important things that breeders can do for their puppies. Many people make the mistake of trying to get puppies to stop biting and nipping altogether, but this is a grave error. The reality of the situation is that all dogs have (or should have) 42 teeth, and all dogs can and will bite if provoked, even the those "taught never to bite a person,” no matter the size, breed, or sex. (Dogs that are afraid or in pain are the most common “biters”). To be sure that you produce and home the best puppies possible, they must be taught bite inhibition (to have a soft bite) rather than to stop biting all together. If a dog is provoked into biting, it WILL bite - even if it’s been “taught not to bite.” And when it does, it will bite with the same strength and force that it last used as a puppy (usually a full mouth, full-force, damage-causing bite). By teaching your puppies to have a soft mouth, they will do far less damage (barely touching the skin if at all). This is a very simple, yet extremely important, thing to teach puppies. It can save the puppies’ lives, as well as the lives of others (such as children).

All of the training is positive and reward-based. It is extremely important that you do not use any corrections or punishments on puppies, or else you can traumatize them for life. Everything in life should be sought as a positive experience to build trust and confidence in puppies. Fearful puppies are what we want to avoid, because fearful puppies grow up to be fearful dogs, which become dogs that bite indiscriminately.

It is understandable that some litters are larger than others, and some breeders will have their hands full. We encourage you to get other trusted, puppy-friendly people involved in helping your litter to reach all of the goals and deadlines we will cover.

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(This article originally appeared on July 5, 2016.)

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