Starting out right
Training a puppy or dog takes time and patience, and every puppy or dog is different and will learn at their own pace. But investing time training early on will pay dividends in the long run.
If you have had a puppy before, then you will be familiar with the toilet training phase – it takes time and more than a little patience. Every dog differs and will learn at its own rate.
The first thing to remember is to give your dog abundant opportunities to relieve themselves outside. The second is to remember that reward-based positive reinforcement training is the most effective approach, so reward the dog whenever they toilet in the correct place.
To be effective, the dog must link the act of going to the toilet in the right spot with the reward you offer them following. That means you must reward them straight away rather than waiting until you are both back inside. The nature of the reward is up to you, from simple praise and a pat to providing treats or toys.
This is time intensive, because you need to supervise the dog so you are ready to reward it immediately for doing the right thing. However, this will save you time in the longer term as it will encourage the dog to learn faster. Learn to look for cues that your puppy is about to relieve themselves so you can take them to the correct spot and reward them following. Cues will include things like sniffing an area, circling, and then pausing in the spot. You will learn your puppy’s cues over time, and can react accordingly.
Taking your puppy to its toileting area should be the first thing you do each morning, as it is likely they will need to go and you can reward them for doing so. You should return your puppy to this area on regular occasion throughout the day.
Puppies, like babies, do not have conscious control over their bladders when very young. This means you should expect toileting ‘mistakes’, regardless of how your puppy is progressing with its toileting training. Remembering that they cannot help it is important as you seek to be patient during the early stages of toileting.
Good manners are as necessary for dogs as they are for people. A dog who jumps, pulls, barks or lacks self-control often finds himself left out of family activities. An untrained dog may also put your housing situation at risk if you’re a renter or belong to a home or strata owners’ association. Teach your dog a few basic obedience commands (such as sit, down, come and stay) using positive training methods, and you will be rewarded with a well-behaved dog who can handle most everyday social situations.
Most people who have trained a puppy will be familiar with the idea of using treats as a motivator. However, relying on these teaches your dog to only obey when you have treats to offer, which is not always practical or desirable.
By removing the treats on offer as soon as your puppy starts to understand what you’re asking him to during in a training exercise, you’ll avoid the treat becoming a bribe. Instead, you should offer the command and then give your puppy the opportunity to obey first, before then offering the treat if they choose to do so.
Alternatives to treats include ‘lifestyle’ benefits, such as offering a toy, playing a game, or treating them to something else that may be a favourite activity.
For example, let’s say you want to train your dog to wait for your command to chase a ball that you kick. You could tell your dog to sit and stay, then put the ball down to kick. If the dog stays, kick the ball away for them to chase. If they move off, lift the ball up instead and try again. Once they stay, praise them and kick the ball. The reward is the game they get to play if they wait until kick-off.
Confirm your puppy’s behaviour as soon as they comply with your command, in order for them to make the connection between the two. Confirming might be just a simple verbal acknowledgment, or you may choose to use a clicker.
Dogs are experts at understanding your body language.
Standing tall, with your hands out of your pockets, is a good starting point. This allows you to use your hands to gesture, and puts the focus on your verbal commands rather than the expectation you are fishing in your pockets for treats.
Likewise, keeping a bag of treats in hand whilst training is counterproductive – you will simply reinforce the idea that your puppy should only obey when you bribe them.
Location is important too. A dog trained in one spot will associate the command and behaviour with that one location. By practising in different rooms and whilst out and about, the dog learns to obey in whatever environment the command is given.
We strongly advise enrolling your puppy into puppy preschool from 12 weeks of age. There are many puppy schools in every state of Australia, and you will likely easily find one close by. This will assist you in using correct training techniques and provide a supportive environment with a new puppy. Puppies benefit from exploring new places, having new experiences, and accepting new situations. This makes it the perfect time for introducing puppies to lots of people, other dogs, and the big wide world in which it will live. Although the curriculum may vary from place to place, puppies typically learn to accept being handled, basic obedience, and how to interact and play nicely with other puppies. Owners generally learn about normal puppy behaviour, body language, proper nutrition, and the importance of ongoing socialisation and training.
Why is Puppy Preschool Beneficial? Benefits for puppies include early socialisation with other puppies and people, while the benefits to owners include expert advice and support during the early stages of dog ownership. There is no pressure to attend – some people find it beneficial to undertake the training on their own or confining it to the family environment. Either way, training your puppy is a fun experience and, if approached with the right attitude, will lead to great reward.