For most of us, the day we first bring a new puppy home is an experience of pure bliss. Unfortunately, without a solid grasp of the basics of puppy training, things can quickly unravel into a mess—literally. Unless your vision of your future with your dog includes piles of poo and wee mess, chewed up furniture, thousands of dollars in emergency vet bills, and some very unhappy neighbors, here are the top mistakes new owners make when training a puppy.
Forgetting to Puppy-Proof Your Home
A puppy in a mood to chew will gnaw on anything it can reach. If things your puppy can reach include your favorite leather loafers or pumps, your child’s favorite teddy bear, your phone charger, a poisonous houseplant, a bottle of medication, or toxic cleaning products, your first weeks are going to be a mix of frustrating and dangerous days.
If your puppy shouldn’t have access to something, it’s important that you move it somewhere safe BEFORE bringing your new puppy home. Instead, make sure there are a variety of dog-safe chew toys down in a basket. When your puppy approaches the toys curiously, reward it with a calm, but upbeat tone, and encourage it to explore the toy basket.
Bringing Your Adorable Puppy Home Too Soon
While it’s understandable that you’d like to begin enjoying your new furry pal as soon as possible, it’s critical that your puppy remain with its mom—and the rest of the littermates—for no less than eight weeks. This time frame is nonnegotiable since the puppy learns core social skills during this window.
A puppy who leaves the litter too soon will struggle to regulate its powerful bite strength, and can suffer from poor social skills (by both dog and human standards) for the rest of its life. Set your puppy up for future success by leaving it with mom for at least the full 2 months required.
Please note that All Dogs Unleashed recommends connecting with a breeder who will keep puppies with mom for 12 weeks and will work to establish proper human socialization during this time by introducing the puppies to a variety of human visitors.
Failing to Supervise Your Puppy
It’s safe to assume that if your puppy isn’t with you, it’s getting into trouble. As creatures with an insatiable curiosity about all things, and no other way to interact with these things other than gnawing, licking, pawing, or peeing on them, you’ll want to keep your new pup close.
Your puppy should be tethered to you when you’re home. A light lead is sufficient. Positive crate training is a must, as well; only when your puppy is reliably house-trained and past the phase where it needs to gnaw everything in sight should you begin to give it more independence.
Creating a Negative Association with Crate Training
While dogs innately prefer snug spots in which to sleep or eat, a crate is only a safe space for your dog if you make it one. Your puppy’s crate should allow enough room for standing and turning around; this will ensure that the feeling is snug, but not cramped. Create positive associations for your puppy by offering meals and treats in the crate, as well as by giving upbeat, calm praise when it enters or lies down inside.
While your puppy will need to be with you or with a trusted (read: able to train your puppy, too!) friend or family member at first, eventually it will be able to stay in the crate for up to 6 hours overnight and up to 4 hours at a stretch during the day.
Encouraging an Emotional Response when You Leave the House
Now that you have your puppy prepared to spend a few hours without you, it’s great to show sadness when you leave, matched by enormous enthusiasm upon your return, right?
Absolutely not. In fact, we often see that the dogs with the worst separation anxiety are owned by highly expressive, emotional people. Dogs then learn to be vocal and upset each time the owner leaves or returns.
The correct way to leave your puppy is to simply leave without creating any commotion at all. When you return, ignore your puppy until it begins to settle down. Then, say hello. Get your puppy’s attention by showing a treat and giving a command. Treat and praise your pet calmly, then carry on with your normal routine.
While you might be overjoyed to see your adorable new friend again, it’s your job to control your emotions and behave responsibly by consistently acting according to your pet’s training needs instead.
Tolerating Mouthing and Nipping
A puppy should have learned how to control its bite strength from mom and fellow puppies, but in case your dog is a rescue, or you found this article a bit late, it’s vital that you not permit or encourage your puppy to touch a person with its mouth or teeth—ever.
A short, high-pitched yelp followed by folded arms and turning away from your dog will prove a quick, reliable cure for this issue. Anyone who interacts with your puppy should be warned that your puppy has this bad habit, then taught how to nip it in the bud.
“Consoling” Your Puppy
Humans are complicated beings with rich understandings of the nuances of empathy, such as consolation and emotional mirroring. Dogs are not. They understand two things: action and reaction. While this can make it easy for us to train them to follow our commands without question, it also means that we cannot react to dogs the way we would react to a human child.
If your puppy is frightened by new stimulus, and you pick it up while making soothing sounds, your dog has NOT learned, “My owner is kind and loves me.” Instead, you have taught your dog to think, “Acting nervous or frightened gets me attention and cuddles. Must repeat as needed.”
Unless you want your puppy to be neurotic and manipulative as an adult canine, it would be far better to make sure your dog is safe, then give a direct command and offer a reward. By distracting your dog and reinforcing that good things happen when it is obedient and attentive to you, you’ll have cleared this common dog owner hurdle with ease.
Neglecting Your Puppy’s Socialization Needs
While your puppy’s mother and littermates will have handled the first 12 weeks, you have another 4 weeks of socialization to cover. Invite as many various types of friends and family members over as you can. Let them interact with your puppy, deliver commands, and reward with treats. Let your puppy stay the night with a trusted friend or family member. If possible, invite one of your puppy’s littermates over for “healthy puppy” playdates.
Avoid overly-loud, dangerous, and chaotic environments while your puppy is still young.
After 6 months, assuming your puppy is on the standard vaccination schedule, you’ll be able to visit dog parks! Then the fun can truly begin.
Free Feeding Your Puppy
Even if your dog is a breed that doesn’t over-consume yummy food (and good luck with that), allowing your puppy to graze throughout the day will make elimination training a nightmare. Instead, feed your puppy on a consistent schedule, and keep housetraining carefully synchronized with feeding times.
As an added bonus, by scheduling training sessions for about half an hour before mealtime, you’ll be working with your puppy when it’s the most receptive. A hungry puppy will be that much more eager to earn treats with excellent obedience skills!
Waiting Until Your Puppy is “Old Enough” To Begin Basic Training
This outdated information means new owners don’t begin to offer feedback from day one—and you definitely should. Even if this is confined to things like upbeat, happy praise when your puppy eliminates outside, and a swift “aahh-ahh!” when you see it weeing indoors, it’s important that your puppy understand that you are the one to turn to for feedback!
We recommend that new owners begin basic obedience training like recall, sit, stay, come, and positive crate training from the very beginning. Dogs who receive such boundaries and reinforcement early on are easier to train down the line, as well as being calm and relaxed around their owners during their puppyhood.
It’s almost better not to train your dog at all, than to practice inconsistent training. Inconsistency can arise in a variety of ways, but these are the most common:
- Enforcing boundaries and rules only when it’s convenient, or when you “feel like it.” For example: Is your dog not allowed on the furniture, or not allowed unless you’ve had a bad day and need a cuddle? Choose one and stick with it.
- Rewarding your dog for only doing part of a command, or rewarding an incorrect response. Do you want your dog to lie down, or sort of put its hips on the floor? Again, only reward the behavior you want to see every time.
- Giving in to begging or leaving food down where your dog can get it likewise creates confusion and inconsistency. Decide what your policy is on begging (we suggest never giving in!) and stick with it.
- Not getting the whole family on board with training methods will create inconsistency even if you yourself are impeccable. Consider every family member who will interact with your dog, and TRAIN THEM before you introduce your puppy. It’s easier to teach smart humans how to work with your puppy than to untangle bad habits in your dog later on.
Getting Training Timing Wrong
This is perhaps the most common error made during puppy training, even by owners who have done very thorough research. Your puppy must have its behavior responded to within TWO SECONDS OF THEIR ACTION, or your window to teach has gone. This applies to both positive training and discouraging negative behaviors. If you’re not prepared to respond quickly, it might be better to consider adopting a cat.
Calling Your Dog to Scold or Correct It
Your dog wants to see you as the giver of all good things. You’ll destroy this dynamic by calling your dog over to do something negative. While we know you would never hit your dog, yell at your dog, or rub their face in a potty accident, it’s equally important that you don’t call it over for a nail trim, grooming session, or bath.
Instead, calmly and wordlessly go and collect your dog as though this next thing is inevitable and not remarkable at all. This dynamic should be preserved throughout your dog’s long, happy life.
By avoiding these common mistakes owners of new puppies tend to make, you’re becoming a safe, positive owner your dog can rely on without worry or distress. In turn, your dog is much more likely to become an obedient, calm, upbeat adult dog.
After your puppy is fully vaccinated, join us at All Dogs Unleashed for formal training sessions! Your happy puppy will be a wonderful addition to our structured, evidence-based courses.