By Kelly Diehl, DVM, MS
Science Writer and Researcher
Morris Animal Foundation
If you and your family have chosen to bring a puppy into your life – congratulations! Dogs bring love and joy to their families, but choosing a puppy is the easy part. The real challenge begins when we bring our furry friends home and they start learning how to be a part of the family. Time spent training your dog from the day he or she comes home is an investment in a beautiful relationship that will last a lifetime.
Having a well-trained dog not only is good for your furniture, your neighbors, your mail carrier and your sanity, it also is beneficial for your dog. Both animal behaviorists and human psychologists recognize the benefits of a close human-animal bond, and positive reinforcement training provides a way for dogs and their human companions to strengthen that bond. An additional benefit is the mental and physical stimulation that training provides for dogs. (Training your dog also can save their life in more ways than one. Multiple studies have shown that behavior problems are one of the primary reasons people relinquish their dog to an animal shelter.)
House training a puppy is essential, but even learning some simple commands such as “sit,” “lie down,” and “stay” can make a positive difference in how a new puppy (or dog) integrates into a household. Using positive reinforcement is critical; dogs don’t understand hitting or yelling, and often will become more fearful or aggressive with punishment.
In addition to positive reinforcement, most trainers and veterinarians recommend crate training your puppy. Dogs in the wild naturally seek out dens for shelter and protection. A crate gives your puppy a safe space they can retreat to, and that you can use to aid in house training your pup and preventing destructive behavior.
Keeping a consistent schedule, from feeding times to potty breaks, is important for puppies. When you first get your puppy, they need to be taken out frequently to urinate and defecate. Picking a specific area that becomes the designated bathroom and rewarding your puppy as soon as they eliminate are other helpful tips for training. Trainers recommend that you reward your puppy while still outside; don’t wait until you’re back in the house.
There is no getting around the fact that you will need to purchase new gear for your pup. All dogs need a leash and collar, as well as either ceramic or metal food and water bowls. Puppies have a strong instinct to chew, so providing age and size appropriate materials is important. Toys and other play items designed for dogs enrich their environment and provide welcome diversions.
Avoid giving your puppy old, used household items to chew on or play with; dogs are not good at knowing that the old slipper you gave them to play with is different than your expensive Italian stiletto shoes!
From a safety perspective, a well-trained puppy is a safer puppy, particularly around other dogs and people. But even training can’t prevent every incident. Remember to provide your dog with identification just in case the unthinkable happens and your dog is lost. Implanted microchips are the most high-tech options on the market, but even something as simple as a customized dog tag can provide identification. Identification can mean the difference between bringing your dog home and losing it forever.
The companionship dogs provide us is priceless. Bonding with our furry friends through positive training strengthens and enhances that relationship. For dog-training resources, check with your veterinarian, your local humane organization, or visit American Animal Hospital Association’s Healthy Pet for tips and references.