Posted on 07-05-2017
So your new puppy has arrived in your home – congratulations on the acquisition of a new, four footed companion! Once the excitement and blush of a cute, cuddly puppy arrival has passed, the next event to occur is the dawning realization that your new challenge will be that of molding an adorable puppy into a well behaved canine citizen. You can do this if you follow some simple behavior training basics. First is the understanding that a dog’s reason for being, its raisond’etre, is to please its master (owner, pet parent, etc.). They literally live to please; immediate positive reinforcement by verbal praise, petting and presentation of a food treat (initially) will garner more results as well as facilitate quicker learning. You should primarily employ positive reinforcement. Negative reinforcement in response to undesirable behavior has a role provided that appropriate forms are used. Scolding or physical punishment typically leads to a dog that becomes progressively more fearful. Learning subsequently becomes impaired because the fear response redirects a dog’s thought processes away from learning a task and into avoidance of discomfort. Most puppies will begin to associate a behavior that result in receipt of their owner’s praise with rapid task learning and will tend to repeat those behaviors. Dogs also love consistency as do humans – predictable positive rewards/responses and absence of change, especially during the learning period minimizes stress and promotes canine contentment. The keys to effective puppy training are: 1.) positive reinforcement (praise first followed by presentation of a treat), 2.) immediate presentation of a positive reinforcer after performance of the desired behavior, 3.) consistency as far as training is concerned (one method as opposed to multiple variations on a method by different persons in the household), 4.) repetition (of the command and desired behavioral response followed by the positive reinforcer), and 5.) the use of a highly palatable treat (use of the treat is limited to training purposes only). The latter point helps maximize motivation to perform. Treat presentation should follow verbal praise, all of which should occur within 5 to 10 seconds of performance of the desired behavior. Starting training immediately is a great idea because behavior training is foundational; more complex task learning requires prior knowledge of more basic tasks (ie. the ability to sit on command = basic; heeling = complex and requires prior learning of the sit command). Spend 10 to 15 minutes each day training provided that your puppy is receptive. If they are distracted at the start of a training session, table the training exercise for another part of the day. The canine brain is very receptive to learning until the start of adolescence; adolescence typically starts at 20 weeks of age. Puberty normally occurs between 7 and 9 months of age. Social maturity occurs sometime between the first and second year of life. Maximizing the time up to the 20th week of life is an ideal use of their short, formative stage of life; continue training beyond that time period but lower your expectations. Like humans, there is a lot of brain conflict during adolescence; tasks can still be taught but are learned more slowly because of a puppy’s unfocused attention during this stage of growth. The reward for your efforts will be years of pleasant and life enriching companionship. Below is a list of training books that you will find useful and easy to read:
1) “What All Good Dogs Should Know – The Sensible Way to Dog Train” by Jack Volhardt and Melissa Bartlett - a straight forward explanation of canine behavior training basics in an easy to read format.
2) “Dog Behavior – Why Dogs Do What They Do” by Ian Dunbar, DVM - this book is a very good introductory book for any prospective dog owner and for anyone who wants to know more about basic dog biology.
3) “ASPCA Complete Dog Training Manual” by Bruce Fogle – a training essential; every new dog owner should read this book.
4) “Child-Proofing Your Dog” by Brain Kilcommons with Sara Wilson – this book contains useful advice on acclimating your house and your dog to the arrival of a new baby.
5) “Know Your Dog: An Owner’s Guide to Dog Behavior” by Bruce Fogle – this book offers information on interpreting dog behavior. It covers a dog’s “signaling” behavior.
6) “Dog Logic, Companion Obedience: Rapport-based Training” by Joel M. McMannis – a highly recommended training book that teaches owners how to effectively train.
Authored by Robert Z Berry, DVM
Source material from, “Clinical Behavioral Medicine For Small Animals” by Karen L. Overall, VMD