Important Facts About Puppy (Dog) Training

For a pet dog, living with humans is confusing at best and totally disorienting at worst. There is nothing in your puppy’s genetic makeup that allows him to understand the world in which humans live.

He is a dog. He has dog behaviors. While he has the remarkable ability to adapt, to the inconsistencies of human behavior and human desires, as no other animal can, he remains a dog. Since he can be nothing but a dog it is your responsibility to help him adapt to your world.

It’s Never Too Early To Start

Your puppy has been learning since he was born. Where’s the food, where’s the warmth are the first things he learns outside the womb. By the time your puppy comes to live with you he has had (in most cases) at least eight weeks to learn strategies for getting what he wants: food, interaction with littermates, with mom, what is safe and what is not. He is learning every minute he is awake. Your puppy’s early learning should not entail a list of “obedience commands” but rather the desire to engage with and focus on you in order to get what he wants.

Your job is to teach him how to make his desire your desire.

Management Is Key

When you first get your puppy training and management go hand in hand. Because your puppy is always learning it is your responsibility to keep him safe and prevent him from doing things you find unacceptable (now, and in the future). Chewing, jumping, biting, barking, peeing and pooping are all just “dog” behaviors. Your puppy has no sense of “good” or “bad” only “safe/feels good” and “dangerous/feels bad”. Management eliminates conflict that arises when he does something that is simply a “dog” behavior and you punish him for it.

Management prevents him from developing behaviors you do not want.

Engagement Is What It’s All About

Engagement means your puppy looks to you for the things he wants, the things that are safe, and make him feel good. Food, play, access to people, places, and other dogs are all things that he wants. Teaching your puppy that engaging with and maintaining focus on you is the pathway to getting what he wants sets the stage for any and all training that will follow.

With focus and engagement, you can train your puppy to do just about anything. Without focus and engagement getting reliable behaviors will be difficult if not impossible.

Play is Crucial

When young puppies play with their littermates they are learning and developing strategies for navigating their world. Your puppy bites, wrestles with, chases, and knocks over his littermates. All young mammals “play”. Play provides valuable life lessons. In a group of social animals, play also enhances the structure within the group. Play is an important way to form a strong bond with your puppy. As humans, we cannot play with our puppy like another puppy would. Your puppy must be taught the correct way to play with humans using toys and food. You must be taught the proper toys and food to use and how to use them.

Play, done correctly, will become a hugely rewarding and bonding activity for the rest of your puppy’s life.

Socialization – What That Means

Socialization means different things to different people. For Two Bears trainers, socialization means exposure but not necessarily interaction. Your puppy was born with a particular personality, just like you were. His personality is somewhere along the curve from very social to very cautious. The extremely social puppy, barring any truly “bad” experiences, will always be social. The extremely cautious puppy will always be suspicious of new things, be they living or not.

During his formative months exposure to novel places and surfaces people and animals is vital. However, the interaction between him and people and animals should be limited. If the interaction is unlimited for the social puppy he will see others as more rewarding than you. If the interaction is forced upon the cautious puppy he WILL become reactive when he gets older (he will learn the way to keep the scary things away is to growl, bark, lunge and eventually, bite).

Your puppy should be able to get along with or tolerate the people and animals he will live with or see on a regular basis. Play and interact with them or just have no difficulty being around them. The rest of the world should be meaningless to him, like so much wallpaper.

Socialization, exposure, is vital to your puppy’s development. Interaction is not.

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