By SANDY BARNOSKY
Special to The Gazette
Many people got a new dog during the Christmas season, but first-time dog owners are sometimes unaware of the importance of setting boundaries and teaching puppies whatâ€™s expected of them. Basic commands and points of etiquette learned in the first year will shape the dogs they will be as adults. Training time can be fun and should be part of a pupâ€™s everyday routine.
8 to 9 weeks
At 8 to 9 weeks old, he should be exposed to different people and settings. A puppy socialization class will enhance social development by teaching him how to play with unfamiliar dogs, while obedience class will teach the basic commands of sit, stay, off and come. At first, these commands are most easily taught using a treat as a reward, but later the treat is phased out and replaced with lavish praise. Your praise, although less tangible, is just as important to your dog as a treat. Puppies grow incredibly fast during their first 18 months, so they need a puppy-formulated food. Regular vet check-ups and vaccinations will ensure his health, and a dog license tag on his collar will help him find his way home if he should escape.
3 to 6 months
Between 3 to 6 months, a pup should be able to sleep through the night without having an accident. Patience and common sense coupled with a watchful eye is the key to successful house training. Never punish your dog after he has messed. Rubbing his nose in it is an obsolete and cruel training method that teaches nothing except to fear you. Instead, use verbal correction and rush him outdoors when you catch him in the act, then praise lavishly when he uses the outdoor facilities.
Keep your dog on a consistent feeding and potty schedule and take him out after he eats, drinks and plays. Heâ€™ll need to go out first thing in the morning, last thing at night and whenever he stops what heâ€™s doing and wanders off.
Using a crate will offer a safe, secure place for him when you canâ€™t watch his every move, when youâ€™re gone, overnight or when he needs a time-out to settle down. Proper introduction to a crate should involve praise, treats and toys to be given each time he goes into the crate. An item of clothing, worn but not washed, will offer the comfort of the ownerâ€™s scent. The crate should be a happy place and never be associated with punishment. Dogs are den animals, and crate training is based on their instincts to have a protected, clean, nesting space to go when feeling stressed by any situation. This is their haven where children shouldnâ€™t disturb them.
Chew chew train
Permanent teeth begin coming in between 5 and 6 months, and heâ€™ll need plenty of chew toys to relieve gum discomfort. Thereâ€™s no cure for the teething stage, but you can minimize the damage. With praise and petting, positively reinforce his chewing on things heâ€™s allowed to have. Negatively reinforce his chewing on inappropriate items by removing the item and exchanging it with a proper chew toy.
Every dog needs to learn basic etiquette, which includes not jumping on people, not nipping and walking on a leash without pulling. Behavior modification takes time and dedication by using a mix of positive (praise for the right thing) and negative (no attention for the wrong thing) reinforcement. A childâ€™s first reaction to being nipped or mouthed by a puppy is to push the pup away, which will be interpreted as play and probably cause more nipping, so parents should closely monitor all interactions between their children and dogs.
At six months the puppy is a juvenile who will start to show his independence. The once-obedient puppy may temporarily forget simple, learned commands, but with continued training sessions, heâ€™ll begin to recognize a hierarchy and his ranking in it. Sexual maturity also has begun, and itâ€™s time to spay or neuter if it hasnâ€™t already been done. From 9 to 12 months, your pup goes through the â€œTerrible Twosâ€ and may show signs of stubbornness, become territorial or show dominance toward his owners and others unless trained and socialized earlier. Plenty of exercise and consistency in training and will curb this.
By his first birthday, a puppy should be 95 percent adult-like in physique, intelligence and attitude. A common reason dogs are surrendered to shelters is because people donâ€™t realize their roles in training, which leads to behavioral problems when the pup becomes an adult. Donâ€™t relinquish a dog to a lonely life chained to a doghouse because his behavior is unacceptable. If youâ€™re not attending training classes, learn positive reinforcement techniques from books (the library has many) and practice them at home every day so your dog can become a well-behaved member of your family.
Barnosky can be reached at 330-725-4160, ext. 4075, via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by writing The Gazette, 885 W. Liberty St., Medina, 44256.