Many behavior problems can be prevented by providing “legal,” acceptable ways for your dog to express her natural impulses. There are some things that dogs just need to do. So rather than trying to get your dog to stop doing things like chewing, mouthing and roughhousing altogether, channel these urges in the right direction. Increased physical activity and mental enrichment are excellent complements to training. Please see our articles, Enriching Your Dog’s Life, Exercise for Dogs and How to Stuff a KONG® Toy, to learn more.
Crate training is a great way to start your puppy off on the right paw. Dogs have a natural instinct to keep their den clean, so a properly sized crate, introduced gradually, will create a home base for your puppy and will keep him from having accidents when you can’t watch him. Use the crate when you’re unable to give your puppy your full attention during the day, as well as at nap time and bedtime. Selecting the right size crate is critical, and it should be big enough so that your puppy can comfortably stand up, turn around and lie down but not much bigger. If you opt for a crate that’s too large, your puppy will be able to potty in one corner and sleep comfortably in the other, defeating the purpose of crate training.
Consequences must be immediate Dogs live in the present. Unlike us, they can’t make connections between events and experiences that are separated in time. For your dog to connect something she does with the consequences of that behavior, the consequences must be immediate. If you want to discourage your dog from doing something, you have to catch her with her paw in the proverbial cookie jar. For example, if your dog gets too rough during play and mouths your arm, try saying “OUCH!” right at the moment you feel her teeth touch your skin. Then abruptly end playtime. The message is immediate and clear: Mouthing on people results in no more fun. Rewards for good behavior must come right after that behavior has happened, too. Say a child in a classroom answers a teacher’s question correctly, gets up from his desk, sharpens his pencil and then punches another kid in the arm on the way back to his seat. Then the teacher says, “Good job, Billy!” and offers him a piece of candy. What did Billy get the candy for? Timing is crucial. So be prepared to reward your dog with treats, praise, petting and play the instant she does something you like.
To communicate clearly and consistently with your dog, you need to understand how she learns. Dogs learn through the immediate consequences of their behavior. The nature of those consequences determines how they’ll behave in the future. Dogs, like other animals (people included), work to get good things and avoid bad things in life. If a behavior results in something rewarding-like food, a good belly rub, playtime with dog buddies or a game of fetch with her pet parent-your dog will do that behavior more often. On the other hand, if a behavior results in an unpleasant consequence-like being ignored or losing things she finds rewarding-she’ll do that behavior less often.
Practice everywhere, with everyone If you learn that two plus two equals four in a classroom, you’ll take that information with you wherever you go. Dogs, however, learn very specifically and don’t automatically apply their knowledge in different situations and places as well as people do. If you teach your dog to sit on cue in your kitchen, you’ll have a beautifully kitchen-trained dog. But she might not understand what you mean when you ask her to sit in other locations. If you want your dog to perform new skills everywhere, you’ll need to practice them in multiple places-your home, your yard, out on walks, at friends’ houses, at the park and anywhere else you take your dog.
Consistency is crucial. This may mean taking time off work to be there to take the pup outside every 20-30 minutes when they are awake. Crate training will also help the 'penny drop' as it teaches the pup to hold on until taken outside. Then, be sure to stay with the pup in the yard so you are there to reinforce how clever they are when they do go in the right place. Can my dog be a protection dog?
You may also notice common behavior problems in your dog such as jumping up, barking, or even aggression. The best way to correct any misbehavior is to interrupt it. Shift your dog's attention to something positive. Try running through cues that your dog has mastered followed by rewards. Keep your demeanor cool and confident, and be clear about what you mean. Does my dog need obedience training?
Work on only one part of a skill at a time Many of the skills we want our dogs to learn are complex. For instance, if you want to train a solid sit-stay, you’ll need to work on teaching your dog that she should stay in a sitting position until you release her (duration), she should stay while you move away from her (distance), and she should stay while distracting things are going on around her (distraction). You’ll probably both get frustrated if you try to teach her all of these things at the same time. Instead, start with just one part of the skill and, when your dog has mastered that, add another part. For example, you can work on duration first. When your dog can sit-stay for a few minutes in a quiet place with no distractions while you stand right next to her, start training her to stay while you move away from her. While you focus on that new part of the skill, go back to asking your dog to stay for just a few seconds again. When your dog can stay while you move around the room, slowly build up the duration of the stay again. Then you can add the next part-training in a more distracting environment. Again, when you make the skill harder by adding distraction, make the other parts-duration and distance-easier for a little while. If you work on all the parts of a complex skill separately before putting them together, you’ll set your dog up to succeed. Can I train my dog myself?