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Training a New Dog? Here's Where to Begin

August 13, 2019

woman training a dog to shake hands

Training a New Dog? Here's Where to Begin

Does the idea of training your new dog sound complicated? Getting your dog from rambunctious to calm may be more attainable than you think. Even though you don’t speak canine, dogs are famously well-attuned to their humans. The best way to approach the training is with the assumption that you do have what it takes to teach your dog to understand what you want.
So when they do good, take a positive reinforcement approach, and offer heaps of praise and treats. When things don’t go to plan, keep in mind that beyond saying "No!", training tactics like scolding or disciplining with a rolled-up newspaper are outdated and ineffective. Teaching a dog or a puppy how to behave takes time, patience and, most of all, consistency. But in the long run, the efforts are well worth it. Helping your dog understand what it takes to succeed in your home will make your lives together that much more enjoyable.

When should dog training begin?

Ideally, training starts the day they come home. But even if you’re well past that first day, now’s a great time to start. While it’s tempting to give your new dog a pass for bad behavior, like chewing the furniture or going to the bathroom in the house, don’t coddle your pet. First of all, teaching good habits doesn’t magically become easier at a later date. Second, in some cases, all it takes is a little extra effort to show your dog the preferred behavior.
 
However, before you start, it's imperative that the humans in the household be on the same page when it comes to training. Mixed messages and different methods will confuse your dog and make training drag out much longer than it needs to. Being consistent and predictable will make it easier for your dog to understand what's expected of her.

Chewing

Chewing is a natural behavior for dogs. It helps puppies deal with teething pain, but it can also be a sure-fire sign of anxiety. Unfortunately, they may not understand your belongings are off-limits until you show them. So for now, store away any objects that are chewing targets, especially shoes, behind the latched door of a closet. Be proactive with chew toys, keeping them at the ready so your pup is less likely to damage furniture and other people objects you'd like to keep free of canine tooth marks. An excellent alternative to a chew toy is a treat puzzle — something to get them engaged in a delicious goal.

Preventing indoor accidents

You can easily establish good habits through consistency and ample opportunity to "go." That means before you turn in for the night or leave for errands, it's important to make time for your dog's potty break. Before heading outside, say "Potty." And when they go, offer a treat while saying "Potty."

Keep in mind, even a dog with a solid record of being housebroken may end up leaving indoor puddles in their new home. It may be the excitement of being in a new house, or it may be rooted in a wish to mark their territory, which are not-untypical responses in this time of transition. The best thing to do is to be ready to act when they’re getting ready to “go” indoors. Simply say “Oops” or “No,” and lead the dog outside. Have that treat ready, so when they do successfully urinate outdoors, you can reward and reinforce.

Jumping up on the couch

Some pet families prefer to make their furniture a dog-free zone. If that’s your intention, establish this habit from day one. Don’t feel you’re being hard-hearted or unwelcoming, even if your dog did just leave a shelter or rescue. Add a comfy dog bed to the family room, so she has her own comfortable spot to relax and hang out. When you catch your dog snoozing on the couch, resist the urge to scold. Instead, use a treat to grab their attention, and then throw the treat to the floor, saying “Off!” as they jump down after it. After guiding the dog to the correct place, her bed, offer the treat once she’s seated or laying down. Eventually, they’ll learn to steer clear, and respond to the command, “Off!”

The best response to after-the-fact incidents

As a pet parent, there will be times when you return to a mess or some other transgression that occurred several minutes or even hours earlier. Unless you caught the dog in the act, telling them "no!" won't do much good, because they won't associate the consequence with the act. The best thing you can do is clean up, and resolve to increase the supervision of your dog until they get the hang of the house rules.

That means when you’re not home or can’t focus on your dog, crating the dog, for now, may be the best way to keep her out of trouble. Though you certainly wouldn’t want to keep your dog confined at all times, many dogs prefer this when their “pack leaders” aren’t around. Crating appeals to a dog’s instincts to den and makes them feel safe. Learn more about crate training your dog and listen to the Raising Your Paws Podcast, episode 8.

Teach your dog to respond when called, the easy way

When it comes to training your new dog, a great place to start is the classic command trio of sit, stay and come. Knowing that your dog will stop what she’s doing in the back yard and come a-running when paged makes your life much less frustrating. Also, your dog’s mastery of these commands will be best for their safety and well being in the long run. Here, we’ll walk you through the basics of verbal command training.

Start small

Keep training sessions brief, no more than 5-10 minutes at a time.

It takes two

Choose a quiet, familiar room that’s free of distractions, like a hallway or family room. Standing at opposite sides, take turns with a partner calling the dog’s name. Always have that happy, positive, enthusiastic energy in your voice, to convey good things are coming. During these first training sessions, position your body at dog level, so that you’re kneeling, sitting or crouching.

Go big on praise and treats

If the thought of being overheard during your training session makes you cringe, you’re doing it right, so don’t hold back. In addition to a wildly enthusiastic “Good dog!” reward her with a head rub and a tasty treat. Tip: Training treats are best in this circumstance because they’re small, low calorie and have an irresistible fragrance. Avoid crumbly biscuits; a dog’s attention span is very short, and if they have to pause and lap up loose crumbs, they’ll lose focus.

Work from your dog’s level

While coddling your pet doesn't do her any favors, it’s perfectly OK to adjust the challenge and make it easier for your dog to succeed. So in this case, if the dog stops or gets distracted en route to you, you should keep calling — tapping the ground to get their attention. If that fails, try moving a bit closer to the dog and start again.

Up the ante

Once the dog can handle “sit, stay and come” at the basic level, it’s time to mix it up.

  • Call while standing upright or facing the wall, or laying on your back.
  • Call from greater distances. Eventually, call from different levels of the house. Or when the dog’s relaxing in the back yard, call from behind the screen door.
  • Call commands at random times during the day, in different rooms of the house.
  • Graduate to new settings, preferably ones with more distractions, such as a busy family room or a park. When outdoors, just make sure you stay in control of your pet and keep her attached to an extra-long leash.

The idea is to get the dog used to the idea that when she hears her name, it's time to stop what she's doing and pay attention, every time, not just under a specific set of circumstances.

Having trouble getting your dog to catch on? Hang in there. There’s always next time. If you really get stuck, look for a certified dog trainer in your community to show you the ropes. In the meantime, make sure training sessions end on a positive note and finish with a command she’s already good at.

What are the best training treats for dogs?

Nothing conveys a job well done to a dog than a drool-worthy treat. NutriSource Soft & Tender Treats are made with real chicken, lamb or salmon that will bring any training session to a delicious end. Find them on the shelves at your local, independent pet supply retailer.