Teach Your Puppy, But also Let Him be a Puppy

Puppy training is important; but so is enjoying puppyhood.

For the past couple of decades there has been a lot of emphasis placed on starting puppy training when puppies are quite young (ten weeks of age or so) whereas in generations past puppies owners were told to wait until their puppy was six months old. I’m sure the effectiveness of vaccinations was a part of the six month old guideline as without effective vaccinations exposure to other dogs could lead to sick puppies. Today, with better vaccinations, earlier exposure to other vaccinated puppies is safer than it used to be.

I’m a fan of beginning puppy training young and have been teaching puppy kindergarten classes for more than twenty years. I believe that early puppy training can help build a good relationship between a new puppy and his owner as well as establish good communication between the two. Early training can emphasize what to do rather than focusing on problem behaviors later.

At the same time, I’m also a believer in letting puppies be puppies without putting too much stress on them. After all, puppies are babies. So, as with so many things, puppy training is all about finding a balance. Introducing training and new activities while also letting the puppy be the baby he is.

Begin Easy Obedience Training

Ten week old puppies are well able to learn some easy basic obedience skills. Sit, lie down, walk nicely on the leash (not heel but walking without pulling), come, and short stays are all good exercises to teach.

That said, training sessions need to be short. Puppies have a short attention span and are easily distracted. Three repetitions of two or three exercises is plenty. For example, three sits, three lie downs, and three comes is enough. Then play with the puppy, let him chew on a toy, and then repeat the exercises again, if you wish.

No matter what training technique you use (clicker/lure and reward both work well with puppies) keep the training upbeat and fun with lots of rewards. Focus on helping the puppy succeed.

As your puppy learns the exercises you’re teaching in the training sessions, then begin implementing them in your daily routine. For example, have your puppy sit for treats, sit for meals, and sit at open doors without dashing out. Using the exercises make training a part of your life and helps show the puppy how to behave.

Scenting Games are Great for Puppies

Scenting games help puppies learn to use their scenting abilities while moving, thinking, and learning. Puppies can also gain more concentration skills while playing these games as they focus on finding hidden treats.

To play scenting games, have some treats your puppy likes that have a strong sent. Swiss cheese, liver treats, and hot dogs all work well. Cut the treats into pencil eraser size.

You can hide the treats in many different things but to begin make the hiding places easy. Have six to eight cardboard boxes, empty cardboard oatmeal containers, or clean plastic plant pots.

Place a treat in several of the items and then let the puppy go search for and eat the treats. Two or three rounds of this are great; stop and let the puppy relax or go play. Don’t repeat the searches until he’s exhausted or has a full tummy, as that will make the scenting games work instead of play.



A Tired Puppy is a Good Puppy (Within Limits)

The best exercise for most young puppies (ten to fourteen to sixteen weeks of age) is play. Chasing a thrown toy, wrestling with another puppy, or investigating smells in the backyard are all great forms of exercise. When playing, most puppies will stop when they’re tired.

If you keep throwing a toy, however, or continue to ask a puppy to do more when he’s tired, he may hurt himself. Watch for panting, lying down, looking away from you, or other body language communication that he’s had enough.

Don’t take your puppy jogging or ask him to jump. Strenuous exercises such as these can potentially damage his joints.

Confidence Building and Body Awareness

Puppies grow, change, and develop quickly; sometimes it seems like they change daily. With changes occurring so quickly, puppies can be clumsy. Body awareness exercises that help puppies become aware of their body and at the same time, grow stronger, are easy to do and good for the puppy. In addition, as the puppies accomplish these easy exercises, their confidence grows.

To begin, encourage your puppy to walk over some varied things on the ground. A mat, trash bag, a folded tarp, and other things that have a different feel and are great. Use your voice and a few treats to encourage your puppy to walk over them. Some sticks, boards on the ground, and a couple of plastic pipes are good for teaching your puppy to pick up his paws as he steps over them.

A wobble board is fun as well as great for strength and balance. Have a piece of plywood, three foot by three foot, and place it flat on the ground. Invite your puppy to walk on it, sit, and bounce up and down on it. Then place a tennis ball or rubber ball under it. Then invite your puppy to walk and play on the board again. The ball will roll and change position under the board causing the board to move. Keep the game fun and let your puppy get off the board when he needs to or is worried. Do this for no more than two or three minutes in the beginning.

Deciding When Your Puppy is Ready for More

Most puppies will make it clear when they are ready for more challenges. The obedience exercises you’re teaching will be too easy; the scenting games accomplished quickly; and he’ll have an abundance of confidence. For these puppies, gradually add more time, distance, or difficulty to their training. Just keep in mind that it must be done gradually; very gradually, and be ready to stop any increases if the puppy has trouble with anything.

Just like us, puppies will have good days and bad days. Your puppy may seem like he’s ready to take on the world and do anything you ask of him one day and the next day he may the concentration span of a gnat. He may have days when he’s grumpy or distracted. Don’t get angry or take it personally. Instead, do something else. Play, go for a walk, introduce him to water or the ocean, or blow some bubbles and let him chase them. There is always tomorrow.

Meet the Author: Liz Palika, CDT, CABC

Liz Palika is a Certified Dog Trainer and Certified Animal Behavior Consultant as well as the founder and co-owner of Kindred Spirits Dog Training in northern San Diego county. Liz is also the founder of Love on a Leash therapy dogs; her dog, Bones, goes on visits on a regular basis. A prolific writer, Liz is also the author of more than 80 books. Many of her works have been nominated or won awards from a variety of organizations, including Dog Writers Association of America, San Diego Book Awards, the ASPCA, and others. Liz shares her home with three English Shepherds: Bones, Hero, and Seven, as well as one confident and bossy orange tabby cat, Kirk. To relax from work, or to take work on the road, Liz and her crew travel the West and PNW in their RV. If you see an RV on the road named "Travelin' Dogs", honk and say hi!

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