Dog Training – Housebreaking Your Puppy

No training is more basic for pet owners than that first important lesson: Do it outside!

Teaching your pet to eliminate outside the home, not in it, usually starts between six and eight weeks of age. Dogs as young as four weeks have been started on the program, but at that age few have the muscular control to succeed.

Like any dog training regimen, trainer patience is as important as the dog’s temperament. ‘Sit’, ‘stay’ and other behaviors can often be learned in a few days. ‘Potty’ training typically takes weeks – sometimes as short as two, often a month or more.

As with other learned behaviors, it helps to watch for signs of the desired actions and enforce and direct them with a voice command followed by praise. In this case that technique works even more to the trainer’s advantage, since all dogs will naturally eliminate. The trick is to get them to do it when and where you want!

Watch for circling or squatting, then pick up the pup, say ‘outside’ and dash outside. The puppy may circle some more, but will often squat immediately. As it begins, say ‘Go potty’ (or some other unique phrase) in a clear, firm (but not angry) voice. Wait until it’s finished and praise lavishly.

You won’t always be able to catch the puppy about to begin, but don’t become angry or impatient when the dog eliminates indoors. It takes time for the dog to learn to tell you it’s time to ‘go outside’. It also takes time for the muscles needed to control bladder and bowels to develop.

Young dogs need to eliminate every 2-3 hours, on average. If you haven’t spotted pre-elimination behavior within that time, take the dog outside anyway. Issue the command ‘Go potty’ and wait. At first, usually, the dog will have no clue what you want.

Again, even when outside, it helps to wait and watch for the desired behavior then issue the command. That helps the dog associate the command with the behavior. If the dog hasn’t gone after a few minutes and a few ‘Go potty’ commands, take it back inside for an hour. Of course, if you spot the pre-elimination behavior in less time, go outside again immediately.

Dogs have a surprising ability to quickly learn what their ‘alpha’ (the leader of the pack) wants. This is almost always accomplished by associating a verbal command with behavior, followed by praise. Punishment is usually counter-productive, and nowhere more so than in waste elimination training. Never rub a dog’s nose in waste.

Paper and/or crate training is preferred by some. A pup can be trained to go on a newspaper, or on one of the chemically treated pads designed for the purpose. Some small breeds that live all day in the home may not need to go outside at all.

The technique has a couple of downsides however. Unlike cats, dogs will rarely go in a perfumed litter box. Newspapers (even with the top layer removed after the dog goes) will eventually create an unpleasant smell in the house.

Also, long before the odor becomes unattractive to humans, dogs can smell their own distinctive aroma. They don’t find it unattractive – quite the opposite. And that’s the problem.

Dogs that are paper trained will often prefer to eliminate indoors. Sometimes they’ll miss the paper by only an inch, creating a mess to clean up.

Once the odor is in the carpet, the dog will often seek that spot out as its proper ‘place to go’. This makes training the dog to eliminate outside even more difficult. Best to suffer a few accidents than to create a hard-to-overcome habit.

Patience, praise and consistency are the keys to any dog training. Elimination training is the first test for you and your dog.

Finding a Dog Trainer

Many people don’t have the time, energy or patience to devote to dog training. Few other activities require as much, if the result is to be a safe, well-adjusted dog and a happy human. For some, the answer is to outsource the effort to a professional trainer.

As in any profession, quality and cost vary. And, like many professions – especially those involving human-animal interactions – training philosophies vary considerably. So, you already have some parameters to guide your selection.

Examine your budget and your needs. Depending on where you live, training can run anywhere from free – often supplied on a weekly basis by volunteers to parks or shelters – to $100 or more per session. What constitutes a reasonable fee will vary depending on geography, trainer experience, length of program and your goals.

Examine your schedule. Some training programs are weekly, others more often. You may have to leave the dog and pick it up later. Or, more likely, you may join a program where the training involves you directly. Most will suggest that you spend some time training the dog every day, whether at home or at the trainer’s facility.

Examine your commitment. Dogs, especially early in training, need regular, large blocks of time and attention in order to learn. An hour a day is not at all unusual.

In some cases, ‘boot camp’ training programs are preferred. The dog goes away to a special facility for up to several weeks. The training is regular, long and intensive. Don’t be concerned for the dog. They love that! Near the end, you’ll usually have to participate in order to ‘transfer’ the obedience from trainer to you.

But the results are often amazing. Dogs who ‘graduate’, even when not special service dogs, are disciplined and eager to follow instructions. Yet, paradoxically, these dogs show no signs of being repressed. They’re happy and play with great enthusiasm.

Examine your goals. You may want a dog who can be entered in shows, or you may just want them not to chew on the couch or chase the cat. In either case, regular training is required. How much and what kind will vary with breed and individual temperament.

Some dogs are fearful, either through being mistreated or from a natural tendency toward submission. Some are too assertive, again through abuse or natural striving for alpha (pack leader) status. What training you select will depend on how you want to influence them and what attributes they have you want to shape.

Whatever your goals, budget or commitment you want a trainer who exhibits massive patience and boundless energy, not to mention a deep love for dogs. Most have these characteristics in spades.

Beyond those basics, you’ll want a trainer whose philosophy makes sense to you and matches your goals. Some insist that dog training is more about training the owner than the dog – and there’s some truth to that in some cases. Some are lenient and friendly, leaning toward the ‘touchy-feely’ style. Others lean more toward police or military style training. And many lie between these two extremes.

It’s unlikely that one training style suits all, but neither is it entirely subjective. Even where there are disputes there are common principles that most will agree on. Patience, persistence, consistency and the need for the human to lead are only a few of these.

Ask for recommendations from those you trust and don’t hesitate to shop around. Be prepared to change trainers once or twice to find one suitable for your needs. Be careful, though, not to change on a whim. Dogs need consistency and a regular environment in order to absorb what’s being taught.

Good luck and good hunting!

Pros and Cons of Electronic Fences

Electronic fences are a control device. That said, electronic fences can be a blessing or a curse – not only for the dog but for the human as well. An ‘electronic fence’ is a set of devices, usually underground wire and transmitters, that deliver a noise, shock or unpleasant spray via a collar to a dog approaching the boundary. The wire is buried a foot or so under the ground along a perimeter of 500-1000 feet and as the dog approaches it a signal is sent to the collar, activating the deterrent. Electronic fences are expensive, but some Home Owners Association rules or city ordinances forbid regular fences leaving few options. Useful for those who want to avoid or can’t erect a regular front yard fence, it becomes even more desirable for those with no back yard fence at all. The potential downsides, though, are many. Sometimes viewed as a substitute for needed training, dogs require careful instruction in dealing correctly with an e-fence. Shocks or disturbing noises aren’t automatically and instantaneously interpreted correctly by dogs. They have to be taught to associate the shock or noise with the limit of allowed movement. Systems can be shorted, by lightning strikes (unusual) or by careless digging at the perimeter (less unusual). Flags mark the boundary after initial installation, but they’re intended to be removed after the dog has been trained. Sometimes, though, they’re left in place and get knocked down or dragged away by lawnmowers, kids and other causes. Once down their tips can point up and have the potential to produce a harmful puncture. Particularly assertive or unintelligent dogs chasing ‘prey’ will sometimes barrel past the barrier, oblivious to the temporary shock. Being on the wrong side of the fence discourages voluntary returns home. And, of course, many reasonably believe that electric shocks are a cruel or at best counter-productive way to solicit desired behavior from a friend and companion. But, everything in life has risks that need to be weighed. Dogs confined solely indoors except when leashed don’t experience needed opportunities to run. In some locales, dog parks or other areas that make possible free running can be hard to find or far away. And running is a deep-seated need of almost all dog’s natures. Frustrate that need and you produce a maladjusted dog. Fences of standard height can be forded by large dogs, but accidents can produce punctures from chain link and scrapes from wooden fence tops. Even when the initial wound is minor, dogs have a tendency to worsen them by biting and scratching, producing hot spots. That means a trip to the vet. Sometimes an electronic fence is actually safer in the end. No ‘one-size-fits-all’ recommendation is likely to be satisfactory given the wide variety of living circumstances, breeds and individual dogs and training regimes. The best that can be said is to consider all the facts, not least of which are the physical and psychological health needs of the dog. Then make an informed choice. Just be prepared to disable the fence if it proves to do more harm than good.

Dog Psychology

Even dumb dogs are clever. Just think of the many ways they get humans to do what they want. Few can resist the soulful eyes and the offered paw when eating something the dog also views as tasty.

One of the reasons for the many-thousand year association between humans and dogs is the latter’s great capacity for communicating in terms the former can understand. How often has your canine companion delivered a tennis ball with a look that you unerringly interpret as ‘time for fetch’?

These are only two examples out of many that show dogs have a great capacity for learning complex behavior.

Dogs can understand a surprising amount of language and body posture, but they process information very differently from humans.

Their eyes respond very differently to colors and have a greater ability to see in low light. Their head muscles allow them to rotate their ears in order to quickly and accurately locate the precise source of sounds. And, of course, there’s that famous sense of smell.

The differences continue on other levels of mental functioning. Dogs understand cause-effect relationships very unlike their human companions.

Classical conditioning – associating a stimulus with a response – can be much more readily surmounted in humans. Humans are much better at changing an undesired response to a car accident or a trip to the doctor. Those associations are much more persistent in dogs.

Operant conditioning – grasping naturally related cause-effect relationships, usually through positive and negative reinforcement – is even more different between the two species.

I always exit the rear door with my Golden Retrievers when we’re going to play fetch. When I do, we invariably do actually play. By contrast, a hundred times I let them out the side door, where I never follow them. Instead, I leave them alone for half an hour or more. Yet they still go immediately to the back door where they expect a game to follow.

I clearly associated a specific tone and word and a unique hand gesture with every command. In consequence, they learn a wide variety of selected behaviors. They can sit, stay, down, come, roll-over, no-bite, fetch and release, even eliminate on command.

Yet telling them repeatedly not to eat things off the ground that their own experience continually shows them leads to upset stomachs is a waste of effort. They’ll repeat the same unwanted behavior the first time they can. They simply can’t grasp some effects when the cause is much earlier in time.

The lesson from these examples is this. Your companion, whether Retriever or Shepherd, Dachshund or Basset Hound can learn an astounding variety of things, provided you don’t expect the unreasonable.

One woman well-known on the show circuit has trained her friend to perform a complex, several-minutes long dance routine. Search-and-rescue dogs have been trained to pull children from rivers and skiers from avalanches. Service dogs can open a door and pull a wheelchair or fetch a container of water without spilling a drop.

But don’t expect them to think like humans, even when trained to emulate us. No matter how many times you tell them not to, they’ll continue to eat grass.

Different Dog Breeds Require Different Methods

The variety of dog species is so great that sometimes it’s better not to think of them all as part of the same species at all. Biologists do because they can interbreed. Dog owners have different purposes, so it can be better to emphasize the differences over the similarities.

A Jack Russell terrier looks, thinks and behaves much differently from a Great Dane. The latter are generally very calm. A Golden Retriever is a very different animal than a Collie. Golden Retrievers are fun loving, but excitable. A German Shepherd and a Chihuahua have little more in common than the name ‘dog’.

As a result of these differences, training should be tailored to the breed you’re attempting to train. Patience is required for training all dogs, but more is required for some than for others. German Shepherds are intelligent and take to obedience commands readily and with pleasure. Jack Russell’s are also very smart, but much more willful and will require a different technique.

With terriers, for example, distraction techniques are very handy. Terriers are high energy, highly active dogs. They have evolved to spot movement in an instant and go after the animal producing it. Keeping them focused is a real challenge, so make sure at all times that their eyes are on you. Use treats, toys or other objects and wiggle them to see that the terrier’s eyes are on you.

Collies are equally trainable, but much more mellow. They’re extremely loyal and protective, which is great. But it presents its own kind of challenges. A collie will spontaneously bark and chase any stranger who appears to threaten the family. That can be desirable for a watch dog guarding the house at night. But it can be annoying if carried out every time a child walks by along the sidewalk during the afternoon.

Bark collars are sometimes necessary under these circumstances, but remove the collar when the sun goes down. That way the dog may only associate the discouragement with daylight and still continue to function as a watch dog when it counts.

Dalmatians make for excellent companions, but they are ultra-energetic and very strong. That can be a troublesome combination for one that spends all its time in a small backyard with no one to play with. If you plan on owning one of these excellent dogs, be prepared to spend time working off some of that excess vitality.

Dalmatians need a large area so they can run at top speed – the only speed they know. They’ll work best with someone who can toss a ball far away, and has the presence to command them. They can be extremely loyal, but they need a strong hand. Being the alpha dog when faced with a Dalmatian requires a forceful owner.

Tailor your training regimen to the actual nature of your dog, including both those aspects derived from the breed and the unique characteristics of your specific dog. Just like humans, dogs are individuals.

Dealing With Jumping

Most dogs will display a tendency to jump on people at times. How often will vary with breed and by individual. One theory suggests that dogs are trying to get close to the person’s face – not to attack, but to interact. Other dogs, especially of the same breed, have faces close to their level and the dog will use its nose and eyes to explore.

So, one way to deal with jumping is to give them no need to reach. Kneel down and interact with the dog at its level. Let it explore your face in a safe way, while keeping an eye out for excessive assertiveness. Very rarely will a dog bite its owner this way, especially if the human has taken the trouble to become the ‘alpha’ (leader of the pack).

Naturally, if you’ve only recently acquired an older dog, perhaps from a shelter, you should take proper precaution when using this technique. Put a collar on the dog and keep a thumb inserted under it behind the dog’s neck. Be prepared to jerk sideways, if necessary.

Sideways jerking is to be preferred to a sharp pull backwards, when possible. Dogs’ neck muscles are very strong, but throats can be too easily bruised. The movement is to protect the owner and inform the dog, not to punish.

Off-leash training to discourage jumping is also possible. Wear a pair of well-protecting pants and have the dog stand in front of you. Training a ‘sit’ is, of course, a very good defense against jumping. But they can’t sit all the time. Jumping usually follows standing or running. So, start the exercise with the dog standing.

Watch for the body tension that precedes jumping and when you see them about to jump order a ‘sit’. If the dog jumps anyway, lift your leg slightly and bump the dog’s chest with your knee or thigh. At the same time, thrust a palm near the dog’s face away from you. Issue a sharp command: ‘off!’. (‘Down’ is a separate behavior, requiring a different word.)

The idea isn’t to slam the dog in the chest, nor to push a hand into its face. The raised knee helps to keep the dog off and puts it off balance. The hand in the face both obscures its vision and discourages a repeat jump.

If you have a partner you can work with, leash training may be useful in more stubborn cases. As the dog starts to leap, have the partner jerk sideways as you issue the ‘off!’ command. You should issue the command, not the partner. You need the dog to focus on and obey you.

In the absence of a partner, and when working outside, it may be possible to wrap a long leash around a tree or post. The difficulty is that the jerk will then usually be more back than to the side.

Positive reinforcement techniques can be used, too. Take a treat or a favorite toy in one hand. As the dog starts to jump, hold out the treat or toy above and slightly behind the dog’s head. That distracts the dog and puts it slightly off balance. It also encourages a sit, just when the impulse was to jump.

Repetition and consistency are, as with any training, important when training ‘off’. Be patient and firm. With time, most dogs will learn to suppress this natural behavior until and unless they receive permission to jump.

Dog and Puppy Crate Training Pros and Cons

Debate continues unabated about whether or not crate training dogs is healthy or harmful. ‘Crating’ involves placing a pet in a cage, usually plastic or metal of roughly the size of the dog, for a period of time during the day or night. Proponents argue that crating gives the dog a sense of ‘property’, a place it can call its own. In this little home within the home, the dog feels safe surrounded by familiar smells and objects. Here, the dog can retreat from fearful noises or boisterous children. Those who favor crate training assert that potty training is much easier when combined with use of a crate. Dogs, they say, will naturally avoid soiling their ‘den’ and ‘hold it’ until they’re released to go outside. Opponents counter that locking the dog into a cage barely large enough to turn around in suppresses its natural desire to roam. It removes the dog’s ability to explore its environment at will and to soak up stimulating sights and smells. Those against the use of crates point to the frequent instances when puppies will play in their own waste and simply soil themselves worse. Locking the dog away, they say, is more for the convenience of the owner than the well-being of the dog. As with any debate of this kind, there are no doubt good and bad points on both sides. Objective studies on the issue are sparse and equally divided. Provided certain ‘rules’ are observed, there’s probably no harm, and possibly some good, to be had from crate training. Even proponents recognize that excessive lengths of forced crate time is bad for the dog. Any dog locked up in a small space is not getting needed exercise and may be restrained from eliminating for longer than is healthy. So, keep the crate time to no more than two hours maximum. Opponents worry that crated dogs can injure themselves through a natural desire to escape or rowdiness inside the cage. Make sure that the collar won’t snag. Check to ensure there are no sharp edges on the crate, and that construction is strong enough to withstand the dog’s normal jostling and pushing on the walls. Above all, make sure it can’t tip over. Advocates assert that crate trained animals will do better on car, train or plane trips. They’re used to the confinement and they have a familiar-smelling environment with them during a time of stress. For owners who have to take their pets on long trips, there may be some value in this view. Critics suggest that (except in cases of permanent re-location) it’s best to leave pets at home. Apart from short trips to the grocery store or vet or to a neighbor’s house, animals fare better in familiar territory. But, if you must take them, be especially careful to do so in a well-constructed crate. Make sure no objects can fall into, not just out of, the cage. Though the debate isn’t likely to be settled anytime soon, exercising common sense is the best way to judge the actual net effect – good or bad – on your particular pet. Try leaving the door open after a few weeks of training and see whether they seek or avoid the crate. Let the dog weigh in on the question.

Pros and Cons of Dog Control Tools

Sometimes the distinction between training and control is too easily lost. Using commands and hand gestures, with leashes or treats, to solicit desired behavior is training. Using choke or ‘no-bark’ collars, electronic fences and similar devices is for control.

Control isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Dogs naturally have and seek a social hierarchy in which one is the alpha (leader) and in any human-dog pair the human has to take that role. The alternative is property destruction, unsafe conditions for dogs and humans, human frustration and a maladjusted dog.

Choke collars were invented to assist in gaining control. Dogs, like humans, are individuals. Some are naturally more assertive or slower to learn. For ones that don’t respond to a normal leather or nylon collar, a metal choke collar can provide extra discouragement from pulling and leaping.

The potential downside is that, used improperly – all too easy to do – they can be counter-productive and even dangerous. Choke collars fit only one way and when fitted should allow from one to three fingers gap between the neck and the collar. Three for larger dogs, one for smaller. Generally a collar two inches longer than the neck circumference will do.

Used improperly, though, choke collars can pinch the skin – producing hot spots that scratching will make worse. They can also accidentally compress the trachea. An instantaneous pull-and-release isn’t harmful, though by design produces discomfort, but for dogs that tend to pull against the leash this movement is difficult to do. Generally not recommended, especially for smaller dogs.

Prong collars are less dangerous than they appear, but – in this trainer’s view – have almost no positive characteristics. The only good aspect of the design is their limited diameter – they can only close down so far. However, an animal with such a strong tendency to pull that prongs look attractive needs more than a quick fix consisting of choking and poking. That animal needs committed attention and behavior modification training.

Halter collars, which wrap around the neck and the muzzle, but don’t prevent panting or impair drinking can give extra control. The downside is, since they don’t restrict biting or grasping, half their potential value is gone. An ordinary leash and collar, or even a chest halter might be preferable.

‘No-bark’ collars can sometimes help with those animals that persist in barking long after the initial impetus is gone. Barking is a natural response to potential threats and is also used to attract attention when one becomes separated from the pack. But, for reasons not well understood, some individuals continue barking for long periods or at the slightest provocation.

Electronic collars that discourage barking come in two types: noise and shock. Noise collars produce a short, unpleasant sound that distracts and tends to discourage continued barking.

Shock collars generate a short but painful electric shock that can be repeated and lengthy during prolonged or persistent barking. Objective tests of their effectiveness show varied results, though. As with prong collars, any dog needing one would benefit more from careful, professional help.

Sometimes quick fixes are tempting and useful… until they become substitutes for more beneficial (both to trainer and dog) long-term training. Taking the time to learn to get your dog’s attention and compliance without excessive reliance on control devices is preferred. The results are saner trainers and happier dogs.

Dog Training – A Dog’s Nature

Dogs are surprisingly complex creatures.

Some official estimates of the number of breeds reaches as high as 800 in Western countries alone. Even given that distinguishing one breed from another can be carried to absurd extremes, the variety is astonishing from a human perspective, who have, perhaps, a dozen ‘breeds’.

Complicating the picture still further is the well-known fact that dogs have descended from wolves but began domestic interaction with humans over 10,000 years ago. As a consequence, there are behaviors that develop regardless of circumstances and some that are as unique as the human the dog is paired with. Still, some common traits stand out.

Dogs are predators.

That doesn’t mean they necessarily hunt and attack every passing cat or rat, but the capacity is always in them. With acute hearing and head muscles that allow precise orientation of their ears, dogs can pick up a range of sounds and locate the source quickly and with high accuracy.

A dog’s field of vision is higher than that of humans. Their field of view has been estimated from 180-270 degrees, by comparison to a human’s 100-150 degrees, allowing them to track events better.

And, of course, there’s that famous sense of smell. Citing figures such as having 25 times as many scent-receptor cells or being able to sense concentrations 100 million times smaller than humans conveys the fact one way.

Another is to report behavior. Golden Retrievers, for example, can smell gophers through two feet of packed snow and a foot of frozen earth. And, they’ll dig through it to get to the gopher. That’s predatory behavior.

Dogs are social animals.

That’s common knowledge, of course. But, though known, it’s often ignored. Individuals will often lock a lone dog away in a garage or pen, or on a rope in the yard for long periods. This isolation from contact with humans and other animals invariably leads to fear and/or aggression and other forms of maladjustment. Dogs need companionship in order to develop healthy behavior.

Isolating a dog for brief periods can be a useful training technique. Fear of expulsion from the pack can incent overly assertive, alpha-status seeking dogs into alignment with the trainer’s goals. In any human-dog pair, the human must be the alpha (leader). The alternative is property destruction, human frustration and unsafe conditions for people and dogs.

But excessive time devoid of social interaction with another dog, the human, or even a friendly cat harms the dog’s psychology and leads to unwanted behavior. Even guard dogs have to be able to distinguish between external ‘threats’ and members of its own ‘pack’.

Dogs are exploratory.

Like the two-year-old humans at roughly their same mental level, dogs learn by exploring their environment. And like those humans, they can engage in destructive behavior. Dogs are no respecters of property. Training and an appropriately selected set of objects and suitable area can channel that behavior into something acceptable to humans and healthy for the dog.

Providing toys with characteristics very distinct from human property, such as rawhide bones rather than rubber balls that are hard to tell from children’s, leads to less confusion and misbehavior. In many cases, however, the problem is solved by scent. The dog’s toys may look like the child’s, but smell very different.

Some amount of digging may be inevitable as part of the dog’s exploration. Be prepared to patch holes in lawn if the dog is unsupervised for very long. Plants can usually be protected with cayenne pepper paste, bitter apple and other preparations.

Dogs are scavengers

Dogs will eat deer droppings, even when they have perfectly sound and ample diets. They’ll chew on dead rats, eat grass and ingest a wide variety of things that their own experience shows causes upset stomachs. And they’ll repeat the behavior day after day.

Acknowledging their limited ability to connect cause and effect when those are separated in time is a must in order to keep them healthy and safe.

Recognizing a dog’s nature, and working within in it rather than against it leads to less frustration for both human and dog. Enjoying the beneficial aspects, such as spontaneous dog hugs (leaning into a leg), paw offering and a head laid on the lap are just a few of the rewards.

Training Puppies

When you first get your puppy it is tempting to just want to play with it and admire how cute they are. But this is the time when you should thinking about training. Training puppies is fun, rewarding and helps to develop trust and a bond with your dog.

You should consider training puppies as a team effort. Your puppy cannot train or learn any behavior on its own. They will take instruction and cues for you. A dogs bahavior will only be as good as their owner’s ability to train them. And as doggs are natural pack animals they will look to you as their pack leader.