Basic dog training

Most dogs live with people who want them to behave in ways that make them pleasant to be around, keep them safe, and provides for the safety of other humans and pets. Dogs do not figure out basic obedience on their own. The fundamental rule that must be remembered is that one should never apply human standards of society onto the dog with the assumption that the dog will understand.

The hardest part of training is communicating with the dog in a humane way that the dog understands. However, the underlying principle of all communication is simple: reward desired behavior while ignoring or correcting undesired behavior.

Basic pet obedience training usually consists of six behaviors:

  • Sit
  • Down
  • Stay
  • Recall ("come", "here" or "in")
  • Close (or loose-leash walking)
  • Heel

"Corrections" are not punishment, but feedback to the dog it has made an incorrect choice in the behavior it has given the handler. Corrections can be physical i.e. leash correction or mental i.e. withdrawing a reward. There have been wide swings lately on negative and positive training, but most skilled trainers use both. The dog's personality, the behavior and the importance of the correct behavior should all be taken into account in using corrections with your dog. In a nutshell negative corrections should only be used to eliminate a behavior and positive rewards to repeat a behavior.

Puppies and learning

The prenatal period is a recently recognized developmental period of puppies. It is thought that "long-term effects on behavioral development may also be produced in some mammals by events occurring in utero". Previous studies tended to overlook the existence of this period, since the puppy’s behavior could not be observed. With the development of the ultrasound machine, a puppy can now be observed within the mother as early as the fourth week of gestation.

It was found that puppy fetuses would react to touch and/or pressure from the outside of the mother’s abdomen. In addition, it is theorized that since puppies have such a well-developed sense of touch at birth, the sense of touch would also be well-developed before birth. Studies have found that "when a pregnant animal is petted her litter is more docile", According to while in utero have a higher tolerance for touching than puppies that receive no contact at all. One could theorize that gentle petting of the mother’s abdomen could help to facilitate positive, beneficial puppy socialization with people.

During the first four weeks of a puppy's life, also known as the neonate period, puppies can learn simple associations. However, early experience events are unlikely to carry over into later periods. Studies indicate that puppies in the neonate period do not seem to learn by experience. It is theorized that this is due to the fact that the puppy’s brain, sense, and motor organs are still undeveloped. Based on its limited capacity to sense and learn it would be difficult to affect the puppy psychologically, either in a positive or negative sense.

The next period of development is known as the socialization period. This period begins around 3 weeks old and ends around 12 weeks old. The main aspect of this period is social play. Social investigation, playful fighting and playful sexual behavior is very important to developing social relationships during its life. New behavior patterns are directly influenced by the puppy’s interaction with its mother and other puppies in the litter.

During this period puppies develop social relationships, with other puppies as well as with people. However, there is a point at which the puppies can develop a fear of strangers. At 3–5 weeks of age, puppies will actively approach strangers. Shortly thereafter stranger avoidance begins and slowly escalates until it peaks around 12–14 weeks of age. While this natural fear of strangers could serve as a way to keep a curious puppy away from predators, it can also hinder normal relationships with people.

During this period, startle reactions to sudden movement and sounds develop. This serves to help the puppy learn to differentiate between dangerous and safe or insignificant events. During the socialization period, the development of attachment to certain locations occurs. This is displayed by an extreme disturbance in the puppy whenever a change in location occurs. This is known as localization. (Serpell, 1995) Localization often peaks in puppies between 6–7 weeks old, and then tapers off after that time until a change in location is no longer distressing to the puppy.

Dogs that are handled and petted by humans regularly during the first eight weeks of life are generally much more amenable to being trained and living in human households. Ideally, puppies should be placed in their permanent homes between about 8 and 10 weeks of age. In some places it is against the law to take puppies away from their mothers before the age of 8 weeks. Puppies are innately more fearful of new things during the period from 10 to 12 weeks, which makes it harder for them to adapt to a new home.

Puppies can begin learning tricks and commands as early as 8 weeks of age; the only limitations are stamina, concentration, and physical coordination.(Beaver, 1999; Lindsay, 2000; Scott and Fuller 1965; Serpell 1995)


Between three to six months of age, a puppy begins to get its adult teeth, with all adult teeth in by six months. This period can be quite painful and many owners do not recognize the natural need to chew. By providing specific chew toys designed to ease the pain of teething (such as a frozen nylon bone), attention can be diverted from table legs and other furniture. It may be helpful to avoid providing chewing objects that mimick other non-appropriate chewing objects; for example, do not allow the puppy to chew on stuffed, plush toys early on so they do not learn that it is appropriate to chew on any fabric or stuffed material (rugs, couches). Many people also use a bad-tasting, bad-smelling spray on favorite items, such as shoes, furniture, or even wallpaper, to discourage chewing. Bitter apple is a commonly used spray, however is alcohol based so must be re-applied at least every 24 hours. There are also several commercial sprays available. Different sprays work better for different applications, owners, or puppies.

Basic training classes

Professional dog trainers, train the dog's owner to train his or her dog. To be most effective, the owner must use and reinforce the techniques taught to the dog. Owners and dogs who attend class together have an opportunity to learn more about each other and how to work together under a trainer's guidance. Training is most effective if all those who handle the dog take part in the training to ensure consistent commands, methods, and enforcement. Classes also help socialize a dog to other people and dogs. Training classes are offered by many kennels, pet stores, and independent trainers.

Group classes may not be available until the puppy has completed all of its vaccinations around 3 – 4 months of age; however, some trainers offer puppy socialization classes in which puppies can enroll immediately after being placed in their permanent homes as long as disease risk is minimal and puppies have received initial vaccinations. In most cases, basic training classes accept only puppies who are at least 3 to 6 months old however it's recommended to start training as soon as the puppy comes into your home. Puppies may also be trained individually by the trainer visiting the dog's home beginning as early as 8 weeks.

A puppy requires discipline, consistency, and the patience of its owner. The puppy training phase is integral in raising a healthy and happy dog and keeping a safe and fun home environment.

Dogs are expressive and may communicate needs by biting, whining, and getting fidgety. Changing one's own conduct may be effective in changing a puppy's behavior.

House training is an important issue for puppies. Various methods of house training will work although the key is to be consistent. With regularly enforced rules, litter box, crate, or paper training can be successful.

Posture Facilitated Relaxation (PFR) may be an effective technique to establish a bond between handler and puppy. The handler puts the puppy no older than 4–6 months in a down position and then holds the dog in that position by exerting only enough force to maintain the position. Once the puppy stops struggling and relaxes, the handler massages the puppy's neck and back. (Canine Dimensions, 2007, 23)

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