In many ways, our pets are in our lives to show us unconditional love. Training puppies is not really a matter of conquering their wills, then, because they already want to please us. They can get confused, however, when we are inconsistent, when we use too many complicated commands, or when we overreact to situations where they simply don’t know any better. The best way to avoid having stressed out puppies (and owners) is to begin their training right away – as soon as they come through the door of their new home – and stick with it in a consistent, patient and loving way.
The first step is to designate an area for your puppy to eliminate outside. Dogs are instinctive pack animals, which means that they naturally follow directives; also, they like knowing that a certain area is “theirs”. Taking control of choosing where your puppy will do his business, then, will ease his mind as much as yours. Just don’t expect spectacular results the first time. Take your puppy out on a leash to the spot and wait. If he sits down, move about so that he understands that this is time for business, not relaxation.
When he finally goes, praise him while he is in the act. Dogs have little sense of past and future. They live in the moment, so if we want to reinforce certain good behaviors we have to do it right as they’re occurring. The same goes for any other kind of command, as well. Praises, warnings, and corrections should all be given when the action in question is actually taking place. Once you’ve settled upon certain catchphrases that you like using for commands, stick with them.
Puppies have an instinctive desire to keep their dens clean and not soil the area where they sleep and eat. You can use this natural trait to your advantage by providing your puppy with a crate for his den. This crate should be big enough for him to rise and turn around in, and contain food, water, and padding like a folded bath towel. Don’t force your puppy inside his crate the first time he’s introduced to it. He’ll probably need to be gently persuaded with a toy or treat. Let him see and sniff the desired object and then toss it inside. If he backs out immediately or does a turnaround, draw no attention to the fact. He’ll soon come around once he’s accepted the idea that the crate is his den. It will also serve as his sanctuary during times of stress or tiredness. For this reason, the crate should never represent punishment: a place you send your puppy when he’s been bad.
Leave the door open, at first, until he grows comfortable. Then begin closing it and leaving the room for brief periods; work up to a half hour with the puppy alone in his closed crate. This should be accomplished on the first day, because he’ll need to sleep in there overnight. If you bring the crate into your room it will reassure him. Don’t give in to his complaints; if he’s ignored, he’ll eventually settle down and go to sleep.
Then, when you hear those first sounds of his rousing in the morning, take him back outside to his designated spot. As of 8-10 weeks old, puppies need to eliminate about every two hours. You’ll have plenty of opportunities, then, to get yours acclimatized to the proper places to go.
If you can’t be home during the day to perform these “business trips” outdoors with your puppy, and can’t find a friend or family member to stop by and do it, then you’ll have to create a confined area (for example, the kitchen) using a pet gate. Lay down several layers of newspaper in one small area – as far away from his food and water as possible – where your puppy can go when there’s no one around to take him out. When you come home, remove the papers without comment and then take your puppy out to his usual spot. As time goes by, you can diminish the papered area until you’ve dispensed with it entirely.