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Training your new puppy

Bringing a new puppy into the household is always an exciting and fun time.  Everyone wants to play with, cuddle and hold the little ball of fur.  The last thing on the minds of most new puppy owners is training the new addition, but it is important that puppy training and socialization begin as early as possible.

Socializing a new puppy is a vital part of any training program, and it is important for socialization to begin early.  The window for socialization is very short and a puppy that is not properly socialized to people, dogs and other animals by the time he or she is four months old often never develops the socialization he or she needs to become a good canine citizen.

Learning how to interact with other dogs is something that normally would occur between littermates.  However, since most dogs are removed from their mothers so soon, this littermate socialization often does not finish properly. 

One vital lesson puppies learn from their littermates and from the mother dog is how to bite and how not to bite.  Puppies naturally roughhouse with each other and their thick skin protects them from most bites.  However, when one puppy bites too hard, the other puppies, or the mother dog, quickly reprimand him, often by holding him by the scruff of his neck until he submits.

The best way to socialize your puppy is to have it play with lots of other puppies.  It is also fine for the puppy to play with a few adult dogs, as long as they are friendly and well socialized.  Many communities have puppy playschool and puppy kindergarten classes.  These classes can be a great way to socialize any puppy and for handler and puppy alike to learn some basic obedience skills.

When socializing puppies, it is best to let them play on their own and work out their own issues when it comes to appropriate roughness of play.  The only time the owners should step in is if one puppy is hurting another, or if a serious fight breaks out. Other than that the owners should simply stand back and watch their puppies interact.

While this socialization is taking place, the pack hierarchy should quickly become apparent.  There will be some puppies who are ultra submissive, rolling on their backs and baring their throats at the slightest provocation.  Other puppies in the class will be dominant, ordering the other puppies around and telling them what to do.  Watching the puppies play, and determining what type of personality traits your puppy has, will be very valuable in determining the best way to proceed with more advanced training.

As the socialization process proceeds, of course, it will be necessary to introduce the puppy to all sorts of humans as well as all sorts of puppies.  Fortunately, the puppy kindergarten class makes this process quite easy, since every puppy gets to interact with every human.  It is important that the puppy be exposed to men, and women, old people and children.  Dogs do not see every human as the same.  To a dog, a man and a woman are completely different animals.

It is also important to introduce the puppy to a variety of other animals, especially in a multi pet household.  Introducing the puppy to friendly cats is important, as are introductions to other animals the puppy may encounter, such as rabbits, guinea pigs and the like.  If your household contains a more exotic creature, it is important to introduce the puppy to it as early as possible, but to do it in a way that is safe for both animals.

It is often best to start by introducing the puppy to the smell of the other animal.  This can be easily accomplished by placing a piece of the animals bedding, like a towel or bed liner, near where the puppy sleeps.  Once the puppy is accustomed to the smell of the other creature, he or she is much more likely to accept the animal as just another member o the family.

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Training your puppy – start by winning his respect and confidence

The basis of training any animal is winning its trust, confidence and respect.  True training cannot begin until the animal has accepted you as its leader, respects you and entrusted you with his or her confidence.

The mistake many puppy owners make is mistaking love and affection for respect and confidence.  While it is certainly important to love your new puppy, it is also very important that the puppy respect you and see you as his leader.  Dogs are naturally pack animals and every dog looks to the lead dog for advice and direction. Making yourself the pack leader is vital to the success of training any dog.

Failure to gain the respect of the dog can create a dog who is disobedient, out of control and even dangerous.  Problem dogs are dangerous, whether they are created through bad breeding, owner ignorance or improper training.  It is important to train the dog right from the start, since retraining a problem dog is much more difficult than training a puppy right the first time.

It is important for any new dog owner, whether working with a 12 week old puppy or a twelve year old dog, to immediately get the respect of the animal.  That does not mean using rough or dangerous handling methods, but it does mean letting the dog know that you are in control of the situation.  Dogs need structure in their lives, and they will not resent the owner taking control.  As a matter of fact, the dog will appreciate your taking the role of trainer and coach as you begin your training session.

When working with the dog, it is important to keep the training sessions short at first.  This is particularly important when working with a young puppy, since puppies tend to have much shorter attention spans than older dogs.  Keeping the training sessions short, and fun, is essential for proper training.

Beginning training sessions should focus on the most basic commands.  The heel command is one of the most basic and one of the easiest to teach.  Start by putting the dog or puppy in a properly fitted training collar.  Be sure to follow the instructions for fitting and sizing the color to ensure that it works as intended. 

Begin to walk and allow your dog to walk beside you.  If the dog begins to pull, gently pull on the leash.  This in turn will tighten the training collar and correct the dog.  If the gentle pressure is ineffective, it may be necessary to slowly increase the pressure.  Always be careful to not over-correct the dog.  Using too much pressure could frighten the dog and cause it to strain more.  I the opposite problem occurs and the dog lags behind, the owner should gently encourage it until it is walking beside the owner.

Most dogs figure out the heeling concept fairly rapidly and quickly figure out that they should walk beside their owners, neither lagging behind nor pulling ahead.  Once the dog has mastered heeling at a moderate pace, the owner should slow his or her pace and allow the dog to adjust along with it.  The owner should also speed up the pace and allow the dog to speed up as well.  Finally, walking along and changing pace often will reinforce the lesson that the dog should always walk at the heel of the handler.

From heeling, the next step should be to halt on command.  This halt command works well as an adjunct to heel.  As you are walking, stop and watch you dog.  Many dogs immediately realize that they are expected to stop when their handler does.  Others may need the reminder of the leash and the training collar.

After the halt on command has been mastered, the handler should encourage the dog to sit on command as well.  Once the dog has stopped, the handler gently pushes on the dog’s hindquarters to encourage the sit.  Usually, after this walk, halt, sit procedure has been done a few times, the dog will begin to sit on his own each time he stops.  Of course, it is important to provide great praise, and perhaps even a treat, every time the dog does as he is expected.