Congratulations for bringing your puppy home! Now what? It is time to thoughtfully build a solid relationship with your puppy. I am often asked which breed is the hardest to train. The answer is not breed related – it is relationship related. The hardest puppy to train is the yard puppy - the puppy that lives outside. This puppy is in charge of her environment most of the day. She knows her family as ‘the people who feed me’. She loves you and she craves your attention, but she gets it in such small amounts that it just leaves her desperate for more. She is bored and gets herself in constant trouble. I advise clients who have to leave their puppy outside to get two puppies. At least the puppies have each other for companionship and entertainment! It is, of course, possible to train puppies that live outside but it takes a strong commitment to the project.
There three parts to a solid relationship with your puppy are love, trust, and respect. If even one of these is missing there will be issues in the relationship.
The first component of a solid relationship is love. You can think of this as a strong bond between you and your puppy. Spend as much time as you can with your puppy! Remember to use your leash inside the house to keep your puppy in the room where you are in your line of visual sight. Using an indoor leash on your dog is one of the keys to housebreaking your dog, and can be a very useful tool for doing any training with your dog. Use a short nylon leash with the handle cut off to minimize tripping hazards and the leash getting tangled on things.
Make sure that your new puppy’s primary bond is with you instead of with other dogs in your household. Dogs tend to form dog-to-dog bonds quicker and easier with other dogs ahead of the bond with humans. This is true even if the other dog despises the puppy. Avoid using other dogs as a babysitter for your puppy. Use your leash and confinement instead. Take your puppy to as many places with you as you safely can. Consider having your puppy sleep in a small crate next to your bed. This eliminates most of the late night howling of new pups. Your puppy will sleep longer and better when she hears your breathing and knows that you are near. Have you been told to never let your puppy sleep in your bed? My dogs sleep in the bed if they choose to. They have both earned the privilege. Each one started in a crate beside the bed. My rule of thumb is it is fine to allow your dog to sleep in your bed as long as the dog gets off the bed when you ask her to! Let your puppy see this as a privilege instead of a “doggie given right.”
The second part of a solid relationship is trust. You want to trust your puppy and you want your puppy to trust you! The best way to help your puppy to trust you is to learn to communicate with your puppy as a benevolent adult dog would communicate with her.
Some people consider puppies to be “things”. This is a dangerous perception. Have you ever wondered how someone could neglect or be unkind to a puppy? It is probably because this person perceives the puppy as a thing. You can do things with “things” that you would not do with a human.
Some people see the puppy as a little person in a fur coat. While this is better than a “thing”, it is still a dangerous perception. Your puppy is not a person and can never live up to that expectation! She does not think like you do. She lives in the present moment with no thought to the past or the future. I believe it is best to think of your puppy as a puppy. Since she does not understand human language and often misinterprets our body language, it is up to you to learn her language. Learn what she is saying with her body language. Learn to recognize her signs of stress. Learn to speak with her in the language she understands! This builds trust between you and your puppy.
The third part of a solid relationship is respect. Imagine walking up to a teenager and saying, “I am an adult – respect me!” You will get the same answer if you walk up to your puppy and say, “I am a human - respect me!” Respect must be earned instead of demanded. The good news is that it is easier to earn your puppy’s respect than from the typical teenager!
I teach my staff and my clients to think in terms of earning respect instead of being the ‘alpha’ or the dominant one. All you need to do is convince your puppy – human to dog – that you are a bigger dog than your puppy. How? Glad that you asked. The answer is respect. Your dog must respect you. Every article that I write and every step-by-step training technique that I give you involves earning respect.
Please remember that your leash and long line are your friends. The more you are willing to use these tools now the less you will need them a year from now. Control your puppy by approaching the leash or long line to redirect your puppy to the behavior you want. Learn to direct your puppy to the behavior you want instead of reacting to the behavior she offers. Avoid jumping towards your puppy or reaching for her with your hands. Please avoid ‘spanking’ your puppy either with your hands or an object. When was the last time you saw a puppy walk up to another puppy and hit it? Avoid grabbing your puppy’s muzzle and rolling your puppy over in the old ‘alpha roll’. You do not need such arguments. You need your leash and your long line.
I know that this article is about theory instead of the practical step-by-step advice that I prefer. I want you to think about your relationship with your puppy. You and your puppy may also want to think of taking training classes together, such as an online 'Puppy Jump Start' class. Thinking in terms of love, trust and respect will help you understand and easily implement all of my step-by-step articles!