Dogs are pack animals and it is important for them to know where they fit into the pack (your family) and who is in charge (you are). The best time to start formal obedience training on your dog is 4 to 6 months of age. Up until then, all learning should be fun and games with no real corrections. Of course any dog can be taught at any age.
Where should I get my puppy?
If it is not important to have a pedigree, I recommend rescue or adoption. If you would like to have a pedigree, I recommend finding a reputable breeder. Any good breeder will have numerous questions about how you are going to raise one of their dogs before letting you have it. Be cautious of anyone who is just willing to give you or sell you a dog with no questions asked. The ideal age to bring your new puppy home is 6 to 8 weeks of age.
Bringing your new puppy home
First, let me say I strongly suggest you crate train your puppy. The crate should be one-and-one-half times the size of the adult dog. Most of the larger crates come with dividers to use while you are housebreaking your new puppy. The crate and your home should be ready before you go to pick up the dog. The crate is never used for punishment. Leave the crate door open and use treats to coax the puppy into the crate. If you can, climb into the crate with the puppy so he learns it is a happy and safe place for him. Once he is in for a while, you can close the door for a few seconds and then open it. Repeat this procedure several times so the puppy learns that he goes and comes out when you want him to. Remember, you have just taken him away from his littermates. He is scared and confused.
How soon can I start training?
Training actually starts from the minute you bring the dog home. He needs to learn right away that you are his new pack leader; however, there are no real corrections other than picking the puppy up and putting the puppy where you want him. You will use treats and praise to start teaching your dog the basic positions like sit and down. Food can be used to lure your puppy into the proper position for this teaching phase. Once the dog becomes 4 to 6 months of age and understands the positions, food should no longer be used as a method of reward. Treats can still be used but not as a reward every time the dog does what you ask him to do. He should respond to your commands because he wants to please you. If you are certain the dog knows the command and understands what is expected and he disregards your command, then it is important to correct the dog. Correction can be anywhere from a verbal "NO" to a "TUG" on the leash. The amount of correction is determined by the size and temperament of the dog and what the dog has done to deserve the correction.
What collar and leash should I use for my dog?
When you first bring your puppy home, it is a good idea to get him used to wearing a collar and being on a leash as soon as possible. Any flat collar and 4 or 6 foot leash will work for the puppy. I do not use nor do I believe in using the halti or a harness for training a dog except in limited cases for young children or older adults. In my opinion the both the halti and harness may give you some control over the dog but the dog never learns to walk on a loose leash or if he does, it can take years. How many times do you see people walking their dog with a harness and the dog is walking in front of the owner and he spends most of his time trying to keep the dog from pulling.
The harness was created for the sole purpose of pulling. Why would you use a harness to walk your dog. Yes, you can certainly restrain your dog and physically force the dog to go where you want as long as the dog is small. Once you put a harness on a stronger and more powerful dog, the only one who can walk your dog is someone physicall capable of handing your dog.
There are only 4 collars I recommend. They are a flat collar, a prong collar, the chain training collar and the electronic collar. Most dogs require the training or prong collar. In some cases where a dog is what is referred to as a "soft dog" a flat collar will be enough for training. When I come to your home for the first lesson, I will demonstrate all the collars and how they work. These collars are not cruel or abusive if used correctly. Any collar can be abusive to a dog if used incorrectly. When puppies are born they are taught at an early age what is acceptable and unacceptable by their mother. This is done by the mother biting and manipulating them by their neck. Please remember, the only collar your puppy should wear up until the age of 4 months is a flat collar. It is not until the puppy is 4 to 6 months old that any training collars are used unless the dog shows signs of aggression at an early age.
Anyone who makes the blanket statement of "the prong collar is cruel and abusive" or a school or trainer that tells you "Prong Collars are not allowed" are completely misinformed and are unaware of how to use them.
At an early age puppies play and interact with their litter mates by biting, pushing and chasing one another. When you bring your puppy home, the natural thing for him to do is to interact with his new human-mates the same way. This is perfectly normal and exactly what is expected. Some dogs have a higher level of play drive than others. The first step in changing your puppy’s biting habits is to redirect his biting. Always have a toy on hand that the puppy is allowed to chew on and redirect your puppy to bite the toy instead of your hand, socks or ankles. Praise him once he starts biting the toy. You can also tell him NO (not too harsh when the puppy first comes home, it is important not to over correct him) when he starts to bite and then praise him immediately after he starts biting the toy.
It is OK to play tug-of-war with your puppy as long as you win at least 60% of the time, and you decide when the game starts and stops. (You are the pack-leader)
Common Mistakes People Make With Their New Puppy
One of the most common mistakes I see familiies making with their new puppy is to fuss and make a big deal when they leave the puppy home by himself for the first time. "Oh, don't worry, we will be back soon, don't be upset" By the time you walk out the door the puppy is so worked up, he doesn't know what to do with himself when you leave. The most you should say is "see ya" in a normal voice or best not to say anything. When you come home, try to wait a couple of minutes before approaching the puppies crate. The puppy will soon learn that you come and go and everything is still ok with the world. Making a fuss before you leave only helps to create separation anxiety between you and your pet.
I encourage the entire family to participate in the training experience. Dogs are happier being followers and not leaders; however, without the proper training and guidance, your dog will attempt to take on the role of leader. Most of all, be patient and have fun!