Have you ever come across a dog at the dog park, or had to look after a dog for a friend, and found that they had absolutely no doggie manners at all? That's because they haven't been trained properly. Here are the 10 things you MUST teach your puppy before they are a year old, so you can have the best behaved dog on the street!
OK - we'll start with the basics....
- Toilet Training. We all know it's important to teach your puppy where to go to the toilet, but it's equally important to teach them to alert you WHEN they need to go to the toilet. You might think it's easier to teach the puppy to go at pre-arranged times (after meals and just before bed), and this is true. However, there may be times in your dog's life (such as when they are unwell) when they might just need an extra pit stop.
- Sit, Stay, Drop. It seems to me I shouldn't have to mention this, but it amazes me the number of dogs who won't sit on command! The earlier you teach your puppy, the better. Drop can be particularly hard for puppies, but it's worth persevering with. The Drop command is quite a submissive action for a dog, and can be very useful when there are young children about, putting the dog below them in terms of height.
- Walk on Leash & Off Leash With You. Going for a walk should be fun, but not out of control. Teach your puppy from an early age to stand still while you put on their leash (and collar if they don't wear one indoors). When walking, your dog should walk beside you - not in front, and not wandering all over the place sniffing and peeing. Your dog can have some "free time" (see later on in this article), but most of the walk should be by your side and calm.
- Fetch & Release. Throwing a ball or Frisbee and having them retrieve it is a great game for a puppy. It's great exercise, it's fun, and they are with you! However, it is just as important to teach your puppy to release the ball or Frisbee when they return to you. It is more important actually - they need to acknowledge that you are in charge of the game, and that the ball always gets given back to you.
- Doggie etiquette. When your puppy meets another dog or cat, it needs to know the right etiquette for introducing itself. Puppies usually learn this from their litter mates, but I have seen many cases where puppies were obviously taken away from their litter too soon, and they have no idea at all how to behave around other animals.
- No jumping. Following on from our point on etiquette, you may think it's cute now that your puppy jumps at your legs to get attention or tries to jump on your lap. But wait until they are a fully grown dog, or when they try it on a frail elderly person and knock them over. No jumping on people - ever.
- Sharing Food and Toys. This is a very important lesson to teach if you have, or plan on having, other animals or children in the house. Some dogs can be very possessive, especially with their food and/or toys. Puppies need to be taught at a young age that nothing is theirs alone - not their food nor their toys. You need to start this training when they are young. Take the toy or food away from the dog and give it to your child to give back to the dog. This teaches the dog that things come back - they won't necessarily lose them forever.
- Go to your bed. Your dog needs a "safe" zone - somewhere they can go to get some time out, sleep, or eat their food. This can be their bed, a rug, or even their crate. Teach them from an early age to go there on command. This way, if puppy misbehaves you can send them for some time out with this command.
- "Free" time. OK - I mentioned this when we talked about walking on leash. It is important that your dog is allowed some free time to run and play and be silly and sniff things and pee on things. Teaching your dog early by using the word "free" said loudly and happily will train your dog that now he can be himself! This is a great command to use at the dog park. You also need to have an "off" word so they come back to you when it's time to go home or back on the leash. Whether that's calling their name, or "come", or another word you use.
- Who's in charge. If you have been able to teach your puppy all of the above behaviours, then you have also taught your dog who's in charge - you!
It's a great idea to teach your dog to alert you when they need to go outside. Or, you can teach your dog to answer your question "do you need to go pee?". No seriously - if you ask this question each time they go out to do their business, they will eventually associate that phrase with going to the toilet. So when you ask the question, they will either be disinterested, or jump up ready to go. Trust me - this comes in very handy later on in your dog's life.
It's also a good idea to teach your dog to walk beside you off leash (once you have mastered on leash of course). It's best to start this off in your own fenced yard before you move outdoors. And always take the lead with you as back up. However, this is very handy if your dog somehow gets out or off leash when you are outdoors. You should be able to call them to you and then put them on leash or walk them home without one.
Do NOT wrestle with the dog for the ball or Frisbee, and don't allow them to "play growl". Tug is a separate game played with a tug toy. In Fetch they must always release the ball back to you. If they won't - stop playing.
You'll know if your puppy has a problem by how it behaves when guests arrive. A well behaved puppy will approach the visitors and want a pat or some attention, but not demand it. Badly behaved puppies demand attention by pushing their noses at people, or jumping. If your puppy does either of these, chances are it won't behave very well around new animals either. And that could spell trouble at the dog park! Nip it in the bud now.
If you have another animal, especially another dog, then make sure that both (or all) dogs play with all toys. No toys belong to any one dog.