|Coco...nearly 6 mths old|
During Coco's first several months in our home, she was super bouncy adorable, but naughty little puppy that required a lot of training and patience. She was constantly biting hold of everything in her path. She was always jumping on us and biting our pant legs. And of course....there were some potty training accidents. Not that any of these things made her a 'bad puppy'. It is just the natural stage that puppies go through. And knowing that we would get through these habits in a few months made it much easier to deal with. But it also impressed on us, the importance of good training..
At 6 mths of age she is now in her teenager stage, and such a pleasure to have around. I can put Coco on my lap and she will cuddle up with me. She doesn't try to chew on my sweater or my fingers! When I allow her to run around the room and play, she will come over to me when she has exhausted herself and curl up on my feet. She now knows her routine and already fits well into our family life. In my mind this is the best stage of puppy life.
So I want to recap what I view as the most important things you can teach a puppy before they reach their half year mark. The ultimate goal of each training exercise is to start good habits early and also to establish yourself as the leader of the pack in a positive but assertive way.
|Coco learns to love her pen at 8 weeks.|
Teaching Independence: The first thing that we focused on, when we brought Coco home was establishing her feeling of security with her puppy pen. The puppy pen was a place where she could eat, sleep, play and go potty without the worry of establishing any bad habits. She learned to sleep on her own in a crate and was super easy from the very first night. She also learned to settle down in her quiet area and not stress about being alone.
Positive Socialization: During the first several months with our new puppy we made an exra effort to give her many positive interactions with new people and new dogs. Our family of kids and dogs was not enough. Ideally one can enroll a puppy in Puppy Kindergarten Class. But my schedule is very tight, with all my kids activities. So I did not enroll in a puppy class. That put the responsibility on me to find other social opportunities for Coco.
One place that I took Coco for supervised socialization with other dogs was at the Doggy Day Care. I found one at the Four Paws Pet Resort, which has boarding facilities as well. I had to call a few boarding facilities to find a facility that offered drop off care. I called ahead to check their rates, and to ask what paperwork to bring, and also to be sure there would be other puppies and dogs that were a small size like Coco. The great thing for me, is that while I ran my errands Coco had several hours to play and socialize with puppy friends.
On other days, I took Coco to Petsmart, or Petco. Saturday morning is the best time for that, because there are the most people and dogs at that time. Additionally, I invited many different people to our home. I made sure they took a moment to give Coco a treat and some attention.
It is very important that you take the time to socialize your puppy while she is very young. The first six months of a puppies life are the most crucial time to build positive associations with people and pets that imprint on a puppy for her lifetime.
|Coco now knows what 'sit' means.|
At 9 weeks old, Coco was a bouncy and excitable around food. When she saw food she would start bounding high into the air to try to grab it. It was a bit tricky to teach her to sit at first. We commanded her to 'sit" and when she tried to grab the food with her snout we would immediately lower it and push the treat toward her so she lowered her rump to the floor. When her bottom was on the floor I released the treat. After a few days, Coco began to learn that a bottom on the floor equals treats.
When she seemed to catch on to SIT, we added the STAY command. That again was easy enough to do in a few motions. I would make my hand flat, touch her nose and maintain eye contact, until I was ready to release her.
Teaching down is done in a similar way to teaching sit. After she has sat, I say DOWN, and lower the treat slowly in front of her, which guides her into sliding to the down position. I do not release the treat until she is in the down position.
At nearly 6 mths of age, Coco knows she much do her business right away when we take her outside. We still use the pen to give Coco her quiet space amongst the over stimulation of the younger children in the household. She still has her Ugodog in her pen, but it has been a while since she has needed it. She prefers to hold her bladder to go outside.
Walking off leash: When your dog follows you off leash that is a clear sign that she accepts you as her leader. That is why teaching off leash training from the very beginning is so important. The best window of opportunity is between 8 weeks to 4 months when the puppy naturally has the inclination to follow.
During the first several months with Coco it was a high priority for me to walk Coco off leash as often as possible. Of course, we live in a very safe area for this exercise. I have a large backyard, and 300 acres of woods behind my house. I could not have done this if I lived on a busy road with a lot of cars and traffic. But for city dwellers a large park also works well.
During this off leash training, I took Coco out on the path through the woods. If she started to run more than a few steps ahead of me I would turn around and walk the opposite direction. This would stop Coco in her tracks and she would turn around and run after me. When she caught up, I would turn around and start back down the path again. Sometimes I would let Coco run ahead. As soon as she found something to sniff and distract her I would sneak off and hide behind a tree. Watching from my hiding spot I could make sure to keep Coco in sight at all times. She would run back and forth looking for me. After a few minutes of 'puppy worry' I would make a noise to help her find me. When she discovered me I would give her a treat, and praise her enthusiastically. Then we would continue our walk together, with Coco very close at my heels.
Coco is at the age now, when most books will tell you not to walk your dog off leash because at this age, a puppy will test their boundaries and run off. But by training Coco to look after me early on, she is not prone to this behavior. She has already experienced the pain of separation and the importance of following the leader. She has been instilled with a sense of 'responsibility' to look out for herself. She does not expect me to come find her or to chase her. She already understands that being left alone on a walk is no fun....and running off on her own is not a pleasant option.
My favorite time to walk Coco is first thing in the morning or after dinner. I go out at a very brisk walk and keep her at my side. Preferably, the leash should be slack. But since she is still learning, there is a little pressure at times. But I do not allow constant pulling. If it starts to happen and she starts to get ahead of me, I give her a warning sound (a quick 'sh') and a quick tug, just firm enough to take Coco a bit off her balance. As I do this I turn around and start walking in the opposite direction. Coco is now behind me and I am back in the leader position. I walk in a circle to get back in the right direction. Above all, I do not allow her to pull ahead on the leash.
With this method, I keep a brisk walk all around the block. I walk in the street so Coco has fewer distractions (we do not have sidewalks). I do not let her stop to sniff the ground. We are on a serious mission. No lollygagging. When 15 minutes is up, I am ready to give her a break. But at that point, we are also at home and I take her off leash to run freely about the yard.
When you start your puppy right from the beginning (and don't allow bad habits to take hold), it does not take very long to make a lot of progress with leash training. I saw major improvements in Coco's leash training after only 4-5 walks.
When Coco first came to me at 9 weeks old, she was freshly groomed, but by 4 mths old she had turned into one big ball of fluff! Even the trainer at Petsmart didn't guess she was a Schnauzer! I was actually putting off the grooming as long as possible, because I loved cuddling with the fluffy bundle. She looked absolutely adorable! But the weather was getting warmer and I was sure a trim would make her much more comfortable.
Even though I was delaying the grooming, I was still training Coco for it. You may recall in a past post how I spent time getting Coco use to the clippers by running them, letting her hear the noise and vibration, while eating a treat. I did this exercises on 3 or 4 different occasions.
This preparation would prove to be very effective. The day of grooming I made a point to take Coco on a long walk through the woods. And I kept her active throughout the day to release all her fighting energy. Then I bathed all 3 dogs and blew them dry with a blow dryer. When the time came to use the clipper I decided to shave the older dogs first. I kept Coco in a crate where she could relax and watch the process. My hope was that she would absorb the positive energy that myself and the other dogs had during the grooming process. Dogs are very intuitive creatures. They can tell when we are uptight or nervous, and they will react to that. On the other hand, when we exhibit confident and positive energy, dogs will also be more relaxed and assured.
Sure enough, by the time it was Coco's turn, she didn't seem to care about the clippers. She was still a bit wiggly, being a puppy, but not overly so. Since I don't have a regular grooming table to tie the dog to, I have one of my kids take the job of holding her collar or leash. I also had them dispense a treat now and then when I needed to work on Coco's ears and face.
Overall I was surprised just how relaxed Coco was with the process. I couldn't help but remember just how squirmy and uncooperative Toby was for his first grooming 11 years ago. Tough as that was, I did one thing right, by not letting Toby get off the hook. He knew I would not back down. In fact, I groomed him more than most puppies just so he would get over the rebellion. And he did. By the time he was a year old, he would stand still without the need of an assistant. But I have learned so much since that time, and I preparing for the grooming ahead of time, has definitely paid off.
CONCLUSION: After reading this long post, you may think that it takes a ton of time to train a dog. It really doesn't seem that way to me. When you go about your day just take a minute here and there to teach your puppy as you go. You do not necessarily have to set aside a lot of time for this. The walk is the only thing that takes up a little chunk of time.....and we should walk for our own health anyway!
If I could give any advice to a new puppy owner, it would be this....do NOT put training off until problems develop. You need to teach the right habits from the beginning. It is sooo much easier this way! You will be surprised, how with a little bit of consistency, your puppy will make huge strides in just a few short months. And you will have set the foundation for a lifetime of great companionship!