Puppies! They are the demise of many peoples will and the ability to stay angry at them is nearly impossible. So how do you train these precious pups before they turn into full grown dogs? I will tell you that in general the same techniques work however each pup is very different so sometimes your approach will have to vary. I'm a firm believer of a few things when it comes to puppies though and I highly encourage others to consider this before they decide they know what to do. First of all, puppies really shouldn't leave their mothers or their littermates prior to 7 weeks old. From the day they are born to 7 weeks old the puppy learns a ton of valuable, necessary life things from the mom and littermates. Now a good breeder will introduce human contact into the mix around 4 weeks old which is also very important. If they don't start playing with, handling, or being a part of the puppies experience there is a strong chance that those pups will have a fear of humans and this is extremely hard to overcome. Even if you as the owner can fix it, your dog will probably struggle to be around any other person for the rest of it's life. A lot of breeders with kids will also get them invovled because kid's are totally different to a dog than adults are which I will talk about in this blog. So what does a puppy learn from it's littermates and mom? Besides the obvious fact that a puppy needs it's mom for warmth, food, and general comfort in the very early weeks, the mom will also teach the pup when enough is enough. As puppies become mobile they primarily research everything with their teeth because their eyes just don't give them enough information. A puppies mouth is the equivalent of our hands. Don't be fooled, pups have great hearing, sense of smell and eye sight but until they 'learn' what something is by those senses the mouth is their primary research tool. That is why puppies absolutely have to put their sharp little teeth on everything! The mom will teach them when they have pushed the boundaries by giving a growl or snip to say 'HEY, knock it off!' The littermates help in the same way. You will see puppies bounding, nipping, jumping, and more on eachother all the time. But when one pup yelps and walks away, the other one learns that that type of play was too hard and now the others won't play with me. Trust me, they love that play so they will stop being rough if it means the end of their play time with the littermates. So prior to 7 weeks there is a lot of learning that needs to happen prior to living with a human family.
I brought Coda home at 8 weeks old and boy did that dog have me fooled. She was so calm, inquisitive, and sweet for the first week but suddenly her true side came out. I came very close to taking Coda back to the breeder because I just didn't think I could handle her. I know you are probably thinking it was the crying, chewing, potty training, and other typical puppy challenges but it was none of those things (I'll come back to this). First I'll say that I'm a huge proponent of kennel training. The first 3-4 nights your puppy will cry it's little head off when you put it in the kennel but that is just because it is lonely and wants your attention. DO not give it attention. What I did for both of my dogs was to place them in the kennel 30 minutes before I wanted to go to bed (I kept the kennel next to my bed. Some people will keep it elsewhere in the house), turn off the lights, and shut the door. She would cry like something was eating her alive and it was a heartbreaking sound but I stayed strong. I would never open the door when she was crying because the dog perceives that as having won at getting your attention and from there on out they will cry because it gets results. Instead I would sit or stand by the door and wait for her to stop wailing and then I would open the door and say 'good girl' in a very cheerful voice to let her know the quiet is what got my response. If she was persistent in her crying I would give one loud bang on the door and yell 'Quit down' which would startle her into stopping but of course they start up again just not as strong. Dogs are smarter than people give them credit for and they know how to work their owners over. Like most puppies they will do a lull in their crying just to see if you are at the door! The key whether you are in the room with them or not when they are crying is to ignore it completely. It makes for a few rough nights but they learn faster than kids do (or so I'm told since I don't have kids). Kennel training also makes time at work and potty training significantly easier. Both of my dogs were house broken within a week with minor accidents the second week. Simply take them out to go to the bathroom before you put them in the kennel and as soon as you are home, open the kennel and take them right outside again. They will learn fast! Dogs are all about routine. Oh, on that note do not rub your dogs face in it's potty mistake. This humilates them and they will try even harder to hide from you when they need to go to the bathroom. If you just shout 'NO,' rush and pick them up, take them outside to the grass, then wait for them to go and give them a ton of praise you will have significantly better results. The key is to be on the spot with them and respond instantly to the behavior because their attention span is short and they will forget quickly what they did wrong. High levels of praise (baby talk, petting, jumping in joy) will cause the puppy to respond very well. They will think 'oh wow, they go crazy with happiness when I pee in this grass but shout at me if it's on that shaggy stuff in there.'
Now back to the point of Coda being different. Most labs are garbage guts. They will eat anything they can get their mouths on (except some veggies) but not Coda. She never did any damage to my furniture or stole food or dug in the garbage. The most damage she ever did was scratch a door when she was kenneled in the bathroom and chew up a pair of flip flops. She did have a thing for the caps that cover the bolts to hold the toilet down (mine still have the evidence of being chewed up) and the rubber caps that go on door stops (my house still has several missing) but that was it. Where I struggled with Coda was how smart she is and the fact that my body was a smorgasbord for her. I was afraid to stand up and walk because she would dig those sharp little teeth into the back of my pant legs at my ankle which brought me to my knees. I literally had to take timeouts from being around her so that I wouldn't beat her for it. That is another thing. You really should not do any physical punishment with your puppy when training them until they are around 5 months old. When teaching commands such as sit, stay, come, lie down, and heel it is all fun and games. If you spank a young puppy for not remembering sit you will teach it to avoid you instead of wanting to perform for you. Praise is very valuable to a dog and they love to work to make their owners happy. Spanking a pup for not remembering those commands is like screaming at your 1 year old child for not remembering what letter comes after G in the alphebet. To get around Coda's problems I made a trip back to Medford to see my breeder for one-on-one lessons. After a few short minutes she said 'your dog is either extremely smart and dominant or just dominant. My guess is she's both plus stubborn.' Sue did teach me that for the biting that I needed to let Coda know how much it hurt (no I did not bite her back on this one but I have other times). So what I ended up having to do was keep a leash on her all over the house because it was the ONLY way I could catch that squimery, fast little monster when she misbehaved. I simply stepped on the leash sending her tumbling to her back and then reeled her in for reprimand. I learned quickly that chasing a dog is a huge no no because they will think it's a game (remember, short attention span. Even if you catch them they will have forgotten what they did wrong so they won't understand why they are being punished). For Coda's biting I would grab her snout and slip her gums inside her mouth and pull upward on her sharp teeth causing her to bite herself (not horribly hard but enough to surprise her and get a little whimper). In 2 days she stopped trying to bite me! I could go on for days about puppy training but I will attempt to limit to 2 or 3 parts.