Helping Train a Young Puppy

p>There’s nothing harder for a young puppy to learn (or a kind person to teach) than being alone. Dogs are social animals, just as we are. And when you bring a puppy home you’re not only asking him to do something for which he isn’t really wired, but also to do it for the first time, under the stressful circumstances of being separated from the only family he has ever known.

Under those circumstances, you’d scream, too. Especially if past experience had shown you that vocalizing brought your mom and littermates on the run. Alone? Scared? Scream, and you’ll be surrounded by help.

And yet, the ability to be comfortable alone is a critical skill for a modern dog. Dogs who don’t learn this have what behaviorists call “separation anxiety.” That’s a diagnosis that truly can mean death for a dog, for when you’re a loud, destructive basket case when left alone, you’re at high risk for losing your home. Even if your owners can and do work with your issues – adding pheromones, getting help from a veterinary behaviorist —  your life isn’t a happy one when you’re alone.

“Crate-training” is often used interchangeably with “house-training,” but it’s really more than that. The proper use of a crate in raising a puppy helps them not only learn to relieve themselves outdoors, but also to relax while in confinement alone.

Think about all the times a dog has to deal with either being alone or being confined, and you’ll realize how important this skill is to a dog. Even if an dog is never crated in the home beyond puppy, being able to relax in a crate helps a dog deal with a veterinary hospital stay, with travel, and even with such things as having to be rescued and boarded during a disaster.

Right now I’m in the middle of puppy-raising for friends. I love raising puppies and I work from my home, which is why I volunteered to get Riley, a retriever puppy, off to a great start. In the six weeks I’ll have him, I’ll build on the foundation established by his excellent breeder, teaching him to listen, to love learning, to potty outside — and that being alone isn’t anything to worry about.

I know some people “cold turkey” a pup when it comes to crate-training, but I don’t do that. I never open the pen or crate door on a screaming puppy, thus rewarding him for the noise. Instead, I set him up for success with short periods of crating when he’s most likely to accept it willingly.

That means making sure he’s tired or just been fed and pottied before being crated. These are times when a puppy is most likely to sleep. I ask him to “crate,” and add a treat or toy, and praise when he goes in.  When we first started, I lured him in with a treat or toy; now he goes in on his own when asked, turns around and waits for his reward.

Before he’s ready to wake up, I wake him up and take him out for a walk so he never wakes up pitching a fit I have to ignore. I alternate between the crate in my office and the pen in my living room. The office crate, located right next to my desk, is relatively easy for him, since he’s alone only when I leave the room for a short period.

The pen is harder for him because it’s across the room and he can’t see me.  Because he’s more likely to fuss in the pen, that’s where I give him his meals. It’s also where I work on his “sit,” because that’s really easy to teach to a young pup. He follows me and the bowl into his pen, and I raise the bowl so he has to tip his nose up to follow. Then I say, “sit,” and wait. A young puppy will lose his balance with his nose tipped up, and sit most of the time. He gets his praise, his meal and I exit, stage right.

Like any normal puppy, Riley wants to be where the people and other dogs are. He’s learning quickly  — and as easily as I can make it —  that sometimes what a dog wants isn’t possible. The gentle lessons of puppy-hood require consistency and patience.

I know there’s no greater gift to a dog’s life than what I can teach him now. Helping Riley grow up with the lessons he needs makes me happy and proud of the dog he’ll be when he leaves me.

Editor’s Note: The SENTRY Good Behavior line of products is excellent for helping to train your pet. Whether it’s the SENTRY Calming Collar or the SENTRY Stop That! Noise and Pheromone spray, the scientifically-proven Good Behavior Pheromone Technology offers solutions to some of the toughest behaviors.

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