Training your puppy right is one of the best ways to produce a well-adjusted adult dog. That’s one of the reasons Canis Major is so excited about our Canis Minor Puppy Training Program for Denver!
However, there are a lot of misconceptions out there about how to properly train, socialize, and care for puppies.
Let’s talk about a few common myths and misconceptions in regards to puppy training.
Puppy Training Myth #1: Exposure is the Same as Socialization and My Puppy Should Meet 100 People in 100 Days
Well-meaning owners often want to socialize their puppies to the world so that they grow up to be confident adults. When most trainers say socialization, they mean gradually and systematically exposing the puppy in a positive way to the world. The puppy learns that all sorts of new things are awesome.
This is not the same as taking your puppy to a music festival or the bar and just exposing him to new things. Formulas such as “100 new people in 100 days” are well-meaning and might be right for some dogs. However, for a shy puppy, meeting that many people could backfire. It’s not enough to just expose your puppy to new things - you’ve got to make it positive.
Exposure without positive socialization can lead to sensitization. In one example, a puppy is frightened by a rough adult dog. Rather than “getting over it,” the puppy starts to be afraid of all dogs.
This is why working with a trainer is so important when socializing your puppy - they’ll help you create a plan for positive associations, rather than just exposure that leads to worse fears later on.
Puppy Training Myth #2: I Can’t Let My Puppy Outside Till He’s Done with Shots
While it’s absolutely important to protect unvaccinated puppies from the dangers of rabies, parvo, and distemper, you shouldn’t keep your puppy locked in a castle tower until he’s five months old. Work with a puppy trainer (like Canis Major) will help you create a plan for safe socialization. You certainly should avoid dog parks - but most puppies will benefit from carefully planned outings to other public spaces during socialization.
Puppy Training Myth #3: I Can’t Comfort My Puppy if He’s Scared
You might have heard once that puppies will learn to manipulate situations to get your comfort if you soothe them when they’re scared. This is a sad myth that has led to many parents ignoring terrified puppies rather than offering them comfort.
Dr. Patricia McConnell recently spoke to Hannah Brannigan on her podcast about this subject. Dr. McConnell emphasized the importance of being a safe space for your puppy. Your puppy, she says, is actually likely to become braver more quickly if you offer backup. So go ahead, give your pup a cuddle during the next thunderstorm! It’ll help far more than it hurts.
Puppy Training Myth #4: I Can’t Train My Puppy Until He’s Six Months Old
Back when puppies were generally trained with choke chains and alpha rolls, we used to say that puppies couldn’t be trained until they were six months old. Now that we are aware of the wonders of treat-based training, we can start training puppies almost as soon as their eyes are open!
Take advantage of the wonderful flexibility of your puppy’s brain and start training him today! Just keep in mind the 8 most common problems with using food in training.
Puppy Training Myth #5: If I Don’t Punish My Puppy When He’s Wrong, He’ll Never Get it Right
It’s the classic “carrot and the stick” method, right? We teach our puppies what to do, and then we punish them if they pick wrong… right? Right?
Not really, no.
We can show our puppies how to behave in our homes without ever scaring or hurting them. It’s actually much easier to focus on teaching your puppy what to do rather than what not to do. You don’t have to back up your requests with threats. In fact, your puppy will bond with you and listen better if he’s not scared of getting it wrong (and what you’ll do if he does).
Training Myth #6: My Puppy Likes My Dog So He’s Socialized
Back to socialization. While overexposure is a big problem (as we said in Myth #1), underexposure is also a common puppy socialization problem. Many well-meaning owners try to split the middle between protecting their puppy from diseases and socializing their puppy by focusing on socializing their puppy with just the resident dog(s).
The problem is, puppies don’t necessarily generalize this lesson. Rather than learning that “all dogs are friends,” many puppies learn “the dog that I share my home with is a friend.” Any other dog is a stranger, a scary thing.
Just because your puppy is friendly and confident with your family or your pets, doesn’t mean your puppy is socialized. You’ve got to help your puppy learn that all sorts of new things are great - not just the things in your home.
Puppy Training Myth #7: If My Puppy Doesn’t Listen, It’s Because He’s Stubborn, Dominant, or Alpha
Most of the times our dogs don’t listen, it’s our fault - that’s the tough truth. If your puppy sits perfectly when you’re in your bedroom holding a fistful of chicken, that doesn’t mean he’s being stubborn when he fails to sit in puppy class. You simply haven’t prepared him enough - yet.
Rather than thinking of your puppy as willful, disobedient, or stubborn, think back on your training. Has your puppy really learned a given skill in difficult situations? Many times, we are asking too much of our puppies.
It’s kind of like asking a small child to recite her ABC’s at a Christmas party. While she might have them down at home, the pressure and distraction is just too much right now. She’s not being stubborn - she’s just unprepared.
We’ve got a lot to say about dominance, pack theory, and alpha dogs. Check that out for more info.
Puppy Training Myth #8: Playing Alone in the Yard is Enough Exercise
As puppies get a bit older and a bit more coordinated, their energy needs often skyrocket. Many owners are perplexed to find that, despite having a doggie door and a yard, the puppies are full of energy at the end of the day.
In most cases, a quick video of the puppy when he’s alone finds that the puppy sleeps most of the day. Not exactly the all-day exercise and romping most people have in mind! Even for dogs that do entertain themselves in the yard, solo time in the back yard simply isn’t enough for most dogs.
Try playing one (or more) of these 22 games to play with your dog as a way to up the exercise ante.
Puppy Training Myth #9: Crates are Cruel
Ah, the great crate debate. While we’d never recommend leaving a dog in the crate for 23 hours a day, crates are an indispensable tool for potty training young puppies. Properly trained, your puppy’s crate becomes a safe space where he sleeps comfortably. While your puppy is in the crate, you can focus on other tasks knowing that your floors, cords, and slippers are safe from the teeth (and bladder) of a young puppy.
Even if you don’t think your pup will need to be crate trained in the long term, crate training will help keep your puppy happier if she ever needs to be crated for travel or at the vet’s. Crate training now will help make things far easier with your adult dog.
Crate training is a process, and you’ll have to put some training into getting your new puppy to love her crate. Don’t worry - Canis Major can help with crate training if you’re feeling stuck. It’s worth it for both the practical training benefits and the possibility of future crate needs! Without some sort of confinement, potty training a puppy is a huge uphill battle.
Puppy Training Myth #10: He’ll Grow Out of It
Certainly, some bad behaviors get a bit better with age. The bad news is, most adolescent dogs (ages six months to as much as two years) are often worse than their puppy selves! Waiting it out simply isn’t a good option.
Rather than hoping your puppy will magically grow up understanding the laws of the land, start training now. With good training, very young puppies can learn to obey many basic commands, chew only on chew toys, hold their pee to go outside, and much more. Focus on what you can control - your puppy’s training - rather than waiting around for age fix your puppy.
The habits that your puppy forms will stick with him into adulthood if you don’t take the reins and use some training to teach him how to behave in your home. Learn how to teach your dog to live up to your expectations, and you’ll reap the benefits for years to come.
Puppy Training Myth #11: It's All in How You Raise Them & They Just Need Love
While training and socialization can have a huge effect on your puppy's behavior, you are still working with the tools that genetics gave you. Everything from stress on your puppy's grandparents to hormones in utero can change your puppy's genetics and brain - permanently. Unfortunately, love isn't enough to turn an undersocialized puppy into a confident Lassie-type. Even with the best training out there, dogs have genetic limits (and those limits can change based on hormones and stressful experiences).
One of our favorite pieces of puppy advice is to assume, before you pick out your puppy, that everything is fixed and genetic. This will help you be ultra-picky when finding the perfect puppy for your home.
But once the puppy is in your home, act like things are trainable and fixable. Get all of the help you can to help your puppy grow into the dog of your dreams.
Of course, neither extreme is really true. All animals have some level of genetic constraints (that's why you don't see bloodhounds herding sheep or cats that help the blind navigate the street). You can nudge your animal in one direction or the other, but you're likely to hit genetic limits eventually in their behavior. Animal behavior professionals will help you set realistic expectations regarding what can be changed.