January is “National Train Your Dog Month,” and for good reason! During the holiday season, many families bring home new puppies and have questions about how to properly train them. To help, we spoke to Dr. Jason Nicholas, who likes to go by Dr. J, Chief Medical Officer, at Preventive Vet. Together, we’ve compiled a list of the five most common mistakes when training your puppy.
1. Missing the Early Socialization Period
Does your puppy bark at themselves every time they catch their reflection in the mirror? Or, whimper when they have to stay in their crate?
They are most likely in their early socialization period. During this time, it’s crucial to acquaint your dog with items that will be common in their new life. Puppies generally have an initial socialization period of 12–15 weeks.
But, what exactly is puppy socialization?
“Socialization isn’t just about introductions to other dogs. In their early years, it’s even more important to get them used to different flooring surfaces, stairs, vacuum cleaners, and other surfaces and textures around your home,” Dr. J said.
But don’t forget about human interaction, either. It’s equally important to introduce them to a variety of people — kids to elders — in various outdoor and indoor locations.
2. Sending Mixed Signals
“Sit,” “stay,” “come!”
Once you decide on your cue words, don’t change them! Make sure everyone involved in regular training and caring for your puppy uses the same cue words, as well. This will help prevent confusion, allowing your pup to excel during training.
So, what’s the No.1 rule of housebreaking?
When it comes to housebreaking, consistency is important! Whether it be staying off the couch, no sleeping on the bed, or waiting patiently while you prepare meals, keep it consistent. Everybody should be on the same page so as not to confuse and complicate matters for your pup.
3. Not Working With a Positive Reinforcement Trainer
Every dog is different, and every human can use a little help sometimes. A good trainer can be worth their weight in gold as this small investment of time and money will pay huge dividends throughout your training and well into the future.
Dr. J recommends steering clear of dominance-based (“alpha dog,” etc.) trainers and opt for the science-backed, positive reinforcement, collaborative trainers instead. According to WebMD, purely positive reinforcement was popularized by trainers such as Victoria Stilwell of Animal Planet’s It’s Me Or The Dog. It’s also the method taught by Dawn Sylvia-Stasiewicz, who trained President Obama’s dog, Bo.
4. Trying to do Too Much in One Session
Training sessions should be fun and focused. You should never feel like you need to cover everything in one day.
So, what’s the best way to break up a training session?
“Do multiple short (5–15 minutes) training sessions throughout the day, rather than one long session,” explains Dr. J. “Focus on just one or two behaviors with each session and then help your pup reinforce and solidify what you’ve just worked on with a gentle and fun play session or walk after training.”
5. Free Feeding
When you leave a bowl of kibble out for your pup to graze on throughout the day, not only will you make your potty training efforts that much harder, you’ll also make regular training harder.
“Training is easier when your pup is a little hungry. You can even reserve back about 1/3 of their daily kibble to use for training,” Dr.J said. “Help yourself even more by feeding your pup their meals from an interactive toy/puzzle feeder to keep their brain engaged and working for their food. “
According to Pet Life Today, it’s ideal to look for fun-sized treats or cut larger ones into small bites when you prepare to train your dog. The smaller, healthier and tastier the training treat, the more often you can reward your dog. Bite-sized treats are also kinder to your dog’s waistline.
“Find a high quality treat your dog wants to work for, and only use this treat for training and with toys. I recommend Redbarn Rolled Food for my [dog training] classes and my own dogs go bonkers for it, “ Schultz writes on her Instagram.“[I] use a tiny bit for regular training and bigger amounts when a dog has a breakthrough to let him know he did exactly what you wanted, like a jackpot! I also use this food for puzzle toys at home with Riley and Kona – they’ll work for long periods of time trying to get at a treat they love. This helps immensely with boredom and separation anxiety.”
If you’re looking for more perfect training treat options, check out our Redbarn Protein Puffs! Protein Puffs are packed with 75% protein, made from human-grade caseinate, and are only one calorie per treat. If you’re wondering what caseinate is, it’s best known for supporting healthy muscle growth, making it a popular dietary supplement amongst athletes and bodybuilders. It’s commonly used in protein bars, health supplements, and other dietetic products.
Many nutritional experts including Dr. J at Preventative Vet, have stated that anything added to your pets’ diet should not exceed 10% of the calories fed each day.
If your dog typically eats 500 calories per day, treats should not exceed 50 calories. You can easily locate the calories on a treat bag by looking at the Guaranteed Analysis, similar to the nutrition label on human foods, typically found on the back of the packaging.
We hope we were able to make you aware of these top five mistakes made when training a new puppy. Now let’s put these tips to use and have a wonderful dog training month!