The following is a summary of Ian Dunbar’s puppy books Before You Get Your Puppy and After You Get Your Puppy. If you are serious about getting a puppy, or already have one, we highly recommend reading both texts in their entirety. Dunbar focuses on positive reinforcement, which has been proven to be the most effective and kindest methods for training dogs.
Prior to getting a dog, it is crucial to determine what age dog you would like. Puppies are ready to be adopted around 8 weeks of age and become adolescents at around 4 and a half months with their temperament stabilizing at 2 years. The older a dog is, the harder it is to alter its behavior (although it is possible). Puppies, on the other hand, are much more work but it is easier to mold them into the precise sort of dog you would like. If you do decide to get a puppy, it is crucial you begin training the first day she comes home.
Before you get your puppy, you must puppy proof your home and create a proper puppy pen. Your puppy pen should have:
- a barrier between the inside of the pen and the rest of the room
- a comfortable bed
- a water bowl
- 6 hollow chew toys (best chewtoys are Kongs, Biscuit Balls, Squirrel Dudes and Big Kahunas)
- a doggy toilet that is in the farthest corner from the bed (you can make a doggy toilet out of the material the dog will be “going” on the most, such as placing several concrete slabs or turf onto a piece of linoleum. You can also use a litter box).
- a crate just large enough for her to turn around in (if you want to buy a crate that she will fit into when she is older, you can block of a portion of it with a piece of cardboard, plastic, etc. If the crate is too large, she will go potty in it.)
The doggy pen will serve as an excellent tool to help you housetrain your pup. You should try to be home as much as possible during the first month of puppy parenting. While you are home, keep your puppy enclosed in her pen. This will eliminate the chances of your new dog chewing on your stuff and going potty in the house. Reward your puppy’s good behavior after a little while by allowing her to explore one room. After another while, reward her improved behavior with allowing her to explore a different room. Continue to do this until she has had access to sniffing and exploring the portions of the house she will be allowed in in the future. If an accident should occur while she explores, put her back in her puppy pen (without scolding) and wait until she behaves nicely to allow her to explore again.
Puppies have a 45-minute bladder capacity at three weeks, 75-minute capacity at eight weeks, 90-minute capacity at twelve weeks, and a two-hour capacity at 18 weeks. Puppies usually urinate within one minute of waking up, so it is a good idea to be the thing that wakes them up! Upon waking, they should be taken to the “bathroom” right away. Of course, it will take awhile for your puppy to learn what a bathroom is and when she should go.
So what should you do when your pooch inevitably goes pee or poo in the wrong place?
Nothing, just clean it up. DO NOT scold your dog. It is your fault you didn’t take the puppy outside in time for her to relieve herself. Scolding your vulnerable puppy will only make her do it again (when you’re not around to reprehend her) and like you less. Instead of scolding, positively reinforce when she goes to the bathroom in the proper place with phrases like “Good girl!” “Good potty!”, pet her, and give her several treats. Soon enough, your pup will learn that her poo and pee is worth treats and affection and will be eager to perform for you in the places you want her to.
Here is Ian Dunbar’s advice to house-training:
When you are away from home or if you are too busy or distracted to adhere to the following schedule, keep your puppy confined to her puppy playroom where she has a suitable doggy toilet. Otherwise, when you are at home:
Keep your puppy closely confined to her doggy den (crate) or on-leash.
Every hour on the hour release your pup from confinement and quickly run her (on-leash if necessary) to the toilet area, instruct your pup to eliminate, and give her three minutes to do so.
Enthusiastically praise your puppy when she eliminates, offer three freeze-dried liver treats, and then play/train with the pup indoors; once your puppy is old enough to go outside, take her for a walk after she eliminates.
Counter to popular belief, it is not best to primarily feed your dog from a dog bowl. Naturally, dogs will spend 90% of their waking life looking for food, it is their life purpose! You can give your dog a sense of purpose and stimulate her brain by feeding her through hollow chew toys and busy buddies (balls that distribute kibbles when they are kicked around). The less bored your dog is, the less destructive and needy she will be! You can also carry around a portion of her daily food and hand feed her. This will help her learn to not be aggressive when strangers reach out their hands.
So obviously, puppies are possibly the cutest things that exist…which makes it hard to not touch, play, and snuggle them constantly! However, constantly playing with your puppy is not the best thing for her. If she is smothered with too much attention, she will miss you too much when you are gone! A pup alone and anxious is a recipe for peeing and pooping in the house, chewing herself and your stuff, barking, whining, and bombarding you obnoxiously when you get home.
We must use attention as a reward for good behavior, not as a means to stop your dog from whining. If she is cuddled whenever she asks for it, she will learn that whining is the best way to get the attention she craves. Instead, teach her that only when she is quiet, sitting, lying down, etc. does she deserve your snuggles. This applies in particular to when you return home from being out. Many puppy parents fall into the trap of immediately smothering their crying, whining pooch as soon as they walk in the door. Trying to comfort your dog in this way will only encourage future whining and bad behavior upon you entering the house.
Roughhousing is fun and natural puppy play. However, if your dog is not able to stop mid-play when you ask her to sit, lie down, shake, etc. then she is not ready to roughhouse! If you allow her to play roughly with you before she is well-trained, she will potentially try to roughhouse at the wrong time, with strangers, and other dogs. This of course puts her at risk to bite and to be bitten.
Counterintuitively, many dogs need to learn to be held. If your dog struggles when you hold or snuggle her, you must not let go! If you let go she will learn that struggling gets her way…which may become a problem if she has medical problems and a veterinarian needs to examine her or is ever groomed/given a bath. The same token applies to being touched in sensitive areas such as the ears, around the eyes, bum, and grabbing her collar. You, and people not in your dog’s immediate family life, should practice touching her in these sensitive areas while giving her treats to train her to allow this kind of touching to take place.
Socializing Your Puppy
As a rule of thumb, your dog should meet at least 300 people and 20 children before she is 4.5 months. This may seem like a lot, but it isn’t hard to meet affectionate, dog-loving strangers on your walks! We can also be sure your friends and family would love to come over and spend time with your precious little puppy. As previously mentioned, have “strangers” hand feed her so she learns to trust and be friendly to future acquaintances. Once she has all her immunizations, your pup should also meets lots of dogs and cats. Reward her for friendly behavior when she meets a new poochy peer (which yes, often means butt-sniffing).
We won’t include them here, but Ian Dunbar offers many step-by-step guides in his books for how to train your dog to sit, stand, speak, shush, etc. Dunbar recommends using banishment during training sessions for punishment., a short time out where you go into another room. Your dog will be having so much fun training (aka getting treats) that withholding affection and treats, without scolding, will be very effective when she isn’t responding, barking, biting, etc.
Watch Ian Dunbar’s Ted Talk
About a third of all dogs will be euthanized, and that is often because no one trained them to gave good bite inhibition. Since teaching your puppy not to bite is so important, owners often discourage play biting. Counterintuitively, you should encourage play biting! The more your puppy bites and chews while she is young, the less likely she is to bite as an adult.
You can train your pooch to bite softly by allowing her to play bite you, but when she begins to chomp down harder say “Ouch!” and pretend to lick your wounds. This will tell the puppy she has hurt you. Stop playing for a moment and make her come, sit, and lie down. Reward this with treats. When you decide to begin playing again, after a minute or two, reward her with treats and affection if she is biting softly. Once she bites harder, repeat acting hurt and pause again. Over time, stop playing for softer and softer bites. She will eventually learn that human skin is very sensitive and she must be gentle when chomping (or else the human will not want to play with her).
Before every walk, let your dog know when you’re going by saying something like “Walkies now” or “Let’s go on a walk”. Make her sit by the door (or at least in the same spot each time) and put on her leash. If she stands up or wiggles when you put on her leash, wait for her to calm down before you strap her up. This can take a little while at first, but it will save you time in the long run since you won’t have to dance and scramble every time you go out. This is especially helpful with big dogs who can hurt you by jumping up when they are excited.
Train your puppy to go to the bathroom before the walk by leading her to the spot you would like her to regularly “go”. Stand in the spot for 3-5 minutes or until she goes. When she does go reward with treats and praise. If she does not go, go back inside and try again later. Your dog will learn that is she goes right away, she will be rewarded with walkies. Having your pup go on demand will come in handy when you are in a hurry and she has to go out. It will also totally eliminate her learning that once she goes pee or poo, the walk is over (if she learns this then she will procrastinate going for you on walks).
Teach your puppy to walk properly from the very beginning of her life. When a skateboarder, child, or other dog passes and she remains calm, reward her with treats and praise. When your pup gets excited and pulls on the leash, immediately stop and wait for her to calm down and sit next to you. This way, she will learn to walk beside you. During the first couple months of walking, stop her every minute or two and give her a command. This will teach her she must obey you in every environment.
At the dog park, recall her every few minutes so she does not begin to associate recall with leaving the park. When she comes for you, reward her with treats and love. You should also train your pup to be in the car by employing similar methods used for walk training. Take some time to sit in the car with your pup several times (without going anywhere) and reward her when she is calm and lies down/sits for you.
Dogs are not humans! They can only learn to understand and obey you through training, otherwise you are just two different species fighting to communicate and control one another. Remember, consistency and patience (a lot of patience) are key to being a fantastic puppy parent. Never feel like you are being “mean” or “not fun” by constantly training your puppy. Dogs want to feel useful and please their humans. An untrained dog will feel bored, useless, and unloved (which only leads to behavioral problems). Using positive reinforcement with your dog is sure to help you fall in love with one another and give you a very impressive, well-behaved best friend!
You’re on your way to becoming a professional pet parent!