Structure & Discipline for Puppies

Training is hard work that demands consistency.
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Raising a puppy is hard work. When you bring a new dog into your home, it’s up to you to set the rules, build the habits and encourage positive behavior. Perhaps the most important element of training a puppy is providing the correct structure and discipline for him as he makes his way to full-grown dog. And while trainers and experts are often split on exactly how this is best achieved, there are a few widely accepted truths when it comes to giving puppies a reliable structure in which to operate.

Building Habits

More so than teaching individual behaviors, it’s critical to create a predictable set of habits and patterns for your new puppy. Feeding, potty breaks and playtime should all occur at the same times each day. This helps your puppy learn when it is and isn’t appropriate to be rambunctious, makes potty training infinitely easier and gives you a more predictable and manageable puppy. Dogs thrive on patterns, and the habits you set with your puppy will last into his adult life.

Being Consistent

Consistency is the single most important factor in creating a structured environment for your dog. Rules have to be the same for the dog at all times, with all people. For instance, if your dog isn’t allowed on the couch, this means he is never allowed on the couch under any circumstance (during the training period). If your kids or spouse give the dog different rules than you do, the dog’s training will become muddled and you’ll find it much harder to control his behavior. Dogs always do what works -- if what works is begging from the kids instead of the parents, that’s what they’ll do.

Encouraging the Good

In positive reinforcement training, the goal is always to catch your dog doing something right. Reward your pup with small treats or affection for desired behavior, and don’t limit these rewards to training sessions. If you catch your dog being calm and laying in his crate, for example, reward him with a quick pet to let him know he’s being good. Many dog owners focus only on what their dogs do wrong, but rewarding the good behaviors can be a much more powerful form of discipline. Treats, playtime, walks and affection are all excellent rewards.

Discouraging the Bad

Occasionally it becomes necessary to correct your dog when he is engaged in bad behavior. The best method for discouraging bad habits is withdrawing attention, but this strategy is not feasible for all bad behaviors (chewing up your shoes, for example). Verbal corrections are usually enough to disengage a dog when he’s up to no good -- even more so if you catch him just before the behavior occurs. You can also build safe environmental corrections that correct a dog when you’re not around; for instance, stacking cans precariously on a counter is a quick way to break a dog who enjoys trolling the counter for food. Finally, severe behaviors in dogs who ignore verbal or environmental corrections may require physical options like collar corrections or scruff shakes. These physical corrections should only be performed with the supervision of a trainer. Remember: The core of many bad behaviors is a lack of exercise, so give your dog the activity he needs.