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Before I begin to discuss the basics of training a young puppy, you first must understand the proper use of correction and discipline. If you establish a rapport with your puppy early on, you may very well arrive at a point when you will be able to convey your approval or disapproval with a simple word or look alone. At the beginning, however, you have to be more explicit so that your puppy understands what you want.

The first and most important rule to follow when training a puppy is to be sure that the punishment fits the crime. If you react the same way to a puppy's inadvertent mistake as you do to a serious infraction, you will confuse the animal. For instance, if your puppy knocks over an ashtray on the table out of sheer exuberance, you shouldn't react the same way as if it had purposely raised its leg and urinated on a table leg. If you scream "No, bad dog" at your puppy instead of reprimanding it calmly every time it does some "childish" thing, the poor animal not only won't know what you want from it, but may become stressful, nervous, and fearful of you. What's more, it will soon become so inured to your yelling at it for every little thing that it will tune you out, and after a while you'll have to resort to harsher and harsher methods in order to make your pet listen to you at all.

Another important rule when dealing with a puppy is to avoid giving it mixed messages. For this you need the cooperation of all the other members of the household. Once a particular rule is established, such as no getting up on the sofa, everyone in the household must agree not to let the puppy get up on the sofa, even for a moment, and must follow through on correction every time the rule is broken. If teenaged Susie is going out the door, notices that the puppy is on the sofa but is in too much of a hurry to bother making it get down, or ten-year-old Jim invites the pup to sit on the sofa with him while he's watching TV, that puppy is going to get the message that "It's all right to get on the sofa." Then, when Mother walks into the room, scolds the puppy severely, and makes it get right off the sofa, the poor animal will be really confused. Many puppies and adult dogs take advantage of a lack of consistency or follow through on the part of one or more members of the household and soon learn that with some people they can get away with things. They will make something of a game of this, constantly testing to see just how far they can go before being reprimanded. This is particularly true of strong-willed dogs that have grown up without a clear sense that all the humans in the house are its pack leaders. Consistency and follow-through by all the people in the household are very important if you want your puppy to understand the rules of the house. Remember, if you have a hit-or-miss attitude about mistakes, the end result will be a dog that's more-or-less trained.

The third rule concerns timing of punishment. Although most people understand the importance of catching a puppy in the act, emotions can get in the way of common sense. If you come home and find that your puppy has soiled all over the rug or chewed up your favorite book, it's natural to react angrily. Unfortunately, discipline that takes place after an event will have no good effect on a puppy, but will simply confuse and frighten it. Even if the undesired activity took place as recently as ten minutes ago, a puppy has no way of connecting that activity with your anger or displeasure. If a puppy greets you happily at the door when you come home and you immediately begin to scream at it, its logical conclusion is that it shouldn't greet you at the door. No matter how upset you may be at a puppy's past activites, you must remember that animals live in the present; they do not have the reasoning powers that you do. In order for discipline and correction to work at all, they must occur at the exact moment of the transgression.

This brings me to another key element in successful puppy training--praise. At the same time that you consistently let your puppy know when an action displeases you, you must also reward it with praise when it pleases you. But be careful not to give a puppy a double message. Don't say "Stop barking," for instance, and then praise the dog the moment that it stops. If you do that, the dog will think, "She praised me when I barked," and go right on barking in order to gain your approval. You are saying one thing and doing another, conveying an undesipherable double message to your pet. Praise should be used in training when the puppy does something right, such as coming when called or walking well on a leash, not as a reward when it stops doing something wrong. Also on this subject, I am usually not in favor of using food as a reward in training most animals. Praise from you in the form of a "Good dog," and a pat under the chin should usually be the only reward that your pet receives.

So, keep it appropriate, keep it consistent, keep it straightforward and simple, and the puppy will connect your reaction with its action. At the same time that you let your puppy know what you don't want it to do, you must show it what you want it to do instead (e.g., urinate on the papers instead of the floor, or chew on a toy, not a table leg).

Don't forget your puppy's limitations when you are beginning to train it. Continuously bear in mind that puppies are baby animals. For each step forward you take, be realistic and expect that you and your puppy will probably take a couple of steps backwards from time to time. Only by showing your puppy over and over again with calm, consistent repetition will you achieve your goal. Don't despair if your puppy seems slow to understand. If you're patient, one day you'll suddenly be able to say, "At last. I think he's got it!"

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