10 Mistakes You’ll Want to Avoid When Raising A Puppy (Part 1)

mistakes to avoid when raising a puppy - part 1

Congrats on your new puppy! I am sure you are very excited to have a companion that will love you unconditionally. And I bet you have lots of questions about raising a puppy to have good manners.

have a happy puppy and owner when you avoid new puppy owner mistakes

Will your puppy always do everything you want? Nope!

Dogs are sentient beings – they have their own preferences and desires! But that doesn’t mean they can’t live successfully in a human world. They just need a little guidance from you in order to know how to meet your expectations.

And you might need a little help to communicate those same expectations. After all, dogs and humans don’t speak the same language at first. It takes a little training – of both species – to get on the same page.

As your puppy grows and matures you are going to want to teach your puppy to have good manners, good listening skills and follow the rules of your home. It’s tempting to jump right into the training with a round of “sit” or “shake” and feel like you’re on your way.

But there are a few things you should know before you get started. Keep reading and you can learn the 10 mistakes puppy owners make when training, and how to prevent them.

 

Mistake # 1. Speaking Before Teaching

It is easy for us to forget that puppies do not speak our language! So it takes them a while to understand what our words mean and what they should do when they hear them. If we overuse a word before our puppy fully understands it, we can inadvertently teach a puppy to ignore us.

That’s why it is so important to make sure your puppy knows what you expect of him/her before attaching a word to it. We do this by starting out with hand signals and using a consistent reward system.

Only after your puppy understands the desired behavior and hand signal should you attach a name, like “sit” or “stay” to that behavior!

We have a visual exercise we use with students enrolled in our online course. We tell them to think of the command word they’ll use, like “come” or “stay”.

Then visualize putting it in a glass jar and putting it way up on a shelf. Keep it there until you can promise me that your dog will do the skill 10 times in a row with just your hand signal. Then, and only then, should you introduce the word!

That sounds excessive doesn’t it?! I have a lot of experience with this so trust me when I say: keep that word tucked away until your pup is ready for it. You’ll be glad you did!

This is especially important with words that you really need them to follow every time, like “come”. Don’t use it until you’ve taught it!

 

Mistake # 2: Using One Cue for Multiple Behaviors

Another way we confuse puppies is by using the same word for more than one behavior. An example of this would be using the cue “down” to mean both lie down and get off of something.

Instead, we need to create a unique word for every behavior we teach. I usually advise my students to use “down” when we want the puppy to move from a sitting position to a lying position. I like to use the word “off” to ask my dog to get off of me or the furniture. This is especially helpful to use when your puppy is jumping.

There’s a lot more to shaping the jumping behavior that needs to be addressed, such as teaching your puppy what you want him or her to do instead, but you can use “off” as a first step for the action of 4 paws on the floor. Then you can instruct him or her to do something you DO want as a way to address this behavior long term.

If you’re thinking that there’s a lot more to training than you realized, you are probably right! That’s why you are in the right spot to get good advice from a certified trainer with more than 20 years of experience.

 

Mistake #3: Under-Exposing Your Puppy

A critical development period for puppies is between 8 and 16 weeks old. Try to get in the habit of positively exposing your puppy to novel experiences every day. These experiences can include, but are not limited to:

  • Walking on different types of flooring
  • Being around other dogs
  • Experiencing different types of people
  • Being exposed to new sounds and smells
  • Experiencing new equipment like grooming tools or a new collar or harness
  • Enjoying new experiences like car rides

Many puppy owners make the mistake of keeping their puppy home and avoiding exposure to environments outside the home while waiting for the vaccinations to be complete. Some people even report that vets recommend this.

If that’s your vet, think about getting another vet! Proper and positive socialization and exposure to the settings you want your puppy to be comfortable in help our puppy to grow into a well adjusted dog and have lasting impacts on the rest of your dog’s life.

The consequences of under socializing your puppy far outweigh the risks of safely getting out into the world before they are fully vaccinated. Not enough exposure during this critical period may lead to a reserved, shy or fearful dog later in life.

Be sure to make these experiences positive and fun for your puppy. We want to build up his or her confidence by creating pleasant associations.

If you notice fear or over-stimulation or anxiety, it’s time to take a step back and go a little slower with your exposure training.

 

Mistake #4: Not Addressing a Hoarder or Resource Guarder

Resource guarding is a behavior that puppies can develop when they believe their valued resources are going to always be taken away. These resources can include your puppy’s toys or food or even items they should not have.

Teach your puppy to willingly drop any item by trading them with something of equal, or higher, value! Make trade-offs a game so your puppy eagerly wants to give you their favorite toys and bones.

You might have heard some advice to stick your hand in your dog’s food to desensitize him and prevent resource guarding during mealtimes. Please don’t do this!

There are much better ways to address any guarding that might be taking place. No one wants a hand in their food – not human’s nor canine’s!

Respect your pup’s mealtime and teach all members of the household to do the same. I like to suggest that you act more like a waiter at Olive Garden: drop off good things (treats!) during mealtime to teach your dog that humans approaching is a positive thing.

This is a much better way to help your pup learn to tolerate interruptions during a meal.

 

Mistake #5: Ignoring the Good and Rewarding the Bad

Sometimes we forget to tell our puppy what a great job he or she is doing. And maybe we are quick to tell them “no” when they are getting into trouble. But puppies don’t speak English and they definitely don’t understand “no”.

It’s much better to teach your puppy what you want him or her to do instead and then reward like crazy when it happens!

On the other hand, it's easy to accidentally reward our puppy for unwanted behavior without even knowing it. A good example of this is a puppy who jumps on guests to say “hi”. When this happens, it’s human nature to reach down and pet the pup, making eye contact and talking to him or her.

What you may not realize is that attention — any attention — is a reward to a puppy. So those pets, eye contact, and talking… or even scolding… mean that your pup is getting rewarded for unwanted behavior.

Ideally, you want your puppy to politely approach someone and sit to say “hi”. Then you can give all the praise and rewards you want.

I like to challenge my students to do the 50 Kibble Challenge. Take 50 pieces of kibble out of your dog’s normal daily allotment of food. Use it throughout the day to reward him or her every single time you see them doing something that you like!

This could be sitting nicely while you eat, or laying down and resting on the doggie bed, or going into the crate to settle down for a nap. The more positive reinforcement you give for the good stuff you see, the more your puppy will do it!

Dogs don’t have complicated brains. They thrive on consistency and routine and simple associations like rewards. But that doesn’t mean that our more complex brains understand them.

Following a training program that incorporates animal science and behavior will really help guide you as you build your relationships with your dog.

Ready for more helpful tips?

Click here to check out PART TWO of this series.

 

Michele Lennon with her dream dogs

About the trainer

Michele Lennon

After spending 20 years helping families with their dogs face to face as a professional dog trainer, Michele realized that so much of what she knows could be shared with families everywhere - in a way that actually works. People sometimes think their dog is just SUPER difficult because the advice they’ve gotten was incomplete, confusing or just wrong. So she set out to help. Michele loves training dogs because of the impact that it has on the families she gets to help. The peace and joy they get from being able to enjoy their dog LISTENING. Besides teaching classes, helping private clients and running seminars, Michele is also a foodie and fantasizes about being a food critic or secret shopper for restaurants. Talk to her about food and your instant best friends.

16 Comments

  1. Becky Brandl on June 23, 2020 at 12:40 pm

    I will be picking up my 11-12 week old Maltese puppy in approximately 3-4 weeks and the breeder lives 4 1/2 hours away. Since I want to train my puppy correctly when riding in a vehicle, I plan on purchasing a soft-sided Good2Go Crash-Tested Pet Carrier unless you have another recommendation. I anticipate a crying puppy whose sound will be magnified in a car. How can I make this first experience a positive one for both of us?

    Thank you for sharing your wealth of experience online for others to learn from.

    All the Best,
    Becky

    • How To Train a Dream Dog on June 23, 2020 at 12:49 pm

      Hello,
      Congrats on the new puppy! We do not advise using a soft-sided crate as these are easily chewable and very hard to clean if they get soiled or urine-soaked. This may happen with a brand new puppy. You may find that your pup remains calm on the ride home as it can lull them to sleep. I’d play calming music for your pup on the ride home. I’d also use the same crate they will be sleeping in. For that reason, this crate is recommended: https://amzn.to/2NhJme1

  2. Nathaly Rivera on July 2, 2020 at 9:20 pm

    Hello Michele! I’m writing your from Lima, Peru. I have seen all your videos in YouTube. Two weeks ago I got my first puppy ever. He is a French bulldog and his age is 1 month + 2 weeks. He is growing fast but I have noticed that is chewing everything and also I think I made a mistake, like he was very little when he arrived home, most of the time I was having him between my arms. This week is walking a little bit more. During the nights I think is hungry but I dont give him anything until his first meal of the day at 6:30 am. I would like to teach him already but I don’t now what type of treats give to him. Can you give me an advice ?

    • How To Train a Dream Dog on July 6, 2020 at 1:59 pm

      Thanks for writing to us! It is always best to let pup walk on their own instead of carry them. We do want to work on our pup’s distancing from us a bit so they can handle when we are away.. Work, running errands etc.

      He is likely crying for attention or he needs to go out at night. I would not feed him in the middle of the night.

      Here’s a video all about different treats to use for training: https://youtu.be/f0TlJBst5mc

  3. Deborah Skrepcinski on July 10, 2020 at 1:34 pm

    Hi Michelle
    My 4 month old Maltese lives to go for car rides. Do you recommend a crate fir transporting her or a doggie car seat? And any recommendations?

    • How To Train a Dream Dog on July 15, 2020 at 4:11 pm

      Hello,
      We always recommend that dogs stay in a crate when traveling. Sometimes puppies can get overstimulated trying to process all the information coming at them as they watch out the window. This can leave a dog feeling anxious and ready to jump around the vehicle. We have seen dogs jump out of the car seats and hang off until the owner can safely pull over and put them back in. Here is the crate we recommend: https://amzn.to/2NhJme1

  4. Donna Law on December 2, 2021 at 2:51 am

    Hi Michele
    Picking up my puppy soon and need all the help I can get as I haven’t had a puppy in years. Been watching your videos and they’re very helpful. Thanks

    • How To Train a Dream Dog on December 5, 2021 at 9:57 am

      Donna, congrats on your new puppy arriving soon! So glad you’re finding value in the videos we have. Be sure to grab the free New Puppy Starter Kit, there are 4 videos in there and a resource packet as well. You can find the link on our home page.

  5. Linda on February 2, 2022 at 8:59 am

    Best collar for training to walk. Puppy desperately tries to chew on leash.

    • How To Train a Dream Dog on February 2, 2022 at 2:25 pm

      It’s very common for puppies to bite on a leash when they are first getting used to it. To the puppy, it’s just another possible chew toy. It could also be frustrating as it’s restricting movement and/or creating pressure.

      As part of leash skills training, you teach your pup how to behave while on a leash. To begin, you want to set up controlled training sessions where your pup can remain calm yet receive positive reinforcement when the collar or leash (work on them separately) is present. As training progresses you teach the puppy to anticipate the proximity of the leash and collar and allow you to put it on while remaining calm. This then progresses to where your pup should be when the leash is on and, with more training, how to walk nicely while on a leash.

      In the first module of our 30 Days to Puppy Perfection Course, we include videos about introducing the pup to the harness and step by step skills to lead to a well-mannered leash walker. This is a process that has to be taken slowly and cannot start as you head out the door on a walk. Taking things at the pace your puppy is comfortable with and can learn from is also something we teach in our online course.

      Take a look at this blog for more great information about leash skills:

      https://www.howtotrainadreamdog.com/leash-training-a-puppy-to-walk-without-pulling/

      30 Days to Puppy Perfection:
      https://www.howtotrainadreamdog.com/puppy-perfection-course-learn-more/

  6. Samantha on March 18, 2022 at 9:26 pm

    Hi! I will have 2 non litter mate puppies in a few weeks and there will be a day or two where I will not be able to be with them for about 8 hours within the first week they are home. This will not be typical as I will be home all the time after those 1-2 days. How do you suggest I keep them during the day while I’m gone? They will have 2 separate crates but I know there is no way they will hold their pee and poop that long. Is keeping them in one play pen ok or should I separate them into 2 separate areas during the day for those 1-2 days? Thank you!

    • How To Train a Dream Dog on March 21, 2022 at 2:24 pm

      Great question Samantha! Congrats on getting two new pups! This video will be a good one for you, it’s on littermates. https://youtu.be/p_RDIS9yoVo
      To answer your question, it will be best to hire some help. We don’t ever want to leave puppies this young home that long without multiple opportunities for trips outside. We also, don’t want to encourage them to go potty in their pens, crates or in the house at all. If you can’t hire someone that fast, asking a neighbor or family member is the next best option.

  7. Michelle Paton on April 17, 2022 at 11:51 am

    Great videos and resources. A question… i am taking 2 weeks off work and will be training right away. I will be working on crate, potty and other training. When I go back to work, my friend will be checking in, feeding, taking my mini-Schnauzer Oskar out and playing with him for an hour or so, then i’ll do the same when I get home from work. Here is the question: a) is best to have my friend come to my house for this check in and have Oskar get used to being by himself or b) take Oskar to her house, keep him in his crate there so as not to be too much of a disruption to her and her work (works from home) , and quicker to play, take outside? I see pros and cons to both. I’m concerned that he will get used to having someone around all the time.

    • How To Train a Dream Dog on April 17, 2022 at 9:43 pm

      Michelle, great questions!! You’re right, there are pros and cons to both setups. Ideally in the beginning it would be best to have your friend come to your home a couple of times throughout the day because potty training skills aren’t easily generalised from one location to the next since the environments and the potty spot location, door to go out, crate location etc… will all be different if pup goes to someone else’s house. later when pup is older and has mastered potty training (closer to 6 months or so) pup will be understand that potty outside can happen at home and someone else’s home if you work on that skill. You want to start off on the right paw and teach pup where to go at your house and reinforce this often. If you spend 2 weeks working hard on this and then the pup goes to someone else’s house, it will likely cause some setbacks at your house in addition to a whole new place the pup has to get used to and learn where to go. The downside of pup staying at your house is that someone will need to come a couple of times a day since a puppy can only hold their bladder about 1 hour per month of age.

  8. Barb on November 8, 2022 at 9:41 am

    Hi Michelle!
    My 11 week old great Danoodle is doing great with come, sit and “ leave it” following all if your instructions!
    My problem though is I am considered his chew toy. The bad thing is I can stop the play chewing to a certain extent, but he is big enough that when he wants to play and he’s bored – I can be sitting in a chair and he’s big enough to jump right up and grab me by the elbow, arm or sleeve! I can tell him to leave it and he complies immediately but once his teeth are in me it’s too late!!!
    He got me yesterday and it was a good slice by those razor teeth. This could get very dangerous as he grows even more.

    How do I stop this from even happening? The lunging to grab me (although playful- not good!)

    • How To Train a Dream Dog on November 14, 2022 at 11:48 am

      Hi Barb, great question! First, we have to identify what we want our pup to do instead and work to teach the pup these new skills. It also sounds like your pup could use a bit more mental and physical exercise and enrichment throughout the day and even more naps when we see our pups displaying these types of behaviors, we want to evaluate the schedule and their needs. If their needs are not fully met, we can often see these kinds of unwanted behaviors. Have you reviewed the Better Puppy Behavior Workshop we offer? This webinar can give you some insight as to what to do with your pup https://www.30daystopuppyperfection.com/BPB-Workshop

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