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Scott Rall: What do they need to know and when do they need to know it?

Scott Rall

Daily Globe outdoors columnist 

Just like all of the major news stories circulating today, everybody wants to know who knew what and when did they know it. It seems that timing is critical if you want to stay out of trouble.

When it comes to training your puppy, timing is also critical. If you screw up the timing you can either wreck the dog or at the very least make it much harder to get to the end result of a properly trained dog. Dog owners and self trainers make many of the same mistakes dog after dog.

Knowing what to do and when to do it can make the job of training your puppy a lot easier and far less effort. Dog owner training mistakes almost always stem from the same issue.

This issue is impatience, and lots of it. In a nutshell, the human wants the little dog to act and preform like a big one. I have helped many dog owners fix the problems they created by their own impatience.

A little foundation here is in order. A puppy is just like a human baby in that they develop both physically and mentally at different rates as they age. In dogs I call it physical development and mental maturity. There is no one on Earth that would expect a human child at the age of 12 months to act like and behave like a 10-year-old adolescent.

Why is it, then, that dog owners think a 4-month-old puppy can learn and preform all the things an adult dog at 14 months would know? Puppies need to be treated like a very young child. They have very short attention spans and are not capable of learning using advanced techniques.

If you give children a toy they will play with it for a few minutes and then are on to something else. Take a puppy and toss it a toy, and it will most likely bring it back to you. This is a game to them and is fun. What do think happens when you take the toy and toss it to the puppy 50 times? After a short time the puppy will get bored with the game.

If you play this game too often and for too long, they might very well become so bored with the activity that the puppy will stop retrieving it at all. I have sent home puppies that were playing the retrieve game great and two months later the owner will call me up and tell me the puppy has no desire to retrieve. The puppy had this desire but the owner made the game into work and at a young age the puppy lost interest.

If the puppy is doing great retrieving, the owner will then demonstrate impatience and will immediately advance to the training to make the puppy perform what is called being steady. This is when you can throw the bumper and make the dog sit unrestrained, until it is sent on on its name to make the retrieve.

It will look a lot like this: The owner will grab the puppy collar and toss the bumper. The puppy then squirms like crazy to get away and make the retrieve. The owner will then forcefully restrain the dog and holler in a loud vice to get the puppy to sit and stay.

An adult dog can learn this steady function in a very short time because the desire to retrieve was instilled while the puppy was very young, over a period of 6-8 months.

The 3-month-old puppy, on the other hand, will say to himself that this retrieving game sucks. All I do is get in trouble every time he throws the bumper, so the easiest way out of this issue is to not want to retrieve the bumper at all and just give up. This is the trainer’s way of killing the desire to retrieve that is inherent in every retriever breed puppy.

You would be surprised just how often this happens. We only steady dogs in our training program after the puppy has developed both mentally and physically to a point where this training is age appropriate and will not affect the puppy in a negative way.

It is only natural for a dog owner to want to continue to train the dog to a higher level. I have heard it said a thousand times that this one special puppy is better and smarter than any other I have ever owned. Because my puppy is a college scholar I did training exercises fit for an adult dog on my 5-month-old genius.

Just because the dog can do elementary things well does not mean the puppy is ready for more. You have to ask yourself, “Has the puppy developed both physically and mentally” to a point where it can handle a more advanced training level?

A super smart puppy does not grow up physically any faster than an average one. Much of the time the body will grow faster than the mind. The dog will look like and adult but still be the owner of a second grader’s mind.

As I said earlier, timing is very important. Matching the developmental level of the dog to the degree of training difficulty is critical. It is far easier to train a dog starting at the age of one when no mistakes have been made than it is to try to make an adult dog out of a 6-month-old puppy.

Starting to soon and advancing too fast are the biggest mistakes a dog owner can make. This mistake is bigger than doing nothing at all for the entire first year.

So what does a puppy need to know and when do they need to know it? There are really only two things a puppy needs to know in the first six months of life. The first one is not to go to the bathroom in my house and the other it to keep the barking yap shut. Puppies can easily learn these two things at a young age. House training is usually completed in 4-5 weeks and the barking thing is also handled in the time period.

I have a trio of Labradors and I have not had more than three single barks from the lot of them over the past year. They just do not bark. My wife’s rat terrier needs a little barking training but he pretty much gets shown unlimited favoritism by my Sweetie.

After you have the bathroom and barking issues handled you can certainly begin what I call no-negative obedience training.

What do I mean by no-negative obedience training? This is an effort to get the puppy to sit for very short periods and come when called, but the puppy does not receive any correction for non-compliance. If you tell the puppy to sit and it doesn’t you gently push down on the rump and praise the outcome. If they sit, great, but they do not get in a boatload of trouble if they don’t.

Formal obedience starts at about 7-8 months and is backed up by a firm tug on a leash or another motivator to get compliance. A good saying in regards to dog training is “All in good time.”

Dog training is one of my favorite pastimes and I spend a fair amount of time doing it. It is not hard and anyone who is willing to commit the necessary amount of time can train their own dog. Most dog owners can’t and won’t dedicate 15 minutes per day for six months to accomplish the task. This is what pro trainers get paid for.

I do offer private lessons by the hour if you have a special need for a little extra help working with your dog. If I can’t fit you into the summer schedule the pro at Round Lake Kennels, Thad Lambert can step in for an hour as well. Spring is slow to come this year, but grass will grow and puppies will get trained.

Now is the time to get prepared and learn what you need to know. The greatest dog compliment ever offered my way was not hunting-related. I was at the Lake Shetek state park campground with my three labs. I was walking a path and in the distance I saw a lady with a pit bull on a leash that was just about more than she could handle.

I stepped off the path about 10 feet and the three boys all heeled on my left. I instructed them to sit. As the lady passed by, her dog was doing everything in its power to mix it up with my guys. My boys never moved a muscle. After she left about six onlookers walked over and told me that my dogs where the best-trained and best behaved dogs they had ever seen.

I stood pretty proud that day. Having a well-trained dog is not easy but it is not hard, either. Time, repetition and patience is the key. Your puppy will have 10 years to be an adult and 8-12 months to be a puppy. They get old way too fast. Enjoy the puppy stage and train at the age-appropriate level.