Updated: Nov 6, 2021
Conversations with dog trainers
As individuals who have wrapped our lives around dogs, Michael and I tend to have long discussions regarding them. By nature, Michael is amazing at really understanding dogs and how they operate on a deeper level. I have, through trial and error…mixed with unique bonds one can only feel and not explain, have also grown to understand animals on a deeper level. Dogs seem to be the highlight of my life at the moment. Since we spend our time working with dogs daily, sometimes we forget that the basics can seem like a whole new world to people who don’t do what we do. It can even feel this way at times for us. We have raised our current puppies into adult hood through our journey as young adults with them, and have each done so very differently, as Michael and I did not know each other during our “puppy raising years, nor did we both have careers based around them as we do now. So, as you can imagine, coming together and going back and forth about what is the correct way to raise a puppy was interesting to say the least.
As we have been faced with the puppy raising questions ourselves, we thought it would be helpful to share our thoughts with you. Our puppy, now adult dog Noodle, has proven to shed light on some areas that we don’t quite agree on, yet ultimately want the same results in our dogs. Over the last 3 years we have also adopted Riker, our now 1 year old puppy. Both with very different personalities, but both teaching us- or rather re-teaching us- the puppy basics.
These topics we compiled are simply our opinion on what we think are the most important things to know and consider when raising a puppy. A puppy that you want to be social in our human society, as we do not live on a farm personally, but within a city (those things are also things to note in themselves). We don’t discuss things such as agility or competition work as we don’t feel those things fit into the family home dynamics that we work with on a daily basis. However fun those may be, that is for a more advanced handler with a more specific goal in mind for their dogs. So, these suggestions follow topics for those family home dynamic style. I will separate these tips into 2 parts so stay tuned for part 2.
First thing about getting a puppy is understanding the breed you are getting and how they are genetically wired. Though each dog has their own personality, breeds of dogs tend to have personality traits associated with their lineage. So, it is important we choose a puppy that fits our lifestyle. If you are someone who is not very active, it is not a good idea to get for example, a dog in the shepherding breed. These dogs crave a job and they constantly wish to please, which means they require more dedication and energy from their handlers. If you are someone who is active, it may not be a good idea to get, for instance, a bulldog as they tend to be genetically less apt to handle strenuous physical exercise. You get the point. Do a little bit of research before deciding on a larger breed vs. small breed, etc. etc.
Once you have decided a certain dog is the right fit for you, it is important to take into consideration what they may need or what they may naturally do. For example, shepherds, when playing, tend to herd, nip, and control other dogs. They also were bred to want to work…like, all of the time. Mike and I laugh because they tend to be the fun police at times, coming in and making sure everyone is following along with the rules of the pack. Some dogs are also wired to be a little higher energy than others, we see this in terriers a lot. They seem to be wound like a spring, ready to just burst! Why? Because they were breed to be quick, swift, and full of energy to hunt small rodents. Knowing and seeing these traits will help you understand your dog and what it needs so you can have the best relationship possible. Having a puppy and understanding your puppy’s desires is so very important. Sometimes, we may not know our dog’s breed and that is okay too. Simply understanding that dogs were breed over the years to serve us humans is key in deciding if having one is best for you.
Understanding your dog
The most important aspect of raising any living being is creating a bond with them. I think it is a very important thing to be able to pick out your dog (adult or puppy). It is a special thing to be able to feel that unexplainable connection with a dog that “is the one” for you. It may sound silly, but both of my dogs were not dogs I specifically wanted due to looks, but when I met them- I felt a connection with them and knew we would understand each other on a deeper level. This is something Mike and I talk about often, how each person has a type of dog that is right for them. Same as in human relationships, we tend to bond best with certain people with certain personalities. For example, I tend to connect well with people who take time to chat and have a sense of humor about life and all its craziness. I don’t tend to enjoy people who are more linear minded or competitive in nature. This is me. It is not the way everyone finds relationships in human companions, but that is what I tend to seek in human friends.
This is the same theory we have with dogs. Mike likes the confident, strong willed, and even one might call “trouble making” dogs. He enjoys the back and forth challenge in the relationship with these dogs and finds utter joy in watching them grow to be very alpha type, high drive, working dogs who live to complete challenges with him. I, on the other hand, love a dog that is more mild tempered and one that enjoys hanging with me but does not seek the thrill of constant “testing the limits” of every day life. I tend to choose, attract, or vibe with (call it what you want) a more Beta type of dog personality. A more submissive, soft, gentler soul.
You may think, well how in the heck am I supposed to know these things? And again, it is a feeling you get, at least that is how it has been for Michael and I. When I meet a puppy who calmly comes up to me and does not push for my attention nor do they push their other litter mates around, I know that dog is more my style. Mike on the other hand knows his style of dog by watching the puppy that is strongest and most willing to test, one that holds his ground. A more confident type of dog.
So, why does all of this even matter so much to us? Why do we sit for hours analyzing and talking about these small details? Because, if you understand what type of dog is right for you (breed wise, size wise, AND personality wise) then your relationship is already in the right direction. Raising this dog will not just be a job it will be fun and you will create a best friend in your dog, simply because you understand and connect with your puppy on a simple, yet very deep way. I believe it is best to have a dog that compliments your personality, not one that meets you head on every day. But, then again, some people love a challenge! In the end, it is what is right for your life long term.
When to Start
I would say one of the most common questions we get is “when do I start training my dog?” We get asked this with all new puppy owners who want to do the right thing. Honestly, training starts immediately. I don’t mean get your puppy and go spend 3 hours drilling it with sits and downs and stay commands. I mean what you implement with your dog from day one sets rules and boundaries that make everything else easier. We always say that crate training your dog is essential. No, your dog does not need to live their life in that crate. It is just important to:
1. Potty train your dog using a crate
2. Create a healthy separation from your dog
3. Practice being calm in new environments
I will tell you a story. One day Mike and I were walking on the esplanade in Redondo Beach and a woman actually stopped and thanked us for training our dogs. Most people compliment us on our fairly well behaved pooches, but the tone in her voice was more of a sigh of relief. We got to chatting and she said she assisted in the huge wildfires that went through our neighboring cities a few years ago and said that so many dogs needed to be temporarily housed or moved or were lost and needed sanctuary until their owners could be found. She said the importance of crate training your dog is absolutely crucial. You never know when you or your animal may be in a position where they need to be crated and understand a crate is a safe space. We had never really thought about this aspect of crate training, but it is 100% true. Your dog should practice being in a crate.
I will go back to my first point, if crate training isn’t appealing to you, it should be for your house. We crate train in order to potty train, first and foremost. Puppies should be let from crate to a place to potty immediately. We usually use a word such as “potty” when they go to the restroom outside to mark the behavior so they then learn to got to the restroom on command. Mike disagrees with using treats to mark this behavior, but I think some dogs benefit from using a treat at the very early stages of potty training.
Anyway, crate training eliminates accidents in the house and teaches puppies where they can and can't go to the restroom. A crate should be big enough for them to stand up and spin around but no bigger as we don’t want room for them to eliminate themselves. Too big of a crate leaves room for them to do so.
The second point we talk about with clients about why crate training is important has to do with separation anxiety. Lots of people seem to now know what this means but being able to crate your dog while they calmly accept you either leaving or doing other things is important. Usually, most of us work and cannot always have our dogs with us. Sometimes your dog may need to stay in a different location, unfamiliar to them. Having a familiar place ( crate) where they have been conditioned to learn it is safe, is truly vital. We usually suggest feeding them in their crate, giving them high value treats in their crate, and not putting them in their crates if they are being punished or are under exercised. Being under fulfilled leads to pent up energy that can turn into a dog’s unwillingness to enter a crate or stay in a crate.
A huge factor in crate training is also using it as their resting space. After walking, playing, doing structured exercises with them, that is when you put your dog in their crate. You practice things with and without them. A healthy balance.
Raising two puppies in the last 3 years of our own has proven our points time and time again. We crate Riker still and when we are traveling we crate Noodle as well. She is 3 yrs old! She feels way more secure when in her crate in a new environment without us. Nuisance behaviors such as chewing on our things, potty accidents, or barking all are eliminated or seriously reduced when we give our dogs this safe space. We like to travel and take our dogs. Yes, we bring crates! Yes, it does help significantly. Yes we have argued whether this is important to do or not over the years. Mike doesn't always want to lug around a crate, I think it's better to bring it and not need it then need it and not have it!
Do we give them loads of exercise and take them with us most places still? Yes! Having this tool is super super important and is something Michael l and I discuss time and time again. We have had discussions and he has thought them unnecessary on a few trips and we greatly regretted not bringing them. We even have one that we bring for our small camper trailer on road trips now, and it has come in handy more times than I can count. We also practice leaving our dogs unattended without crates to see where their progress is and if they have matured enough to handle it. Mike and I talk about this aspect too, how allowing your dog to slowly evolve and mature with your guidance is also important!
So, whether you want to use one forever, or not, we still think teaching this in the first few years of life at the least is vital.
>>In the next part, we will discuss tools, triumphs, and even fails we think are important to note when raising a puppy. The basic commands, the important socialization or exposure phase, and the continued training through a puppy’s life.