What I've learned (so far) training my puppy

Back in August of last year my family decided it was time to bring a puppy into our home. We lost our first dog "Jake" back in April of 2022 at the age of 12. Jake was a great dog, and the day we lost him was one of the hardest day's for my family that I can remember.

He was perfectly healthy one day, the next day he started getting sick and couldn't keep his food down, the emergency vet said there wasn't anything wrong with him and sent us home with some anti-nausea medicine.

The next morning he died in my car on the way to see his usual veterinarian. Everyone was heart broken, that dog was an incredible companion and wonderful member of our family and I wish we would've had more years with him.

Getting a puppy

Towards the end of the summer my wife saw a Facebook post about a local shelter that had just rescued a bunch of dogs from all over the country that had been born in puppy mills that were shutdown for one reason or another. Probably, because puppy mills are disgusting places run by disgusting people… anyway.

The dog lover in me decided to sign up for their adoption event. When we got there they had the most handsome little Hound Mix I've ever seen so I had to get him.

Just some guy on the internet.

(Little Walter!)

Walter is almost a year old now, around 80(ish) pounds…

Just some guy on the internet.

(Big Puppy Walter!)

For the record I should note that my wife wanted a small dog - technically, there are bigger dogs out there so I guess all things being relative, Walter could be considered "small".

His name is Walter because he vaguely resembles everyone’s Grandpa and he usually looks grumpy and tired. So he has to have someones Grandpa's name.

Puppies are assholes

The first thing you need to know about puppies, is that they are assholes.

They need to be under constant surveillance, otherwise they will eat all your shit, then shit out all your shit - in your living room, while looking you in the eye, then come beg you for a treat.

Puppies are like that friend who is always gaslighting you, and then acting offended if you call them out on their bullshit.

As far as puppies go, Walter is probably less of an asshole than most, at least most of the time.

Training puppies can be a lot of fun

Even with the above mentioned assholery. If you’ve got the time and patience to dedicate to it, training a puppy is actually a hell of a lot of fun.

In less than a year, Walter knows how to:

  1. Slowly, and methodically come when called most of the time - usually stopping once to make eye contact and let you know he’s only doing it because he wants to.
  2. Sit, Lay, Stand, and walk at a heel - if you have hotdogs and cheese, and no one more interesting is around.
  3. Play dead - again assuming you happen to have some cheese.
  4. Jump up and lick your face when you come in the house! As long as you are in one of the following categories.
    1. A brand new person he’s never met.
    2. Really old and frail.
    3. Really young and terrified of dogs.

But really, he actually is a good dog. Once he’s out of the adolescent phase I have no doubt we’ll be able to shape these behaviors into obedience championship activities…

Positive Reinforcement

Use positive reinforcement training. If you talk to a “trainer” who talks about being the leader of the pack, or dominance then you are probably talking to an asshole who doesn’t know anything.

Getting a dog to love and respect you is easy.

  1. Don’t be a dick.
  2. Have what they want.
    1. Hotdogs.
    2. Cheese.
    3. Peanut Butter.
    4. Hugs, and pats.
    5. The ability to say something like “Good dog” in any language you speak - even though they don’t speak that language.
  3. Be quick to reward good behavior.

That’s literally it. Follow those general rules and your dog will worship the ground you walk on.

Yes it will be frustrating and you’ll want to give up a lot, you’ll have weeks where the puppy is learning everything faster than you would believe, and then you’ll have weeks where the puppy acts like it’s never heard the word sit.

A totally scientific and not at all anecdotal case study on the power of positive reinforcement.

One day last year I was walking Walter around my neighborhood. We assumed a leisurely pace stopping to smell the grass, the flowers, the rabbit crap, you know the finer things in life.

Along the way we passed a house that has some overgrown bushes in the front yard that butt up against the sidewalk. Walter (being a dog) sniffs around a bit, and discovers a discarded chicken sandwich.

If you asked him, he would probably tell you this was the best day of his life.

That was at least 6 months ago, maybe more. To this day, when we pass that bush Walter darts underneath it and sniffs around like a cocaine addict. The person who dropped that chicken sandwich trained my dog to check the bushes, without even trying. No alpha rolls or shushing, or e-collars required.

Get a clicker and learn how to use one.

Seriously start with a mechanical pen to mark the behaviors you want to see, and give rewards more often than you think you should. They don’t have to be big treats. You can cut a single hotdog up into at least 60 or 70 treats.

I’ll do a short blog, hopefully soon, on how to “load” a clicker.

Until then - don't be a dick. Unless it's to a human who deserves it... Like those people who think cve-2020-15778 is a big deal that needs to be fixed.