Thousands of videos and books have been made explaining Everything you need to know, before and after, getting a new puppy, from the original by that name, written by Dr. Ian Dunbar, to other fantastic books like Dr. Sophia Yin’s Perfect Puppy in 7 days. This new puppy guide is designed for people who want to train the Zen Dog way and learn the most important steps puppy owners should take, what lessons to focus on, pitfalls to avoid—and can be read in ten minutes!
The goal at Zen Dog Training is to offer people training solutions which, once learned, can be applied universally to all dogs, all breeds, at any age. Our methods are intuitive and easy to implement, helping people quickly teach new behaviors and stop unwanted behaviors in a peaceful and Zen way.
People interested in learning more about Zen Dog Training should start with Zen Dog Training Methods, an article that explains our 5 training options. New puppy owners should read Mastering the 7 Essential Puppy Lessons, which includes a summary of the most important new puppy training resources including our Free House Training Guide.
How to “speak dog”
People are prone to taking a new puppy into their homes and treating them like a new roommate, child, or furry little human, using lots of words or talking with their dog in long sentences, and expecting them to learn the same way people do.
People are primarily verbal communicators, while dogs are focused on body language, tone of voice, facial expressions, and non-verbal signals when learning to navigate the world. Dog training is easier when people limit how much talking they do with their dogs (talking to a dog all the time is fine, just not effective for training), instead people should focus on signals, actions and outcomes.
Since dog training is interspecies communication, the clearer the signals and more predictable the outcomes, the faster dogs will understand what people want from them.
Keep the words to a minimum
At Zen Dog Training the first game people learn is called the “Yes Game”, where people use a “Yes” marker to help dogs understand they did something right –“Yes” do it again. When people learn to say “Yes” at the right moment (and reward the behavior) people help their dog understand what they like.
The reason the Yes Marker (or clicker) is such a powerful tool, is that it encourages people to use dog-centric clear and consistent communication when training.
One simple training trick to help get everyone in the family on the same page is to create a list of vocabulary words and sounds and define what they mean.
The secret to dog training
It is essential that people consistently follow through with teaching lessons, and setting rules and boundaries. Dogs will quickly learn by trial and error what they can get away with (and with whom), so training takes patience!
Instilling good habits requires people take time to work with their dog with daily exercises and repetition. More on this topic can be found here: Understanding Dogs
At Zen Dog Training we teach that setting up situations where people control the outcome – before they start training – is the Secret to Dog Training. This means the right training tools and equipment are key! A well-fitting collar, or having a puppy wear a “drag line” or indoor leash when they are acting up, can give people the upper hand when training or interrupting an unwanted behavior.
Treats too are a “secret” training tool and an essential part of training. It is much easier to motivate a dog to stay focused and enjoy interacting with people, if they get rewarded for doing so. Otherwise, instead of learning that listening to people is rewarding, dogs find rewards when not listening! For example, when people forget to bring treats on walks, dogs learn they are not rewarded when they listen and focus, but rather, constantly search and sniff the ground for the “real rewards”.
Where to start!
When it comes to new puppy training, people tend to focus on obedience commands like sit, down, stay, come, and look. What most people do not realize is that commands are only a small portion of what puppies need to learn. Young puppies and newly adopted dogs need to have certain baseline behaviors taught so they grow up to be Zen Dogs.
Adult or adolescent dogs alike often lack these Essential Puppy Lessons and have problem behaviors such as: separation anxiety, fearfulness, excessive barking, being nervous with new people or new situations, and even aggression!
Here are the exercises and activities that new puppy owners should be working on every day to ensure their dog becomes a Zen Dog!
- Socialization Experiences – 100 treats-a-day* for exposure training (loud noises, trucks, kids..)
- Crate Training Exercises – 10-12 times-a-day for 5-30 minutes
- Outdoor Experiences – 10-12 times-a-day for 5-20 minutes
- Short breaks for pee/poop opportunities outside (House Training)
- Longer walks, yard sessions for socialization to people, places, things and other dogs
- Body Handling/Socialization to Touch – 10 times-a-day for 1-2 minutes
- Bonding Experiences – 10 times-a-day for 2-5 minutes
- Teaching Commands – 4-5 times-a-day for 5-10 minutes
- Food Bowl Exercises – 3-4 times-a-day for 1-2 minutes
- Play Biting Solutions – 10 times-a-day for 2-5 minutes
The list seems overwhelming; however, many of these activities overlap. For instance, when taking the dog outside for 10 minutes, owners can play obedience exercises for 5 minutes, give treats when joggers go by, and reward their puppy for peeing in the right place – all during a single outing.
Admittedly, the first week or two, there are hours of activities to practice each day. However, in 2-3 weeks, many of these exercises become unnecessary. As the puppy learns the rules, the amount of daily work decreases.
For example, after a puppy learns to consistently go to the bathroom outside, or stops play biting, people do not have to practice those games and solutions as intensely. Using our methods, many clients have their dogs mostly house trained in 4-5 days, and play biting can be greatly reduced in 48 hours!
How long does it take to train a puppy?
One month of actively working on these essential puppy lessons is all it takes for most dogs to become crate trained, house trained, and comfortable with people touching their bodies (picking them up and handling them), comfortable with their mouths being opened, the food bowl being moved, and comfortable with people, their new environment, and the sights and sounds of the city.
By the second month, puppies tend to have mastered the basics and people will have more time for themselves and spending fun time with the puppy, longer walks, or bringing them to friends’ houses, parks, and public settings to enjoy quality time together. Once a puppy has mastered the basic lessons, training shifts to focusing and coming to people, commands like sit/down/stay, and leash walking.
Of course, raising a Zen Dog or mastering challenging training goals such as: obedience, commands, socialization exercises, leash walking, and solving play biting in larger families will take a few months of consistent effort, as every dog is unique, and all dogs need different kinds of experiences and lessons at various points in their development.
The crate makes house training easier!
It is important to remember a puppy who learns to love their crate makes it easier for people to get work done, cook, or interact with children without interruption. Once a puppy can tolerate longer absences, people can relax when they are home, or can leave the house without worrying about the puppy becoming anxious or getting into mischief. Basic puppy crate training is the foundation of separation anxiety prevention.
Crate training exercises speed up the house training process. Puppies have a tendency to not “go” in their crate, so when people get into the habit of taking the puppy outside immediately after every crate session, they can reduce the chance for mistakes, and also encourage good bathroom behaviors.
The biggest problem area for new puppy owners is socialization, as dogs need constant help learning to become comfortable with different people, places and situations.
Socialization to the real world
The reality is that people often do not have the opportunity to socialize their dog to different people. Many childless couples would like to have a dog who is comfortable with a baby in the future. In a post-pandemic world, having lots of people come into the home has been seriously curtailed. Healthy socialization can still be done; however, it requires a bit more creativity and effort. Check out our article Socialization Tips for New Puppy Owners.
We teach clients to go towards the landscaping crew, fire truck, or busy street and use treats to create a positive experience with the sights and sounds of the city. On walks our trainers (gently) kick trash cans, or bang on street signs as a way to help puppies learn to expect the unexpected. We recommend people act goofy and silly and even dress up as different people to help puppies learn to become relaxed and comfortable with everyone. Using lots of treats* makes these socialization games fun!
With young puppies especially, effort should be taken with enlisting friends and family to come meet the puppy during the crucial socialization period (which ends at the 14th week). However, ALL DOGS can benefit from socialization and bonding exercises where they are gently exposed to new people, places, and experiences.
The secret (once again) is using lots of treats! Just getting a nervous dog to take a treat in a new environment can be the first step toward a confident dog.
*It is important to note that “treats” should be small. During visits, clients sometimes call them “treat crumbs” when they see how tiny treats can be. If a treat was the size of a nickel, I would break into 4 or 5 smaller treats! The trick is to find soft treats and use a knife and cutting board to dice them into little bits before you start training. This way giving your dog 100 treats-a-day for training and socialization exercises is a breeze.
Why training is so hard
The hardest part for dog trainers is getting people to concentrate on mastering these essential lessons. Perhaps because the repetition is hard, or the games and solutions we teach are so simple, they become quickly forgotten, and people tend to focus on commands, advanced obedience, and tricks – not realizing that missing the essential puppy lessons will lead to behavior problems in the future!
If people focus too much on traditional obedience and forget the basics, (socialization: people, children, city noises, places, and other dogs; home alone training; solving play biting; getting control of things in a puppy’s mouth) they can experience serious problems.
Many dogs grow up to be timid, shy/fearful, or even aggressive if they are under-socialized! Many young children are turned-off to having a new puppy in the house if the puppy bites and scratches them. Many owners become frustrated when their puppy becomes upset when they are left alone or worse, growls and bites people over food, being touched, or when they are scared.
Zen Dog Training Games and Solutions
The best thing to do is to follow the Zen Dog Training Games and Solutions and play the games daily. Training is meant to be sequential. Once people master the “Yes Game”, they will have created a habit of noticing good behaviors and rewarding them, now more advanced training like come, look, sit and down are easier.
Games that get dogs accustomed to being touched, held or grabbed by the collar help people quickly and safely get control when they need to interrupt unwanted behaviors.
If people stay positive and focused, spending a few months working intensely with a new dog or puppy is typically all it takes to ensure their dog grows up to be a Zen Dog!
Puppy Boot Camp
If you are interested in training your puppy with positive reinforcement methods that get results, check out our Puppy Boot Camp. This online resource ($27) includes 6 weeks of puppy class group lessons, training videos, ALL the Zen Dog Training Comics, and the best play biting solutions in the industry!