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Posted on Thu, Dec 29, 2011 : 10:11 a.m.

Clear and consistent training with puppies can help avoid serious problems

By Julia Levitt


Julia Levitt | Contributor

Not long ago, my friend David and I were brainstorming blog topics, and he had an interesting suggestion. It's one that I am sure can't be quantified, but it's a question you could ask yourself about your puppy. Is training your new puppy good preventative "medicine"?

A few months ago, I was helping John and Sue with their 3-month-old puppy. Pup was learning not touch anything that was not a puppy toy.

Lesson not learned. I got a frantic call the next week: Puppy was in emergency surgery . She had eaten a sock, and it did not pass through her gut. Many thousands of dollars later, the pup was ok.

This situation could have been prevented. Let's face it: we don't have eyes in the back of our heads. We can't watch a puppy's every move. But we can prevent a costly surgery.

Back to David’s initial question — by doing a few simple preventative things, could we prevent surgeries like this and other scary situations? Absolutely.

Here are some questions to think about:

Do you leave the kids' toys on the floor and then run after and yell at the pup when she runs off with one?

You have just created the chase game. Puppy is bored, grabs a toy, you see it and go running after the puppy. What has puppy learned? She can pick up anything and run and will have a fun game of "chase me."

Prevention: Everything that you do not want eaten or chewed is picked up. It's a great way to teach kids to pick up what is theirs. This a good time to teach whatever word you choose — many people use "leave it" for an item that does not belong to puppy.

Does puppy have a crate where it can go to sleep? Dogs are den animals and like a cozy spot. If you don’t like the word "crate," call it whatever you want. Just make sure the crate is NOT used a s a punishment and that puppy willingly goes into it when you ask her to.

Does puppy get plenty of exercise? Walking is the strongest bonding exercise you can do with your new friend. This means more than going to the dog park once a week. Your pet needs daily walks and games that are stimulating to the puppy, like hide and seek, fetch and playing with other puppies it own size and age.

As we have discussed in past articles, let's challenge the breed. For the adult dog, Retrievers go after game. Puppy can be taught to go after a toy, and when the toy is returned to you, it should be rewarded with plenty of praise.

Maybe the pup is not rewarded by toys but treats. Many clients say they save a bit of dried kibble for a treat. I like to find just that special treat; it does not need to be a piece of leftover sirloin but a piece of fruit or a carrot. Reserve this treat just for the special command. It doesn't have to be a bucketful. A tiny piece will do.

Everyone wants his or her dog to come and is frustrated when it goes the other way when you call it. Remember the chase game? That’s not a game we want to encourage.

Begin to teach the come command — no not off leash outside, but in your house on a short leash where a puppy who has a very short attention span can concentrate on the word "come" and what you mean when you say "come."

What happens to my students is they have success on a short leash, and then they desice to skip steps and take the pup off the leash. The pup comes, but soon humans are frustrated when pup stops coming. The game of calling repeatedly begins.

You know the game, the one where you ask the dog to come 20 times and nothing happens with the pup but your blood pressure rises. The opposite of what you wanted has happened — you have just taught you dog NOT to come.

Many trainers will say, "Wwhen the dog does not come the first time… the command is not learned." Soon you are scratching your head: Why did pup come before, but now she is running away?

“Come" is the one word in obedience that could save your dog's life. Like with any training, start small and work your way, slowly, to what you would eventually like to achieve. Remember you are not going to ask anything of your pup when he is:

• Sniffing the ground

• Chasing a leaf

• Romping with another pup

The key to success, as you can see, is having the pup's full attention on you. You must make it worthwhile for the pup to come. Remember no pup is going to come when no positive reward is in sight.

When you are frustrated that pup doesn’t come, the pup often is the recipient of that frustration. We don’t want to teach the pup that, "If I come, a reprimand will follow." Soon it is like the chase game — you call, and I am not coming!

Trainer Brenda Aloff answers best when asked whether training is good preventive medicine.

"Training issues disappear when you recognize that your dog is 'asking' for help as opposed to making a choice to disobey. Our prize is communication with your lifelong friend…"

In our next blog post, we'll explore the challenges working with an adult dog and that new rescue dog brought into your home.

Julia Levitt is the founder of In Harmony Dog Training ( in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at or at 734-645-4707. Julia provides individual training for dogs and their owners, and also conducts dog training classes at Ann Arbor Animal Hospital.


Julia Levitt

Fri, Dec 30, 2011 : 3:44 p.m.

I am happy your puppy training was so successful- thank you for your comment-Julia

Big B

Fri, Dec 30, 2011 : 2:30 a.m.

Hide and Seek is a great game to play with pups and dogs. It really creates a reward for them coming to you when called and teaches them to wait patiently while you go hide. This pays off big when going to an off leash park and calling for them to come. One thing we learned from a trainer when our dog was a puppy was to teach her a bite reflex. When playing with us as a puppy she would accidentally nip our fingers. Even if though it didn't always hurt, we'd dramatically yelp in pain like she really bit us hard. After doing this a few dozen times over a couple days she learned that her teeth were not to touch human skin. This little investment of time has stuck with her for over 4 years and to this day she's never bitten anyone, even durring the most vigorous game of tug, if your hand gets close to her mouth she drops right away.

Linda Kaim

Fri, Dec 30, 2011 : 1:11 a.m.

It is important to bear this in mind when selecting a dog. Starting with puppies can be time consuming, but if approached carefully and positively, it is an exciting prospect to help shape the pup into the dog he becomes. Puppies are cute and fun, but they require attention and guidance. Training a pup generates tremendous benefits to you both throughout the life of your dog and many problems associated with dogs can be averted by working with your puppy early and often. it is amazing what you can teach a puppy, and who doesn't want their dog to grow up healthy, happy and well adjusted? I truly wish more people would spend the time with their young dogs before problems crop up, our shelters are full of dogs whose early education was not addressed sufficiently to prevent their nuisance behaviors. it takes a little time and a little planning, but the benefits you reap will be life-long and infinitely rewarding!

Julia Levitt

Fri, Dec 30, 2011 : 1:56 a.m.

Thank you Linda for such a thoughtful comment-Julia


Thu, Dec 29, 2011 : 7:35 p.m.

This reminds me of something I overheard in an obedience class. The dog's owners asked the trainer how to train their dog not to take food off the table when they're not home. The trainer's reply? "Don't leave food on the table." Thanks to my dog I have finally broke my bad habit of leaving things lying around. My cell phone, the remote control, my reading glasses all have safe places high & away from the pooch. My mother had been trying for years to get me to do that. It only took a few months for my puppy to train me.

Julia Levitt

Thu, Dec 29, 2011 : 8:49 p.m.

Good comment -Julia

Lorrie Shaw

Thu, Dec 29, 2011 : 7:52 p.m.

RunsWith Scissors: Ha, ha! Your latter statement made me giggle!

Jessica Webster

Thu, Dec 29, 2011 : 6:37 p.m.

Wonderful post, thank you! I am anxiously awaiting the next post, as we have a brand new one-year-old rescue dog in our home.

Julia Levitt

Thu, Dec 29, 2011 : 6:50 p.m.

Kudos to you Jessica on adopting your new friend. Happy New Year and thank you for your comment-Julia