frequently asked questions

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At what age should I start training my puppy?
What is Positive Reinforcement Training?
Why should I crate train my puppy/dog?
Why don't you use choke chains or prong collars in your training?
How do I stop my puppy from biting me?
How do I keep my puppy from chewing on everything?
What's the best way to house-train my puppy?
How long will it take to train my dog?

At what age should I start training my puppy?
The Savvy Dog accepts puppies in classes starting at age 8 weeks. The only reason we don't take them sooner is that we want them to have at least two of their puppy shots for protection before they start playing with other puppies. At one time, when most trainers used choke chains and prong collars, puppies didn't start classes until they were at least six months old, because of the potential for serious damage to a puppy's tender trachea. Since we use only positive training methods, we have no fear of harming a young puppy and can start them at a very early age.

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What is Positive Reinforcement Training?
Positive Reinforcement Training means that we consistently reward the behaviors we want from our dogs and manage or ignore those we don’t want. All living beings repeat behaviors that are rewarding to them and by using positive reinforcement we can get our dogs to voluntarily give us the behaviors we want, rather that forcing them to comply. Reward-based training helps a dog learn to make intelligent choices and builds a strong relationship between the handler and the dog. Above all, we want the training experience to be fun and successful for both the dog and the owner.

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Why should I crate train my puppy/dog?
The crate is an extremely valuable behavior management tool. It takes much of the pain out of puppy-raising by keeping your pup safely confined when you can't directly supervise her. Puppies are usually house-trained in a surprisingly short time with the use of a crate, and the crate gives you peace of mind, knowing that your dog isn't peeing and pooping all over the house, or chewing on electric cords and antique furniture when you're not there to watch her.

Dogs are den animals, and if properly introduced to the crate, they usually love them. The crate can be your dog's own portable bedroom, so if you travel, or leave her at a kennel or with a friend, your dog can take her own little piece of home along with her wherever she goes.

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Why don't you use choke chains or prong collars in your training?
At The Savvy Dog we use positive reinforcement training, meaning that we consistently reward the behaviors that we want from our dogs, and manage or ignore (when possible) the behaviors that we don't want. Because all living things repeat behaviors that are rewarding to them, by using positive reinforcement we can get our dogs to voluntarily give us the behaviors we want, rather than forcing them. We don't risk damaging our relationships with dogs through the use of force and punishment, and we don't risk the physical harm that can occur with the use of punishment-based tools.

Training is not just about getting our dogs to respond to a list of commands. Training is about relationship - our way of being with our dogs. Choke chains and prong collars rely on pain to force compliance. I don't have to hurt my dogs to train them, so why would I use tools that, by definition, cause pain?

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How do I stop my puppy from biting me?
Biting is a natural puppy behavior. Puppies explore their world with their mouths, and they use their teeth extensively in play. Learning bite inhibition is an important part of a young puppy's education. If he bites his mom or his littermates too hard, they let him know. Mom may reprimand him roundly if his needle sharp puppy teeth close too hard during nursing, and his siblings may yipe and refuse to play with him if he bites too hard. One of the pitfalls of taking a puppy away from his littermates too soon is that he misses out on this important lesson. Pups should stay together with their litters and their moms until they are at least eight weeks of age.

Even then, our pups comes to us with sharp baby-teeth, and we need to continue his bite-inhibition lessons. We can direct his chewing instincts toward appropriate chew toys (a stuffed Kong is ideal for this) as are various soft plush and rope toys. We can also imitate his littermates by giving a sharp, high-pitched "yipe" when he bites too hard, and stopping the play session by getting up and walking away. Our pup will soon learn that his behavior makes a good thing go away (this is called "negative punishment," and involves no physical correction whatsoever), and will learn to soften his bite so we will keep playing with him. After a brief time out of a minute or two, we can go back to playing. If he bites too hard again, give another yipe and do another time out. He'll get it eventually.

Do not use physical force or punishment, such as hitting him, holding his muzzle closed or forcing you hand down his throat. Some puppies will become aggressive when you do this, and others will learn to fear your hands. Neither of these is a good outcome.

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How do I keep my puppy from chewing on everything?
Manage, manage, manage. Puppies chew because they are teething. A pup who is still in the chewing stage should be under constant supervision, or confined to a safe secure puppy-proofed area. Provide him with plenty of irresistible toys. A cold, frozen Kong (see recipe below) can be especially soothing to a teething pup's sore gums. Soft toys such as rope tugs and plush toys are also very inviting to puppy teeth. When he wants to chew on an inappropriate object, direct him toward an acceptable chew toy in a puppy safe place.

The best puppy-safe places are in or near places of family activity. You pup will be very unhappy if you shut him away in an upstairs bathroom. We will be more content in his time-out place if it is a wire puppy pen set up in the middle of the den or living room, where he can still be among his human pack members.

How to make a Kong-sickle

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What's the best way to house-train my puppy?
Whether you are facing the challenge of house-training a new puppy or retraining an adult dog with inappropriate bathroom behaviors, the approach is the same: manage the behavior to prevent mistakes from happening while you teach appropriate toilet habits. The differences are that while a puppy may not yet have the physical ability to control his need to eliminate for long periods, at least he probably hasn't learned to soil indoors and will have a very strong instinct to keep his den clean. The unfortunate exceptions are puppies raised in very dirty conditions (like many of the puppies raised in puppy mills and sold through pet stores), and those who have been forced to soil their crates repeatedly through improper confinement.

A healthy adult dog is perfectly capable of controlling his elimination urges, so in some cases an adult dog can be house-trained very quickly, especially if she hasn't spent much time indoors. If, however, she has a longstanding habit of urinating and/or defecating indoors, reliable house-training can be a frustrating goal to achieve. In these cases we sometimes must settle for managing the behavior in order to prevent house soiling.

We use the "umbilical approach" to house-training puppies and adult dogs. This means that the dog is always either in a crate or pen, on a leash attached to you (or restrained nearby), under the direct supervision of an adult or responsible teen, or outdoors. Establish a daytime routine - go out *with* the dog every one to two hours. (If you want him to use a particular bathroom area of the yard, always take him on leash to this same spot when you go out with him.) Do not just send him out to "do his business" on his own. You won't know if he did anything or not, and you won't be able to reward him for doing the right thing. Go with him. When he urinates or defecates, Click! the clicker (or tell him "Yes!") and feed him a treat. Then play with him for a few minutes before bringing him indoors, as a reward for going. If he doesn't go, bring him back in, put him in his crate, and try again in a half-hour or so. When you know he is "empty" you can give him some relative but still supervised freedom for a half-hour or so.

If he has a mistake indoors, do not punish him after-the-fact. It is your mistake, not his. He won't even know what he is being punished for. Quietly clean it up (using an enzyme-based cleaner like Nature's Miracle to be sure you get all the odor). If you catch him in the act, calmly interrupt him and take him outside to his bathroom spot. Again, do not punish him. If you do, you will only teach him that it isn't safe to toilet in front of you, and he will learn to run to the back bedroom to do it.

Keep a daily log for one week, writing down when (and what) he goes. Once you have this documentation of his routine, you can start reducing the number of times you take him out, based on his elimination schedule. As he becomes more trustworthy, you can start to give him more freedom. If he backslides it is your fault, for giving too much freedom too soon. Back up to a more restricted routine, and proceed more slowly.

At night he should be crated, in or near your bedroom. If he wakes up in the middle of the night and cries, he probably has to go out. You must wake up and take him out, Click! and reward when he goes, then bring him back and immediately return him to his crate. We don't want to teach him that crying at night earns a play session!

Dogs do not house soil out of malice or spite. They just don't think that way. If your dog urinates or defecates every time you leave him alone in the house, chances are it is related to stress, perhaps separation anxiety, not malice. Punishing him will only make him more stressed, and make the problem worse. If you are having serious house-training problems, you may need the services of a trainer or behavior consultant. The majority of dogs want to keep their dens clean and will happily learn to use appropriate bathroom spots if given the chance.

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How long will it take to train my dog?
Her whole life! Seriously, this is an impossible question to answer. It depends on you, your dog, and your training goals. Every time you are with your dog, every day, one of you is training the other. If we stop training our dogs, we become the trainees - which doesn't usually bode well for the dog-owner relationship!

At the Savvy Dog, our basic training classes are six weeks long and meet once a week. At the end of a basic class, some dogs are well on the way to being reliable with their basic cues and behaviors, others still have a long way to go. Once you have completed basic training, you can continue on to more advanced levels, where he will become reliably responsive to your hand signals and voice cues, even at a distance, even in very distracting environments. For those of you who just can’t get enough, there are many fun dog sports and activities.

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