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Common Mistakes We Make with Puppies and How to Correct Them

Patience, the art of slowing down, and other top gun dog training tips from Gun Dog contributor and professional trainer, Jeremy Moore.

Common Mistakes We Make with Puppies and How to Correct Them

Stay on the road to success with your puppy by outlining your expectations, avoiding bad habits, and maintaining consistency. (Nathan Ratchford photo)

NR: What are some of the most common mistakes you see from clients when they first bring home a puppy? 

JM: Realistic expectations are the biggest thing. Puppies catch on to things quickly, which gives us this false notion of them maintaining that level of understanding. Don’t get stuck on that pace of advancement. They are just puppies. On the flip side, some people do way too little because ‘they are just little puppies.’ You should be looking at learning stuff. You should be setting realistic expectations and you should be encouraging the right behaviors and habits with the understanding you can’t put too much on them expectation-wise. Nobody says ‘just let your kid be a kid for the first ten years’. You must establish an understanding of right and wrong. We get it when it comes to people but miss it when it comes to dogs. 

NR: What are some bad habits that you believe can be avoided with the right planning and structure? 

JM: We can make our lives a whole lot easier by avoiding the bad habits to begin with. One of the biggest things I see is people who have a dog with ‘too much energy.’ Just thinking you can burn that energy off is a huge mistake. There is no focus. Genetics dictate a lot of that disposition, but we fuel it, shape it, and make it a part of their life. We get into that mode of getting things done and efficiency, and when it comes to the dogs, we plug that in with another thing we have to get done. We move too fast with them. The best way to get these dogs to focus is by slowing down. That just means you don’t rush things. You slow yourself down around the dog. The slower you go the faster you go. 

English springer spaniel puppy running in grass
Puppies often have a surplus of energy; help them burn it off constructively rather than running wild. (Nathan Ratchford photo)

NR:  How do you go about fixing problems in a young dog? 

JM: Always look at the root of the issue. I think most people look at the symptoms and want a quick fix. If you go out in the rain and get sick, yeah, get a cough drop, but pack a rain jacket next time. That would have prevented the cold to begin with. It’s important to always think of this when you see holes in your training or whenever an undesirable behavior comes up. As trainers, we always overdo what our dogs do well. You must address the things they aren’t doing well, but address it a few steps back, and then slowly add to the complexity to get to where you need to be. 

NR: How important is place training for you, what advantages do you see to it both short and long term and how do you progress on this concept with a young puppy? 

JM: I think it’s real fair to a dog. The value is equivalent to a ‘stay’ command. It’s confining that dog’s mobility to a small area that’s fair. It’s another option to have versus being in the kennel that is safe and doesn’t allow them to get in trouble because it’s such an easy visual for the dog. It can be used for a purpose, but I don’t want to have it in my training so deep that it’s a crutch. I look at it as a skill, not a training tool. Place can become a rug, a cardboard box, or a stump; the idea of the object is just giving the perimeter. I think you have to be aware of that and keep that in mind. 

NR: What do you like to work on around feeding time? 

JM: Steadiness and patience are easy things to build. They’re some of the things that people complain about the most. I want to create that behavior all the time, but that’s a great place to teach it. Feeding time is a great time of the day for a young pup and it makes the value of that patience clear. I also think it’s important to feed the dog at the same time every day. That helps with housebreaking, too. Consistency helps your dog and also helps you. It helps to shape that early. Leadership skills are also shaped at feeding time. I love having my kids feed the dogs. When they feed them they are the boss. 

English springer spaniel puppy running in grass
Feeding time is a great opportunity for establishing leadership and promoting patience with your young puppy. (Nathan Ratchford photo)

NR: How do you encourage patience in other aspects of your day-to-day? 

JM: Most of the time, we aren’t necessarily focused on our dogs. Throughout the day there are times when we don’t focus on them. When they are in their crate, or on place, we don’t have to. But whenever they are not, the whole time my dogs must sit and be patient. You create that in your life all the time. You maintain the control of the dog and they get really good at doing nothing. Adapt the mentality that we are never not training. When a puppy is eight weeks old, they don’t want to be away from you. It’s a great time to encourage this. They don’t have to sit patiently but get down and encourage them to be with you. Having a relationship with your dog is something that is often overlooked, and we think they are just these little robots. They need to enjoy hanging out with you and that can’t happen if you are just constantly nagging them. 

English springer spaniel puppy running in grass
Don’t forget to make fun time with your puppy to help build a strong bond and a mutual working relationship. (Nathan Ratchford photo)
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