by Debbie Cerda-Pavia

The building blocks

It is important for puppies to start learning household rules and basic etiquette from the moment they come home.  Having said that, it is even more important that the dog is raised in a positive environment where he obeys out of a desire to please you rather than out of fear.  A fearful dog will not be nearly as pleasant a dog, and will not learn as much or as quickly as one that's treated as a member of the family from the start.  That includes a measure of discipline, understanding and love.  There is an awful lot of "teaching" that can be done in the guise of games for the pup, and we all know they love to play!


Toilet training

Toilet training should not be difficult.  This trick is not in punishing the accidents but preventing them from occurring.  Puppies need to go out after eating and playing and immediately upon waking.  They should be taken out immediately after these events - 5 minutes later is too late.  They should also be taken out every 20 or 30 minutes that they are in the house.  This should ensure that the pup is given plenty of opportunities to perform in the required area and reduce the chances of accidents occurring in the house.  When the pup is in the desired area (try to encourage the dog to stay in the one area of the garden to make avoiding the landmines easier) encourage it to perform by using a simple word in a gentle tone.  Make sure it's a word that won't be used in another context (the guide dogs use "quick" which has numerous other applications and can be confusing) and repeat it until the pup performs. When he performs make sure you tell him what a clever puppy he is... even if you have had to wait 10 minutes in the rain!  Don't just lob the dog outside and hope for the best, he will most probably hang around the back door and wait to be let back in.  Should an accident occur in the house, do NOT "rub the dogs nose in it", hit the dog (with a newspaper or anything else), or reprimand the pup harshly.   Make some disapproving noises along the lines of "Yuck, I'll need to clean that up" as you take the pup outside.  I don't believe in repeating the chosen word as you put him out, he is clearly not going to perform (having just emptied on the carpet) so why give him a command that you know will be ignored?  Putting the dog out with a few quiet disapproving words will help to let him know that the action was unpopular, the isolation (which doesn't have to last long) will reinforce the words.  Remember that if the dog had an accident in the house it means that you didn't take him out often enough.  Be more diligent and the training will take care of itself, pups will naturally prefer to go to the toilet outside.



This need not be taught in the formal obedience competition sense of making the dog come in, sit and then be sent to heel.  For the household dog all that matters is that the dog reliably returns close enough to be put on lead whenever called.  Like everything else we do with the pup, we take this in nice small steps and try to build on success rather than push to the point of failure.  Have another member of the family hold the puppy while you show him the food bowl (complete with food!) and walk away a short distance.  You call the dog while the other person lets him go, praise the pup and allow him to have the food when he arrives.  You can use a favourite toy or small food treats to encourage the dog to come to you throughout the day.  Always try to do it with young pup when he is already paying attention, this increases the chance that he will come.  Make sure you call him in an encouraging tone and bend down to make yourself a less dominating shape.  Always praise the dog when he comes.  Never call the dog to you to reprimand him for something else, coming to you should always be a pleasant experience for the dog (if you must reprimand the dog, go and get him).  Increase the degree of difficulty of the recall slowly.  At first do it only in the house or yard when you have food or a toy and the dog is paying attention.  Then try it when the dog is wandering vaguely around but not absorbed in another activity, then graduate to having the toy or food available intermittently (vary the availability to keep the dog on his toes).  Then start calling the dog when he is busy with something else, then move to the local park and go back to no distractions and regular reward etc.  Take it slowly, the dog should be praised for success rather than berated for failure.  Be sure to build good foundations for future behaviour.


Sitting for food

Whenever you are feeding the pup, make sure that he sits before eating.  This is just a quick way to teach the dog a little self-restraint and respect for people.  With very young pups I raise a piece of food quickly up past their noses above the level they can reach (if it's too close - they'll jump at it) as I say "sit" in a commanding but not threatening tone.  This will tend to raise their head, and the bottom will hopefully fall to the floor.  As soon as this occurs (don't make pups wait!) praise the dog, release him with a command like "OK" and put the bowl down.  As the pup gets older start to wait a bit before praising and eventually get the dog to stay while the bowl is placed on the floor.


Lead training

It is important that the pup not associate any nasty experiences with you, so we don't want to get involved in the old "hooked fish" dragging of the petrified pup routine.  The simplest way to lead train the puppy is to let the pup do the work.  Attach a very light lead to the pups fixed collar and let him drag it around for a while under supervision.  Never leave the lead on when the pup is left alone in case it gets caught and he chokes.  Pup will probably chew on it for a while and step on it and trip over a few times.  But after a couple of sessions of about an hour he will pretty much ignore it.  This works really well if you have another dog, they will play and get the lead tangled and the pup will learn that the lead is just part of life without having anything nasty happen.   Do one or two sessions a day of this for about 3 days before you try to lead the pup anywhere.  Initially make sure the pup is going in the direction you want.  Maybe have another family member put the food down as you approach with the pup on lead.  He'll be less concerned about the lead than his dinner!  Have the pup on his lead and use a toy in your free hand to get his attention to stop him trying to move away and hence dragging against the lead.  Again, it's easier to avoid the problem than fix it, associate his early lead experiences with pleasant things and all should go well.


Leave it!

This is essential as an early puppy lesson.  How many times has the puppy picked up something he shouldn't have?  After all, they are Golden Retrievers!  It's much easier to teach the dog to "leave it" than chase him and make it a game in his eyes, and most probably damage the item as well.  Once again we go for the "softly, softly" approach.  There is no need to be excessively harsh with your treatment of the pup to teach "leave it", or grab things roughly from him.  Goldens should have a tender mouth and as such it should be treated gently.  Ensure that the pup always has a number of his playthings available to reduce the chances of him looking upon forbidden items as toys, these items should be as varied as possible, i.e. things that roll, squeak, are soft or hard, rattle etc.  If the pup should grab something that is not his do NOT reprimand him, or grab it from his mouth.  Quickly pick up one of his own toys and try to make a swap.  Make the item you are holding seem really inviting,   Make it move while saying "Ohhhhhhh, looky what I've got.  This is Muuuuch more fun!" in a really enticing tone.  Most times the pup will drop what he's got to grab your item.  The pup will eventually learn which are his items and which he should leave alone.  As he seems to get the hang of the swapping game, introduce the "leave it" command.  Tell him to "leave it" whilst initiating the swap routine.  Remember that pups need to learn and explore, if you have items of value around... keep them away from the puppy.  Young pups can't be expected to learn all the rules of etiquette instantly, any more than young children can.  There is a period when they are learning the rules, and you must be patient and vigilant during that time.  It's no more his fault for picking up something you left lying around than it is when he has an accident because you forgot to take him outside.


Don't jump

The pup should be encouraged to keep all four feet on the ground, not only to protect people (remember pups grow up ... big!) but also to protect the growing bone structure from too much stress.  This is easily achieved by crouching down when greeting the pup so there is no need for him to jump.  Keep you hands low to encourage the pup to remain at that level.  If the pup jumps, there is no need to reprimand it ... remembers we want all of pups experiences with us to be positive.  We need to find a physical way for the pup to be discouraged from jumping, without being too rough.  The old "knee the dog in the chest", "pinch his front feet" and "stand on his back toes" routines are out.  The trick is for the pup to learn that one of the facts of life is that people are a funny shape and if they jump up they will encounter discomfort, just as they learn not to walk off the edge of the veranda because that big drop hurts.  If we reprimand the dog at the same time as giving the physical discomfort, the dog will think we meant to harm him.  So if the dog jumps, put your knee or arm out in such a way that you are not moving it towards the dog, but he runs into it.  If you hold the limb still and keep quiet, the pup will accept it as one of nature’s peculiar ways and learn to avoid the situation, by staying at floor level.