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How to Raise a Well-Behaved Puppy

When we cast our mind back to the time when we welcomed home our furry bundle 13 years ago, we were totally ill-prepared and made so many mistakes as a first time pet parent and that was not the greatest start we could have given our puppy!

With Christmas upon us many new pups will find their way into your homes and your hearts so we decided to enlist the expert advice of Jess Sandstrom from Howling Success Dog Training and Behaviour as she recently put into practice with her puppy Odin the Rottweiler all the tips she shares during her training classes and private behavioural consultations.

"There is nothing quite like that special time - and oh so brief period of a dog’s life! - when they are a small, soft and wiggly little puppy. When we think back on our adult dog’s puppyhood, I wonder if sometimes we can have rose tinted glasses and we often forget all about those sleepless nights, chewed up precious items and the constant vigilance required to keep our little one learning the right things. 

The thing is, puppies are awesome but they are also pretty intense. The amount of work that goes into raising the perfect puppy can be a bit overwhelming if you think about it for too long but the time that you dedicate now in their most formative period will be an investment in your puppy's future.

The way I see it, you either put the time in teaching them now OR later when you are constantly managing their unwanted behaviour as a teenage and adult dog. One way or another that leg work is going to get done, so let’s set everyone in the family up for success by going over the most important things to teach your new puppy.

#1. Early Socialisation 

Socialisation is your top priority when you bring your new bundle of joy home. Above all, the vast majority of us simply want a dog who is friendly, easy going and doesn’t fall to pieces every time the wind blows. The best way to achieve this goal is to work on socialising your puppy as soon as you bring them home. 

It is very important to understand that socialisation does not equate to simple exposure to novel stimuli in the environment, rather it involves forming positive associations to novel stimuli. How do you form positive associations? By having fun in their presence! 

I often find myself thinking of goldilocks when training puppies and dogs! This is especially true when looking at early socialisation. Too much can be overwhelming, too little is not enough and then in the middle we can get it juuuuuust right. But, since all puppies and dogs are individuals, how do we gauge what is best for our puppy? 

The ability to read a dog's body language is one of the most important and often lacking skills that a pet parent needs to have. 

It is imperative that we give our puppy total choice and control over what happens to them during socialisation sessions and that we are able to respond to very subtle signs of our puppy feeling uncomfortable or scared well before we have a panicked puppy on our hands. 

The best socialisation sessions are planned, short, sweet and often.

Keeping a brief diary of your socialisation expeditions or using a check list like this one from Dr Sophia Yin can be extremely useful in helping you keep track of your puppy’s experiences. There are just so many sights, sounds and smells in the big wide world that we need to help our puppies feel safe and happy around. 

A common misconception is that socialisation only focuses on helping our puppies feel safe around humans and other dogs, when really socialisation means working on a forming a positive association to everything in our human world that we expect our puppy to feel confident around as an adult. It can be overwhelming when you step back and look at the big picture. So please remember to break things down into achievable chunks, not just for your puppy but for yourself as well. 

Another great list to make are your personal socialisation goals for your puppy. Taking our pup Odin as an example, just a few of our big priorities were: 

✔️ Busy urban areas so we can enjoy taking Odin lots of different places. 

✔️ Very young children as having kiddos is something that will likely happen in Odin’s lifetime. 

✔️ Chickens because our neighbours on all three sides of us have chooks. 

✔️ Boats because we live in a boat access only area.

We know the socialisation is most effective before 12 weeks of age so I would strongly recommend that you find yourself a force free puppy school and sign your puppy up for classes as soon as you know they are coming home. It is a great way to get the ball rolling straight away and even better so that you have a professional trainer to ask questions during those intense first few weeks with your new pup. 

#2. Toilet Training 

The next priority for many of us is toilet training. No one wants a dog who soils the house and often a dog who has not been fully toilet trained is sadly left to isolation in the backyard. Very few of us want to be in that situation so toilet training will be another thing that you want get cracking on from Day 1. Initially you want to take your puppy out

✔️ Every hour 
✔️ After eating
✔️ After sleeping
✔️ After play
✔️ When reuniting with puppy after absences

As your puppy grows, their physical ability to control their bladder will get better and better and then you will be able to stretch out that 1-hour interval to 1.5hr and then 2hr and so on. 

I often make a joke in puppy school that, at first you will feel like every other thing you are doing is taking your puppy outside to the toilet. 

As with a lot of dog training (and life) you get out what you put in. If you want toilet training to be over and done with quickly then I suggest investing in your training now.

Tracking your puppy’s toileting on a log sheet can be very helpful and assist things in progressing quickly too since you will be able to see exactly when errors occur on the log sheet then adjust your management and training appropriately.

When your puppy toilets outside you want to say ‘Yes’ when they finish doing their business and give them a treat as quickly as you can. Our timing really needs to be spot on here! Ideally you want to get that treat into your pup's mouth within a couple of seconds of the behaviour occurring

The word ‘Yes’ is a marker that lets our pup know exactly what they are being rewarded for. A mark word can also be called a bridge as it bridges the precious seconds between behaviour and consequence

Seconds really do matter if we want our pup to know exactly what it was that they did to earn the treat. 

Sometimes we get too excited when they start going in the right spot. If we say ‘yes’ to mark their behaviour when they start toileting we might actually interrupt them before they finish – wait until your pup finishes their business then mark their behaviour with ‘Yes’ and deliver that treat – otherwise they might finish their business inside. 

If your puppy does make a mistake and toilets indoors, make a mental note for yourself about how the error may have occurred so that you can adjust your supervision appropriately then just clean it up. It is really important to clean up the mess with a cleaner that will remove all traces of the odour. If you puppy can smell where they have previously toileted it may encourage them to do their business there again which will make toilet training far more difficult than it needs to be. 

A common failure point occurs overnight. Unfortunately, it just is not reasonable to expect your puppy to be able to hold their bladder all night so it is a case of either training them to use a wee mat / puppy pad / fresh patch or to commit to that 2:30am toilet break

I do find that using a wee mat indoors tends to make toilet training take longer overall, simply because if you have the option of an inside toilet why wouldn’t you use it? 
But I can also tell you that I did NOT personally opt for that early morning wake up when we were toilet training Odin... So, do what is best for you. 

Another common source of failure in toilet training revolves around the use of punishment. 

I will be talking about punishment related to toilet training here, but note that modern dog training has moved on from the use of heavy-handed (or even light-handed!) punishments long ago, for ALL behaviours and for ALL breeds. 

If you would like to see my Rottweiler Odin being trained using force free methods check out his Instagram @odinsandstrom.

Science tells us that punishment suppresses behaviour in the presence of the punishing stimulus. So, let’s put that into simple terms and think about it in regards to toilet training. Say, if you were to yell at your puppy or worse for soiling the house.

> Punishment suppresses behaviour => In this instance toileting is the behaviour
> In the presence of the punishing stimulus => In this instance YOU are the punishing stimulus

Now, what might happen later on when you take your puppy outside and ask them sweetly to please do your wee wee?... 

If you scolded your puppy for toileting inside, they may not learn that it was being inside that got them into big trouble, rather they may learn that toileting in front of the person who yells at them is not a safe thing to do! Oh no!! I am sure you can see how this can make your future toilet training problematic.

We often joke that if your puppy is making the same mistake over and over again you ought to roll up a newspaper and hit YOURSELF in the face, ha ha! 

#3. Nipping & Mouthing

Now, we come to one of the more frustrating puppy behaviours and possibly the one where humans are most likely to lose their cool. 

It is so important to understand that puppy nipping and mouthing is a very normal behaviour and very (VERY) expected. Puppies explore their environment using their mouths just as we would use our hands and while this is a normal behaviour it is of course very important that we teach our pups what they are allowed to nibble on and what is not acceptable. 

Initially, environmental management will be imperative. Not only to prevent your puppy from play mouthing on you but also to prevent your little cherub from chewing your favourite pair of shoes (Or my macbook charging cable, Odin!). But, as they say: if it’s on the ground it goes to the hound! 

Try to keep anything that you don’t want your puppy getting stuck into well out of their reach and do your best to have treat stations and toys strategically placed all over the house so that you always have something handy when your perfect puppy goes silly on you. 

Try to have plenty of “legal chew toys” available so there is no need for them to chew your things. 

Rotating the toys that are available and occasionally laundering them can help maintain some novelty as well. 

If you see your puppy coming in hot, or if they are chewing someone or something that they shouldn’t be the best course of action is to redirect their attention to a really fun toy or a long-lasting chew: a bully stick is great; a food dispensing toy will some of their daily meal allocation inside is even better). 

The benefit of this technique is not only are we preventing our puppy from chewing on things they shouldn’t be but we are showing them what we want them to chew on instead without the use of force or punishment. How great is that? 

The key here is to be proactive, calm and consistent. A benefit not only for dog training but for life in general!

Two common pitfalls when working through puppy nipping and mouthing: 

#1. Effectively managing your puppy’s stimulation. Both an over stimulated puppy and an over tired puppy will be far more likely to become ‘unmanageable’. 

As your puppy develops and grows their needs may change on a week to week basis which can be tricky to roll with. Just when you get the balance of training, exercise, rest and play just right your puppy has a growth spurt and we are off to figure out that goldilocks level of stimulation all over again. 

Ensure that your puppy also gets adequate rest through the day to avoid a grouchy grotty puppy in the evening. 

#2. The second common pitfall technically comes under the consistency note above but this so prevalent that it warrants its own paragraph. Please try to avoid playing rough housing games that involve human hands! I am sure this sounds so very obvious when written in the context of a training article but you would be surprised how often this happens and I am sure it would be very confusing for a little pup

Always play with toys so that your puppy is able to learn that teeth go on toys and not on skin

It is also recommended that rumble games with toys are played outside only and that inside is for calm but this environmental context may depend on your personal desires and the layout of your home.

Finally, two things that I think are often overlooked when dealing with nipping are:

1) Enrichment activities 

Feeding some or all of your puppy’s meals through enrichment toys can be an extremely effective way to occupy them and give them an outlet for chewing. Giving a toy filled with high value food can be a very effective way to help settle an over tired or over stimulated puppy as well, especially when paired with a play pen or effective crate training

Even the most patient of puppy parents needs a little break sometimes and that includes me! 

2) General manners training will simply mean that, if practised often enough when your puppy is calm, you will have a means to communicate with each other to say "please could you do this instead?". For example, teaching my puppy Odin ‘Leave it’ was a massive game changer in our house! 

In Part 2 of "how to raise a well-mannered puppy", we share more specific advice on helping your puppy cope with being left home alone and also some basic manners your puppy needs to learn sooner rather than later!

"In the meantime, get stuck into your socialisation, nipping and mouthing training, and toilet training. That should give you plenty to do! But, if you still want some more to do hop onto the Pet Professional Guild Australia website to find a force free dog trainer in your area who would love to advise you and your family on the best ways to train your precious new puppy. " 

Just remember that it will all be over before you know it and before long you will be scratching your head wondering where your baby puppy went! It can be hard to see the forest for the trees when you’re amongst it all. It takes a village but savour every moment!

written by Jess Sandstrom, October 2019 (all rights reserved) for Australian Dog Lover.

About the Writer

Jess Sandstrom has been working with dogs professionally since 2012. Beginning in Rescue she then moved on to complete formal qualifications in Dog Training: Diploma of Canine Behaviour Science and Technology (CASI); Statement of Attainment in Dog Training (TAFE); member of Pet Professional Guild AustraliaAssociation of Pet Dog TrainersAssociation of Animal Behaviour Professionals.

Jess believes that by helping her clients create a deep relationship which goes beyond the basic dog/owner dynamic, this benefits not only the team she's working with, but greatly reduces the risk of dogs being surrendered to shelters or abandoned due to behaviour which may be labelled as ‘antisocial’.

She uses science-based, positive reinforcement techniques, allowing both person and dog the space to learn how to communicate with each other without the use of force, and allowing their relationship to flourish. 

For more information, please visit or

References for further reading

6. (This training game teaches puppies not to bite at your clothes, accessories, shoes)

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