Puppy training 101.
June 30, 2008 12:40 PM   Subscribe

Advice needed on a new boxer puppy--best training book and suggestions for training treats especially.

My mom and stepdad just got a 6 week old boxer puppy. Neither of them has had a puppy in decades, and when they did they were country dogs (not trained). This dog will be an outside dog, but she's sleeping indoors while she's still really young. I've read about crate-training on this site, but I don't know if that's just for inside dogs. So far, she's peeing in the yard well, but pooping indoors and on the deck. My mom is being very patient with her, but wants to do things right.

We would like suggestions about books and training treats appropriate for such a young puppy. My mom was apparently overwhelmed by all the treats at Wal-Mart. (Small town, no pet store.)
posted by Mavri to Pets & Animals (22 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Before the Dog Whisperer showed up (and there's nothing wrong with his approach), the Monks of New Skete were all the rage: The Art of Raising a Puppy.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:54 PM on June 30, 2008

A good dog book is the one by the Monks of New Skete on dogs, and also books by Michael Fox, the veterinarian, not the actor. The Monks of New Skete train German Shepherds, and have it down on how to train a puppy. I crate trained my indoor dog, it helps to get them housebroken.

I also took my pup to dog obedience school, which actually was harder for me than for the dog. I had to teach her things, and the commands we wanted to her to respond to. It is so worth it going to training like this. Local clubs often offer these classes if you are not in an area where they have Petsmart or Petco.

Treats? I used Pupperoni until I realized my dog was allergic. We switched to the plain old Milkbone, for small breeds--although I have a big dog, the small ones are fine. My dog also likes dried apricots, apples and carrots. Check with your vet on what treats to use. Get the healthiest and cheapest ones.

Good luck.
posted by chocolatetiara at 12:59 PM on June 30, 2008

They should get the puppy into a class if they possibly can. There's really no substitute for it. In addition (or if a class is really out of the question) the books of Patricia McConnell are often recommended on AskMe. In particular, How to be the Leader of the Pack is a quick read and a great reference and The Other End of the Leash is fabulous for helping you understand how good dogs are at reading people, and making sure you are sending the right messages to your dog.

Also, just because there's no pet store doesn't mean Wal-Mart is the only option. Most of the treats they sell there are crap- but quality dog treats are easily available online.
posted by ambrosia at 1:07 PM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding Patricia McConnell - and training classes, as well. Helps socialize the dog if you can get her into a group class.

For training treats, our trainer recommended cooked chicken breast cut into small cubes, or bland hot dogs. Obviously you want very small bits so as not to upset the puppy's stomach, but anything smelly should be extra effective.
posted by Mr Bunnsy at 1:11 PM on June 30, 2008

I have a 6 month old puppy now and I've cobbled together advice from these books:

Mother Knows Best
The Loved Dog
My Smart Puppy

For treats, I've used extra calcium Kraft Singles (folded up so I get little bits), his own kibble (feed him a little less than usual), broken up pieces of Old Mother Hubbard mini size biscuits and Wellness Just for Puppy treats.
posted by spec80 at 1:30 PM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yup, Patricia McConnell's excellent. You have to be careful with the New Skete Monks -- some of their older stuff is kind of dicey. Also thirding the advice to go to a class. It'll help the dog get used to ignoring other dogs.

I use high-end kibble as training treats.
posted by tangerine at 1:31 PM on June 30, 2008

Best answer: A trainer at the puppy kindergarten I went to suggested different levels of treats, in terms of how exciting and rare the treat was and how apt the dog was to listen to the command.

Agreeable dog, easy command: less exciting treat, like a piece of their regular kibble

Agreeable dog, harder command: more exciting treat, like a piece of Milk-Bone or Snausage

Less agreeable dog, easy command: even more exciting treat, like a piece of cheese

Less agreeable dog, hard command: a small piece of lunch meat or chicken, or something else fabulous that he only gets during training

Also, mix it up once in a while just to keep them on their toes.

For puppies getting daily training sessions (and often more than once a day), she suggested sticking to their regular kibble as treats and considering that as part of their daily food intake.

Human food is like the Holy Grail for my dogs and they will go through their entire repertoire of tricks for a piece of turkey lunch meat.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 1:51 PM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

So, I'll probably get some folks to disagree, but I've got 3 dogs, each trained a different way. The last one is my first and only ever "Treat hound". He came to me like this. Anyway, for treats for SAR dogs and now him, we always used to:
-buy the cheapest nastiest hot dogs you can find. Chop them into wee pieces. Like, into slices 1/4 inch thick, then cut that into 4 pieces. Place them in a dish. Microwave them until they're hard. They'll last forever and dogs love them. They won't rot. They're kinda gross, but ultra cheap and reliable. You're only going to be feeding a few bits at a time, so there aren't many issues here unless your dog is extra farty.

Now that I have this dog, I adopted his previous dad's treats. His previous dad works for Triple Crown Dog Academy, which is big stuff in dog world. Anyway, he buys "Moist 'n Meaty" from walmart. It's something like 12 bags for $4. One bag lasts me at least a week, and we spend about 20 mins a day working on obedience. They're little tiny bits of moist stuff, and one is just enough to get a smackrel and all my dogs love them to pieces. Not high quality food by any means, but it's cheap and he likes it, and it's in no way a "Supplement" to his normal food.
posted by TomMelee at 2:50 PM on June 30, 2008

Patricia McConnell, Jean Donaldson's "Perfect Paws in 5 Days" and/or Dr Ian Dunbar's "Before and After You Get Your Puppy". If you must do the Monks, get their newest book (in which they say "don't do that stuff we told you to do in the earlier books"), but really, get McConnell, Donaldson or Dunbar instead, their training methods are based on modern dog behaviour science.

Also, 6 weeks old is at least week too young to be away from mum and siblings, this can be a problem.
posted by biscotti at 2:58 PM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: My mom tried to get the breeder to keep her longer, but they were going on vacation and insisted my mom take her. I know that's unfortunate. Any advice on dealing with being taken too soon?
posted by Mavri at 3:07 PM on June 30, 2008

This is a HUGE warning flag to me (no ethical, knowledgeable, breeder allows a puppy to go before 7 weeks at the earliest, your mother should not have rewarded this idiot's ignorance or lack of ethics), I would actually be returning this puppy and looking for an ethical breeder if I were your mom - Boxers have serious health and temperament issues which need to be tested for and breedings should be researched carefully to avoid doubling up problem genes, it is unlikely in the extreme that this breeder did any of this.

That said, being taken away too soon can cause problems with socialization, bite inhibition and appropriate dog behaviour, if you can find a breeder or rescue group of any comparably-sized breed who has puppies about the same age and can arrange for this pup to spend some time with them, that would be ideal. Otherwise, socialize, socialize, socialize, this puppy (do not overwhelm it, but get it somewhere new every single day at least until it is four months old, it needs to go everywhere and meet everyone), find puppy-friendly, healthy, vaccinated adult dogs and arrange regular play dates with them, find a good training facility which offers appropriately supervised puppy playtimes and go as often as possible. Get into a good, positive training class and plan to stay in weekly classes for at least the next 5 years: this is a working breed with a LOT of energy, Boxers need a lot of exercise and daily training. Agility is a good choice of sport for a Boxer. I sure hope your mom is prepared for what it will take to make this a happy, well-adjusted and well-trained dog, especially since the dog is starting with a huge disadvantage.
posted by biscotti at 3:48 PM on June 30, 2008

What biscotti said with regards to the shady breeder and your puppy's need for socialization.

I've always used semi-moist cat food or cat treats as rewards. Whisker Lickin's or Pounce are the perfect size for a motivational training treat. They are VERY stinky, so dogs love them. They tend to come in resealable containers which makes them easy to mete out while keeping the rest fresh. Also, they are inert enough that you can drop a handful in your sweatshirt pocket for a training session.
posted by Seppaku at 4:32 PM on June 30, 2008

I would suggest clicker training. For treats, Sage loves her Snap Biscuits. They aren't sold everywhere, but they are healthy, and you can break them up into tiny pieces.
posted by Silvertree at 5:21 PM on June 30, 2008

Enthusiastically seconding the My Smart Puppy book that spec80 linked to above. The authors have a related web site with additional training advice, and they run a fantastic forum, with professional trainers available to help with any problems. I really love their positive approach to dog training.

Training treats are easy--tiny cubes of chicken, cheese, bits of these dog food rolls, etc. Getting high-quality chew treats is harder in a small town. The crap at Wal-Mart so far as I can tell all comes from China, and in my experience is very likely to give the dog an upset stomach. My search for more wholesome chew treats led me to Merrick. Everything is made in Texas and most things are simply animal parts--tendons, ear, hooves, etc.--unbleached and unadulterated. Sounds gross, I know, but dogs love them and at least I know what I'm giving them. I place a big mail order with them every few months.

I can't believe the breeder let a puppy go at six weeks because they were going on vacation! Very shady. It would be good if you could find another young puppy for this dog to spend some time with to make up for some of the socialization the poor thing will miss.
posted by HotToddy at 5:54 PM on June 30, 2008

Everything Biscotti said - this dog has missed out on learning Dog Manners from her mom and littermates. She will need to learn this from other dogs, otherwise she's apt to interact with them abnormally, not respond appropriately to their signals, and all that dog-language stuff.

I must also add that it breaks my heart to think of a Boxer being an outside dog. They are very very family-oriented, tender-hearted, loyal and devoted dogs of surpassing sweetness, who crave closeness and affection from their people. They follow you from room to room just to stay close. They do not deserve to be isolated in a yard. They are dogs of independent character. Isolation will produce defensive, destructive, and dangerous habits and behaviors. It also leaves the dog vulnerable to other dogs. An isolated dog of the typical Boxer temperament would be in my opinion be a stressed and neurotic dog, because in being separated from its pack leaders, it feels that it must fend for itself, defend its territory, and always be "on duty".

The payoff for Boxers comes after they're 3 or so. They have a very long and exuberant youth, and they don't really settle into adulthood til after 3, but when they do they're wonderful. They're strong and have a lot of energy. There are heaps of young Boxers on petfinder.com for a reason - people find them unmanageable when they're young. They are a lot of work.
posted by Lou Stuells at 5:58 PM on June 30, 2008

sigh. They are NOT dogs of independent character, that is.
posted by Lou Stuells at 6:00 PM on June 30, 2008

ACK! I missed the "outside dog" part, this breaks my heart as well. This is not an appropriate breed for being an outside dog, they have been bred for generations to want to be with and work with people, keeping such a dog isolated outside is unreasonable and unfair, the nature of the breed is to desire to be with people, if your mother wanted an outside dog, she should have done some research. Dogs are pack animals, being isolated away from their pack (i.e. you) causes great anxiety in most dogs, especially a freakin' six week old baby puppy! Dogs are not solitary animals by nature, to a dog, being alone and isolated from the pack means death. Why would you want to do this to a dog which is the product of generations of breeding specifically to WANT to be with you, in addition to its basic social nature? There are breeds of dog which are somewhat suited to living outdoors, Boxers are not one of them.

Yes, some people can have happy outside dogs (with proper exercise and adequate interaction), but such people are usually serious working dog people, for the vast majority of outside dogs owned by the average owner, out of sight is out of mind, and the dog becomes a sad lawn ornament. I really REALLY strongly suggest that your mother reconsider this or, if she cannot/will not reconsider keeping this dog outside, then I suggest she reconsider having this dog at all. The red flags for this situation are piling up, as it currently stands, you have a recipe for an undersocialized, underexercised, undertrained and unhappy dog, and that's before you even get to the fact that it's from a clueless "breeder" (ethical breeders are usually VERY unwilling to sell dogs as outside dogs, unless the dog is of a breed well-suited to living outside, which a Boxer is NOT), with all the potential attendant problems that entails.
posted by biscotti at 7:41 PM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Nice assumptions you're all making here about my parents. Lawn ornament, indeed. My stepdad is retired and they both spend a lot of time outdoors in the yard, and my mom took our last dog on long walks twice a day in addition to time spent with her puttering in the yard. My mom is currently spending all day outside with the puppy, and she's sleeping indoors. I doubt she's been apart from either of them for more than a few minutes. The mom dog belongs to a neighbor's son. (I KNOW the mom dog should be fixed but I do not know this man, so any preaching on this issue is not going to serve any purpose.)

Thanks to those who gave me advice that wasn't insulting. I won't be checking back for further abuse so save it unless it just really makes you feel better to vent into the void.
posted by Mavri at 6:56 AM on July 1, 2008

I'm sorry you found some of this advice insulting, that was certainly not the intent, I deal with pet owners every single day since I work in a vet clinic, and the VAST majority of dog owners are massively undereducated about dogs and their needs, my goal was to help you and your mother understand that the situation you find yourselves in with this dog is far from optimal for the dog OR you, and to suggest that you look at ways to ameliorate it, I had no intention of insulting anyone. Most people seem to do more research into their next dishwasher than they do into a living creature that they will have for a decade or more, this is not an insult, it is simply what I (and other pet care professionals) have observed over years of working with pets and pet owners. Dogs are pack animals who find it stressful being isolated away from their fellow creatures, that is a fact, most dogs left outside alone do not get adequate interaction, that is also a fact (check with the ASPCA if you don't want to take my word for it), Boxers are working dogs bred specifically to want to be with people, that is also a fact, Boxers are a breed with many genetic problems, also a fact, puppies should not leave their litters before 7 weeks at the earliest, also a fact. I'm sorry if this isn't what you want to hear, but it's what your dog needs you to know.
posted by biscotti at 8:29 AM on July 1, 2008

Best answer: nthing Ian Dunbar's books and training methods as well as Puppy School. After You Get Your Puppy and Dog Star Daily are a good start. If you can't find local puppies to play with, you may have "puppy socials" or "puppy happy hours" in your area...which are invaluable to socializing and bite inhibition, especially before they are fully vaccinated.

As for treats...kongs, especially the puppy version, are great to get your pup to be a "chewtoy-aholic" (as Dunbar puts it). You can't have too many stuffable toys (fill with kibble, and other treats) to keep the little one busy. It might take some time to get him/her really into it...it helps to have something extra appealing in the tip/hard to reach (freeze dried liver for example).

For training, it helps to have treats that are soft so they can be broken off into little pieces and are easy for the puppy to chew. Natural Balance dog food rolls are good because you can cut them into pieces of any size (needs refrigeration). Save it for training instead of giving it as a meal. Puppies love novelty, so you probably have to change up your treat arsenal often. Freeze dried liver is like puppy crack, so save that for the really important stuff (housetraining and maybe later training with high distractions).

Oh, and Dunbar recommends not feeding out of a bowl...to give your puppy all of his/her food by hand. This has been HUGE for training my puppy...keeps him working for his food, learning, and burning energy. What we have done is training sessions 3 times a day (or all the food comes from a kong during one of these meals..for this, we use a large sized one that is too big for him to really chew on, but filled with kibble, he can roll it around and get it to come out). Luckily, I work from home and can devote lots of time to training...but I am finding puppies NEED lots of time to be healthy, happy, and well mannered.
posted by hazel at 2:14 PM on July 1, 2008

Whether you read it or not, I wanted to point out to you that the truth isn't always (or even usually) what you want to hear, and that the level you like a comment doesn't make it untrue. On Ask, we prefer people to truthful and honest, more truth and less fluff.

You're a dog-person who's landed in a field of dog-lovers, people who live and breathe dogs and who go out of our ways to make this crazy world a good place for them. Several things you said in this post brought about raised eyebrows, but I don't think you had bad intentions.

Biscotti is to dog questions as Languagehat is to language questions. She, I, and any person who works professionally with canines will tell you that *no* dog should be an "outside" dog, and that a "neighbor with a bitch in heat" isn't a breeder any more than a deadbeat dad is a father.

I'm sure your parents will be good doggy parents, but they're starting with 3 strikes against them. (Breed, age of separation, and expected sleeping arrangement.) I wish them the best.

For reference, you really should read up on the aggressive territoriality of dogs who live outside on chains or in kennels, regardless of how much they're played with. A too-early separation + a pit bull + outside life = recipe for disaster.
posted by TomMelee at 7:58 PM on July 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: My mom took the puppy for her first vet visit, and he recommended Ian Dunbar too. (My family's been taking our little lawn ornaments to him for over 25 years so we trust him.) So far, things are going really well following Dr. Ian's methods, though the pup's not too interested in Kongs. I'll tell my mom what hazel said about it taking time. My mom is nothing if not patient.

I did the "step away from the internet" thing due to the tone of some comments here. Biscotti et al, it's nice if you want to share facts with people and you can tell yourself that's all you did here, but facts tend to go down easier if you don't couple them with accusatory assumptions. And that's a fact. I love animals and the vitriol was really unnecessary and very alienating. I'm well aware of biscotti's rep on AskMe regarding dog stuff and the high value placed on truth here. I'm certainly willing to listen to "the truth," as people see it, but tone is important, also a fact.

My mom has a big yard, is currently on summer break (stepdad is retired), and is spending hours a day with the puppy doing Dr. Ian's stuff. There is no chain or kennel. She's currently sleeping inside b/c she's small, and they haven't decided if they'll continue to do that or get her a nice dog house. The puppy will probably spend as much time with her people as one owned by parents who both work full time. I understand that there's no arguing with the "there shall be no outside cats or dogs" crowd, but really, the dog will have as much people time as dogs owned by fully employed people.

I will read up on aggressive territoriality, thank you.
posted by Mavri at 8:22 AM on July 7, 2008

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