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36–39 Weeks: What to Expect From Your Puppy

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How to Use the Surge of Your Puppy's Senses in Training

Puppies at this age need a good deal of stimulation to hone their senses and develop their cognitive ability. This is a time when a puppy's senses are surging and unless he's consistently and correctly stimulated, he'll get overwhelmed. Humans have been using dogs' senses for their benefit since we were introduced to each other. Today we use our dogs' sense of smell to sniff out everything from bombs to cancer. Our dogs' sense of hearing can locate a burglar hiding behind the washing machine in the basement and help us locate him with just a whistle even when he's far away.

The main goal now is to help him focus his senses and to use his senses in training. And, if we understand how a dog's senses work, it makes these tasks much easier.

Understanding Your Puppy's Senses

  1. Sight - Dogs do see in color but in a smaller range than we do. But they beat us in motion detection and night vision. Their night vision is acute because they have an additional reflective layer in the eye. They can also see much further than we can, especially if they're a sight hound.

  2. Hearing - Dogs hear four times the distance we humans do. Their ears are also better equipped to receive sound, with 15 muscles that move them in every direction, and independently at that!

  3. Touch - Dogs have a similar sense of touch to humans except that they also have sensory receptors in their faces so they can find Mom when they're newborns.

  4. Smell - Perhaps a dog's smell is his most amazing sense. A dog's sense of smell is close to 100,000 times more powerful than a human's. Besides tracking and looking for food, dogs also use their sense of smell to read other dogs' "calling cards."

  5. Taste - A dog's taste is very similar to a human's. It is closely related to their sense of smell, as ours is, and the smell takes precedence over the taste. That's why your puppy sometimes wolfs down items you would never put in your hand, let alone your mouth.

Using Your Dog's Senses in Training

In all forms of training, we are using our puppy's senses to get him to do what we want. If you tug on his collar, his touch sense responds. If you say a command, he's using his hearing. If you have him follow a lead, such as a rabbit in sight hound racing, he's using his sight. But how do the differences in his senses from ours fit into a good training regime?

  1. Sight - Dogs are very responsive to hand commands partly because you must get their attention before proceeding. You can start out with larger motions but see how minute you can get. A well-trained puppy will sit at a slight move of your hand to your face.

  2. Hearing - A dog's acute sense of hearing comes into play when training with dog whistles. Dog owners who run their dogs in herding trials can control them very far away by the simple blow of a whistle.

  3. Touch - You should never use touch to correct your pup. Human touch should never have negative connotations for our dogs and although many dogs may never have an issue with it, there are always those dogs who will learn that touch from a human means something bad. Don't be one of those people.

  4. Smell - There are obviously many, many ways you can train your puppy to use his smell. Playing simple games such as "Where is the treat hidden?" and "Find my stinky sock" can hone his sense of smell. In fact, you are using his sense of smell every time you use a treat in training.

  5. Taste - The lesser of the senses, dogs can still make choices based on taste. A good way to stimulate your puppy is to place two different treats on the floor (such as a piece of chicken and a piece of beef) and ask him to choose. You can repeat with the favored treat and a new treat until you determine what his real favorite is. This hones his cognitive skills and let's you know what treat he is likely to be most responsive to.

Whether your puppy is using his senses for the betterment of mankind or to find the piece of cheese hidden behind the fridge, encouraging him to utilize them is beneficial for both you and him.

Photo by: Keith Bacongco via Flickr Creative Commons

Advice from Other Dog Owners 

Start Training Your Puppy Right Away

Even though the old saying goes, "you can't teach an old dog new tricks," in reality you can start training a dog at any age - if the dog is nine weeks, nine months, or nine years old.

Even if you bring home a very young puppy, training and working on wanted behaviors starts immediately after the dog comes home with you. You would start teaching the dog to recognize her name and get her used to a set schedule of when you go outside, when she's fed, when it's time for walks and when it's time for bed time. Even playtime can be training - you're teaching her what she can and cannot play with, not to bite your hands, and rules for your games (such as, when you bite me, the game ends).

Formal training, such as sit, down, and come, can be started at a very young age as well. It's never too early to "shape" behaviors using positive rewards. A good time to enroll into a class is around 6 months old - puppy class.

~Chris & Brian C., owner of German Shepherd

Dealing with a Puppy That Chews Everything in Sight

Try offering your puppy a variety of chew toys. Notice the texture and softness of what he usually chooses to chew on (that he's not supposed to chew on) and try to pick a toy with that texture and softness. But don't get any toys shaped like any of the inappropriate items he chews. Dogs don't know the different between a chew toy shaped like a shoe and a real shoe.

Also, redirect the behavior. It's very simple to do this. All you need to do is when you see him chewing inappropriate items, show him the chew toy and encourage him to chew that instead. Praise and richly reward him for chewing the right things. Whenever he chews the wrong things, just redirect.

~Tiffany C., owner of Papillon mix

Tips on Housebreaking a Puppy

The best thing I found was crate-training at night, and when you're away from home. I didn't keep my dog crated when I was home with him, I locked him in the kitchen the first week, staying in there to play with him. On the second week we slowly let him have more freedom in the house.

We were always watching, and after all activity (sleeping, eating, playing) took him out right away. I took him out as much as every 15-30 minutes. We took him out the same door always, out to the same spot (by a big field we have beside our yard), said 'go potty, go potty' (he's 2 now, and still goes to the same area to poop) and petted/praised like crazy when he did (good BOY, good potty!) Then right back inside....no playing right after potty. If we played, it was inside, then back out to play, so he'd 'get it' that that trip out was for potty alone. When you pair whatever words (like "go potty") to the action, I think it helps...and he'd go potty on command after awhile. That's nice when you're getting ready to go somewhere in the car, and need him to go!

If he had accidents when in the crate, I never scolded...never. Just cleaned everything up. Nature's Miracle worked wonders for me; it cleans spots and odors great. We would never rub the puppy's nose in it if there were accidents in the house. That's what worked for me.

~Donna C., owner of Labrador Retriever

Training Your Puppy to Sleep Through the Night

My trainer told me that puppies can usually hold it longer during the night, when they are sleeping.

If your pup is waking up and crying to go out at night, you might try pushing her potty breaks back a little. If she normally wakes up at 12, wait an hour, then take her out at 1. If shes fine with that, push it back another hour, til 2, and so on. That's what I did with my dog and it worked well and quickly. Instead of taking her out at 5, I'd wait til 5:30. Then 6, then 6:30, etc. She was sleeping through the night by 12 weeks or so (but I'm sure every pup is different).

~Dana S., owner of German Shorthaired Pointer

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