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The following is a collection of training tips that have worked well for us at Blackfire Cavaliers.  We hope you find the information you're looking for.  If not, feel free to e-mail us with your question.


Crate Training and Housebreaking


Many experienced dog owners and breeders use crate training to housebreak a puppy. If you use this method, you must keep in mind that crating a dog is not at all a cruel thing to do, if done correctly. Our adult dogs here at the home of Blackfire Cavaliers love to go into their crates when they want to sleep, and will bark to be let in if we should leave the crate door closed. The major point to keep in mind is that crating should never be used to punish a puppy for doing something wrong.


The type of crate you use is not nearly as important as the size. The crate should be just barely large enough for your dog to stand up and turn around. Don't think you're making it better for your dog by getting a larger crate; if it's any larger, you're inviting trouble. If you're concerned that a crate large enough for an adult dog will be too big for your newly arrived puppy, don't think you have to go out and buy several crates of different sizes. Just buy one that will be large enough for your puppy when it's full-grown. You can cut down the usable space while it's a puppy by putting a cardboard box in the back of the crate. As the puppy grows, smaller boxes can be used to increase the space inside, until your pup reaches its full adult size and you may remove the box entirely.


Housebreaking a puppy using a crate is actually not very difficult, but it requires a commitment of time and constant vigilance.  Make sure you have a properly sized crate (see above) and follow this procedure each day:


As soon as your puppy wakes up in the morning, approach the crate using the same words each time, such as, “Do you want to go out?”  Carry him outside to the same area each time and stay with him until he eliminates.  Give him time to find the right spot, and don’t distract him.  If you wish to teach him to go on command, repeatedly speak a phrase such as “hurry up” while he is eliminating.  As the puppy ages, he will associate the act of eliminating with that phrase.


After he is finished, give him lavish and enthusiastic praise – perhaps even a small treat.  Then bring him back inside for a short period of supervised play.  This period should start at no more than 15 minutes the first few days, and very gradually be increased over the following few weeks.  At the end of the supervised play period, put him back in the crate.


For the first few weeks, do not keep your puppy in the crate for longer than 2 hours at a time during the day.  After that time period, wake him up and repeat the above procedure.  You should also follow the “go out” procedure after every meal.  As he gets older, he will be able to tolerate up to 4 hours at a time in the crate.


Remember:  For the first few weeks, your puppy should be engaged in one of the following activities at all times:

  •  Sleeping in the crate.

  •  Outside doing his thing.

  •  In supervised play with you.

  •  On your lap.

In this way, he will never have the opportunity to make a mistake.


To see this technique in action, be sure to see the video.



How to Get a New Puppy Through the First Night


As you have seen in our last few tips, crate training a puppy makes housebreaking very easy, but requires some commitment on your part.  Getting through a full night, however, can be a bit more difficult.  In order for your pup to be a true member of the family, he has to allow you to get a full night’s sleep. 


Try this procedure from day one:


From about 3 hours before bedtime until an hour before, keep the puppy active.  Remember that during this time, he should be on your lap, or under your direct supervision; don’t give him a chance to slip up on his housebreaking.  An hour before bedtime, let him go to sleep.


At bedtime, wake him up and carry him out to eliminate.  Take the time to allow him to both urinate and defecate.  Then bring him in to sleep in his crate, in a place where you can hear him from bed.  If he cries, a sharp bang on the crate along with a loud “Quiet!” should settle him down.  As soon as he wakes up in the morning, start the daytime procedure we outlined last time.


For the first few days or weeks, your puppy may wake up very early, so be prepared to make a few sacrifices.  In time, however, he will adjust to your schedule, and you both will enjoy a comfortable night’s sleep.



How do I know when my puppy is a full-grown dog?


So you brought your new puppy home, you followed our advice on how to get him through the first night, and you used a crate to help housebreak him as we suggested.  Now that you’ve gotten all of those difficult things out of the way and he’s growing, how can you tell when he is no longer a puppy, but is finally an adult dog?


Actually, there is no single age at which you can simply say he’s not a puppy any more.  There are several different criteria for determining a dog’s maturity, and you should know the benchmarks for each of them.  Here are the most common:


Food and eating.  We begin to wean our puppies from their mother’s milk at about 4 to 5 weeks of age.  By the time they are 6 to 7 weeks old, they are eating small amounts of solid food 3 or 4 times a day.  By the time they go to their new homes at 10 weeks, they are eating 3 good-sized meals a day.  Soon after that, at about 3 months, they should receive 2 feedings a day.  The puppy will continue on this regimen until he decides he is an adult eater.  We find that anywhere from 4 to 7 months of age, and definitely by one year old, he will show little interest in the second meal.  That’s when he is no longer a puppy eater, and can be treated as an adult as far as food is concerned.


Physical development.  This area will be of particular interest to you if you are going to show your dog, but is an area every pet owner should be concerned with.  Each puppy develops at his own unique rate, but we at Blackfire Cavaliers have found that it always takes longer than you would expect for a puppy to finally realize his physical potential.  We have a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel bitch who was shown as a puppy and never even came close to a first place.  At over a year old, her head looked out of proportion to her body; it was so small we jokingly called her “pinhead.”  Suddenly, at about 2 years old, her head “popped” and she started winning first place ribbons.  The one comment that every judge made about her was that she had a beautiful head.  The moral of the story is that if you think your puppy is finally grown into his adult structure, you may want to wait a few months to see if he has more growth in him.


Trust in the house.  In this area also, most pet owners usually give their puppy credit for more maturity than he actually has.  We know owners who give their pups full run of the house at 6 months old.  That’s unfortunately when the worst furniture chewing occurs.  If you’ve crate trained your puppy, he’ll enjoy spending time in the crate when you have to leave the house for short periods of time, and he won’t have the opportunity to destroy your belongings when he’s in there (don’t forget to substitute safe chew toys so he can exercise his teeth).  Of course, while you’re home, let him have a safe area such as a kitchen to spend time in when he’s not out in the yard.  Depending on the trustworthiness of the individual puppy, you may begin to expand the territory he has when you’re out after he’s more than a year old.  We don’t allow our dogs full run of the house until they’re at least 2 years old, and even then they’re confined to a room or two when we’re out running errands.


As you can see, there’s no simple answer to this question.  A puppy is still a puppy in one way or another until he is over two years old.



How to Stop Your Puppy from Barking


It’s so cute when you first hear a young pup testing his vocal chords with what he probably imagines is a vicious sounding bark.  But if you allow too much barking to go unchecked for too long, cute becomes bothersome to both you and the neighbors.  It’s great to have an intruder alert system in your pet, but he should learn the limits and you should be able to stop his barking when you need to.


What we find works quite well is the tried-and-true beverage can method.  Take a used aluminum Coke, Pepsi or whatever can, rinse it and allow it to dry.  Toss a small handful of pennies into it, and seal the top with tape.  When you shake or toss the can, you’ll notice it makes an awful racket.  This is a noise your puppy will not like, and you may use that fact to your advantage.


The next time your puppy barks inappropriately, throw the can (not too hard!) near his back end, and say “Quiet!” sharply.  Even if you should hit him, the aluminum can will not hurt him, but it should scare the bejeepers out of him.  Be sure to love and praise him after he stops barking.  Continue to do this with all inappropriate barking events you witness.  After a few weeks, you should not have to throw the can – just shaking it within earshot of the pup will have the desired effect, and he will also begin to associate the word “quiet” with the can.  You will eventually be able to just use the word, and dispense with the can entirely.  We have an 8-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel that stops barking when we say “I’m going to get the can!”  They’re pretty smart.


A few warnings:

  • Be sure to throw the can gently, and toward the dog’s back end.  Try not to hit him directly.

  • This technique works much better if used when the puppy is relatively young, but may or may not be effective with older barkers.

  • Some dogs are simply not afraid of noises, and this method will not work with them.


Just remember – your dog is trying to protect his home (and you) when he barks at intruders.  Don’t punish him for trying to be helpful.  Instead, teach him when it’s permissible and when it’s not.



Who’s Training Whom?


If you have a puppy, you’ve probably spent some time training him in the basics.  Hopefully, he will obey commands like “Come!” “Stay!” “Sit!” and so on.  Better yet, you may even have enrolled in obedience school, and have taught your dog to heel without tugging at the lead, or to remain in a long sit or down position while you walk away.  If so, then you know that you’ve spent many hours training your dog, and you probably feel like you’ve accomplished something.  Did you also realize that your dog has probably spent at least as much time training you?


Think about it for a moment.  Suppose your dog wants to go out in the yard to romp for a while.  Let’s look at two different scenarios:

  • You’re perfectly comfortable on the sofa watching TV, and you don’t get up right away to let him out.  Fido starts making some noise, but it’s not enough to distract you from Survivor XVII.  When your precious Fido finally gets so worked up that he starts knocking over lamps, you hurry to let him out before he does any more damage.  Outcome:  he has trained you to get up and let him out at the command of knocking over lamps.

  • You notice that Fido is giving some signs that he wants to go out.  You go over to the door and ask, “Do you want to go out?”  He barks, wags his tail, spins around, and you’re certain about what he wants.  You wait for him to settle down and sit in front of the door, and open it only when he is still for a few seconds (this may take some physical guidance the first few times).  Outcome:  you have trained him to sit still in front of the door before you let him out.


We at Blackfire Cavaliers had a male Cavalier King Charles Spaniel many years ago who was a fussy eater.  We had adopted him at the age of 5, so we weren’t certain how his original owners trained him to eat.  It soon became evident that the previous owners had allowed Winston to train them to mix table scraps with his food before he would eat dinner.  In fact, the only way we could get him to eat when he first came into our home was to go over to his dish and scrape one of our plates over it.  This worked even when our dish was empty!


Since Winston, we have concentrated on training our puppies to eat properly.  After they’ve been weaned, they go into their crates with a dish of food for 15 minutes.  If the food is not finished, that’s all they get until the next regular meal.  As a result, all of our dogs are voracious eaters; we have trained them.


As you are training your puppy, always be aware of who is training whom.  You must control the rewards, and give them only at the desired behavior.  Don’t let Fido train you to do what he wants, train him to do what you want.



How to get your puppy accustomed to a collar and lead


Most new puppy owners find it easiest to train their puppies to walk on lead by using a body harness at first.  The harness provides a secure hold on your puppy, and moves him from close to his center of gravity, so it is much less likely that your puppy will buck and try to pull out, as many puppies do when they first wear a collar.  Make sure you get a harness that is adjustable both around the neck and around the body, so you can expand it as your puppy grows.


As your puppy becomes an adult dog, he should progress to a collar.  Get your puppy used to a collar and lead by putting just the collar on for a few days.  He is likely to scratch at it at first, but that will stop soon.  After he is accustomed to the collar, put a lead on him and go where he leads you.  You may even want him to walk around your fenced yard with the lead trailing after him on the ground, just so he gets accustomed to having it attached to his collar.  After a few days of this, begin to show him that you can lead him with gentle and quick tugs in the direction you want him to go.  Be sure to give lavish praise every time he responds to your lead.  Just ten minutes a day of practice with walking your puppy on lead will make a big difference when you want to take your adult dog for a walk, rather than letting him take you for a walk.


One important note about collars:  Remember that puppies grow continuously, but collars don’t.  Check the fit every week or two, and adjust it as he grows.  It should be snug enough so that he is unable to twist out of it, but loose enough for you to easily put two fingers between it and his neck.



How to teach your puppy to come


You can begin teaching your puppy some basic commands right away—he will learn a good deal of vocabulary if you are consistent.  Probably the most important to teach early is “come.”  As soon as your puppy is used to his collar (see "How to get your puppy used to a collar and lead" above), attach the lead and slowly back away from him.  Give a sharp jerk on the lead toward you, while simultaneously saying his name followed by “Come!” in a clear, sharp tone of voice. (Remember, you are giving a command, not pleading with him.)  As you reel him towards you, give lots of praise in a high-pitched and friendly tone of voice, using the puppy’s name and the word “good” as much as possible, while petting him vigorously.  You may also give him a small treat, but you don’t have to do this every time — he’ll never know when he gets the treat, so he’ll hope for it every time.


As your puppy gets older and walks well on lead, you can continue the training with the following technique.  As you are walking at a brisk pace with your dog on lead, first let the lead hang loosely, then reverse your direction, stop, and call, "Fido, come!" in a loud, firm tone.  As your dog comes to you, reel in the lead.  When he arrives in front of you, give him heaps of praise and love.


One word of warning:  Never use the "come" command to call your puppy for punishment if he has done something wrong.  You never want to give him the idea that his reward for coming to you is punishment; that's the surest way to teach him notto come when you call!  



How to teach your puppy not to fear thunderstorms or fireworks


The most important thing to remember about teaching your puppy not to be fearful in special situations is to treat those situations as part of the normal routine.  If you react to thunderstorms and firecrackers or show fear, your dog will learn to be afraid, too.  Remember:  Your puppy is very intelligent.  If you coddle  him,  or say things like “Poor little puppy,”  he will quickly figure out that there is reason to be fearful.  

In fact, the tender treatment you may be tempted to give him is a reward to him, so you are in effect teaching him to react with fear in those situations.  Your best course of action, though it may seem on the surface to be heartless, is to totally ignore the loud sounds and the puppy’s fear.  He will soon learn that these loud noises are perfectly normal and accepted by you;  he, too, will learn to accept them.

It is important to adopt this strategy from day one.  Once a puppy learns to fear loud noises, it is far more difficult to instill a sense of safety than it is when the puppy is very young and has not learned any fear reactions.



How to begin feeding your new puppy


Presumably, you are bringing your puppy home at the age of about 10 weeks, and this is the first time he is away from his mother.  The breeder most likely began weaning him at about 4 to 5 weeks of age, and he has not been relying heavily on mother's milk for some time now.  So what do you feed him, how often, and how much?


If you're using commercial dog food, we recommend a high-quality kibble purchased at a pet store and made from natural ingredients.  But a young puppy can't chew the kibble very well, and it's probably not as palatable as what he's been eating up to now.  In order to make it easier for him to eat, add enough boiling water to his kibble to cover it completely, and let it stand for 5-10 minutes.  At this point, it should have turned to mush, and he should love it.  You may also add a spoonful of protein supplement, such as raw chopped meat or ground vegetables.


A new puppy will generally eat 3 meals a day up until about 3 months of age.  At that point, the midday meal may be replaced with a few puppy biscuits, to get him used to chewing hard food.  Keep adding the boiling water to soften his food for the other two meals, but very gradually decrease the amount of water you add.  By the time he is 4 to 5 months old, he should be able to handle dry kibble, but make sure you have a water bowl out at all times -- dry kibble makes dogs thirsty!  Somewhere between 7 months and a year old, he will show less interest in the two meals, so you may cut him back to just one meal a day, with a few biscuits at the opposite end of the day.


The quantity you feed your new puppy depends greatly on his size, and where he is in the growth cycle.  Puppies generally eat the most in the 4 to 7 months bracket.  Your breeder can give you specific suggestions for your breed.  We at Blackfire raise Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.  They are usually somewhere around 5 pounds when they go to their new homes, and are eating about 1/4 cup of kibble 3 times a day at that point.  At 4 to 7 months, they are up to about 3/4 cup twice a day, but as adults weighing around 18 pounds, they eat about 1/2 cup once a day.


You may also wish to look into a natural raw diet (Sometimes known as the BARF -- bones and raw food -- diet).  Contact us for more information on this.



How to make your puppy a good eater


So your puppy is all settled in his new home, you're ready to spoil him rotten, and all of a sudden you're having a hard time getting him just to eat his dinner?  Turning a finicky eater into a voracious one is usually a simple matter of discipline -- disciplining yourself, that is.


When it's feeding time (see the above tip on feeding your puppy on this page), measure out the appropriate amount of food into pup's dish, place the dish in the same crate you've used to crate train him, close the door and leave him alone with the food for no more than 15 minutes.  If he has eaten his food, heap lots of praise on him, let him go out to do his business, and then spend some time playing with him.  If he hasn't eaten, simply toss the food out and let him out of the crate.  He should get NO treats or extra meals until his next regular meal time, and at that meal he should get just his normal amount of food.


This may sound cruel (we told you it takes self-discipline), but the fact is that a healthy dog will not starve himself.  Most of the time, he will begin eating well after no more than two or three days of this routine.  If he goes any longer than that, you should seek help from a Veterinarian -- there may be an illness playing a part in his lack of appetite.


A side benefit to this method is that the puppy will come to associate his crate with the comfort of food, and will have greater positive feelings than ever about being in a crate.  He will eventually seek out the crate whenever he feels insecure, just as we seek out comfortable places in our homes when we're afraid or not feeling great.


A few "don'ts" to keep in mind:
1. Don't play games to get your puppy to eat, unless you're prepared to play games every night for the rest of his life.
2. Don't feed him anything for several hours before mealtime.
3. Don't punish him for not eating.  Just ignore the whole thing and wait until the next mealtime.  He'll remember.



How to build your puppy's vocabulary


Most folks have no idea how much language a dog can understand.  A full-grown dog can master a vocabulary of over 100 words and phrases if properly taught.  And teaching your puppy to understand words is one of the easiest things to do.


It's important to start teaching words to your puppy right away.  Start with his name.  As soon as you get him home, repeat his name clearly while looking at him and petting him.  He'll soon associate his name with positive experiences, and will just love to perk up when you call him.


You may begin adding words to his vocabulary by association.  As you do things with him or show him new things, repeat the word or phrase along with it.  Some examples:

  • Every time you take your puppy out to do his business, keep repeating the phrase "go out."  He'll soon learn what it means to go out.

  • If you want your puppy to learn to go into his crate on command, say the word "crate" as you lead him to the crate, and immediately give him some food or a treat.  Within a week or two, he'll scurry into his crate when you say the word.

  • To teach your puppy to urinate on command, repeat a phrase such as "hurry up" or "go potty" while he is going.  If you do this often enough, he'll learn to associate the phrase with the act, and you can actually get him to go when you want him to (very useful when traveling).

  • You can teach your puppy to recognize different toys by name.  When you give him a specific toy, say its name clearly as you hand it to him.  We had a dog who knew the names of at least 10 different toys, and would get the one you asked for.

  • Teach your puppy to recognize the humans in his life.  When you put him in Mommy's lap, tell him he's going to MOMMY.  Pretty soon he'll go to her when he hears the word.

  • Give names to the places he spends time in.  We tell our girls that we're going UPSTAIRS often enough that they'll head up there as soon as we say the word.


You can teach your puppy the meaning of pretty much any word or phrase.  The keys are association and repetition.  Be sure to show him what act or thing is associated with the word every time you use it. 


And repeat it every chance you get, saying the word or phrase clearly.



Socializing Your Puppy


Once your puppy has reached about 4 months of age, and all puppy immunizations have been given, it is not only safe to take him out into public, but it is a necessary part of the growing-up process.  Dogs need to be “socialized,” that is, they need to become accustomed to lots of different people of various ages and temperaments, and to learn more about the world they live in.  Without proper socialization, your precious pet may not be able to relate positively to any visitors to your house, and he may experience severe anxiety for those necessary trips out to places like the vet’s office.


Once he has reached the proper age, take him with you whenever you can.  That quick trip to the stationery store for the newspaper, a run to the local home improvement store for a box of galvanized nails, a stop at your pet store to stock up on dog food, or even a brisk spring walk through the neighborhood are all great little trips you can share with your puppy.  Bring him anywhere a small pet would be welcome, and you have a chance to meet people.


If your puppy is shy around strangers, put some small treats in your pocket when you go out on a socialization trip.  Whenever someone asks if they can pet your puppy, hand him or her a treat and ask if they will feed it to your puppy.  This creates a positive association with meeting strangers, and should eventually help your pet overcome any fear of meeting new people.


Sometimes, a socialization trip gives you an opportunity to introduce your puppy to other dogs as well.  Before introducing your puppy to another dog, especially a larger one, be sure to first ask the owner if his dog is friendly.  Lots of encounters with non-threatening dogs will help your pet develop a sense of self-confidence with other animals.


On any of these trips, be sure to exercise reasonable precautions.  Never lock your dog in a hot car, never leave him unattended outside a store, and don’t walk too fast for extended periods with a small breed dog.


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