How to Train Your Puppy — and What to Teach Them
So you’ve adopted a new puppy. What’s next? Training your dog.
In addition to veterinary visits and vaccinations to keep them physically healthy, it’s important to consider your puppy’s mental and social needs.
One important aspect of this is training. Training your puppy can help keep their mind sharp, build their confidence, and strengthen the bond between you and your new furry best friend.
Why Do Puppies Need Training?
The first consideration is practical. For example, potty training and walking on a leash are crucial parts of daily life for many dogs. But, these behaviors aren’t necessarily inherent to dogs — they must be learned.
Training carries benefits to the pet population in general, too. Behavior problems — such as aggression, anxiety, or toilet training issues — are frequently cited reasons for pet dogs to be given up to a shelter. Since these issues can be greatly improved or even eliminated with appropriate training at a young age, training can help more dogs stay in their homes.
Additionally, dogs are smart, and keeping their mind active can contribute to their learning, entertainment, and mental and emotional wellbeing. It can prevent boredom — as well as the destructive behaviors that may be associated with boredom. And it’s a great way for you and your new puppy to bond and have fun together.
What Should You Be Teaching Your Puppy?
Knowing the benefits of training, many pet parents are eager to get started — but, they don’t know where to start or how to provide a positive training experience for their pup.
Each individual dog may prefer a different level and type of training. For example, some pups just stick with the basics (like “sit” and potty training), while others benefit from advanced training programs (like walking off-leash and learning tricks). And others may enjoy things like “nose work,” which teaches them to use their natural smelling abilities to locate objects in a course.
Specialized aspects of training could come later, depending on your pup’s interests and aptitudes. However, there are some things that are great for all dogs to know — things they can begin learning as young as 7-8 weeks of age.
Here, we’ll discuss some of the first things to train a puppy, which you can start as soon as you adopt your new friend…
Crate training isn’t just for convenience, it’s also hugely beneficial to your pup!
Dogs are naturally drawn to dens. A dark, quiet, crate can be very soothing to them, as a cozy spot to sleep and relax. It’s a safe space that’s truly their own.
Though it takes time to adjust (puppies may whine and cry at first, just like a newborn human baby learning to sleep in their crib at night), a crate helps a puppy develop a normal routine, i.e., when to sleep, when to go to the bathroom, etc.
And as your puppy gets older, their crate can be a great napping spot, and it will help prepare them for any boarding or travel that may be necessary.
Surely, the importance of potty training is something all dog owners can understand!
Teaching your puppy to “go” in the right place (whether that’s outside, or on a puppy pad or patch of artificial turf inside the home) can make owning a pet a lot easier — and allow you to spend your time loving on your pup rather than cleaning up messes.
For a puppy, keep in mind that they aren’t physically capable of “holding it in” for hours at a time, overnight or while you’re at work. For most breeds, this ability will improve as they get older.
So, be patient with your young pup. If you catch them going in the wrong spot, don’t yell or be harsh. Gently interrupt them if you can, and carry them to the right spot.
Praise your puppy when they go in the right place or alert you that they need to go outside. Go outside with them, and give them copious praise or a treat when they poop or pee — this will help them learn.
There will be plenty of times when you need your dog to give you their full attention. This is a first step in training, and it can also help to get your puppy’s attention to avoid potentially dangerous situations.
You can start by calling their name and offering a treat or praise when they look at you. Gradually extend the amount of time they must hold their attention on you. Note: Don’t call their name repeatedly, as this could teach them to ignore you
Socialization is more than just interacting with people and other pups. It’s the gradual process of getting your puppy used to new sights, sounds, smells, and other stimuli so they will be a well-adjusted adult dog.
Socialization teaches your puppy how to behave around people and other dogs. It also helps set them up for a lifetime of confidence so they are less likely to be scared of new environments and situations.
Begin by introducing new things, such as scents, toys, clothing (hats, umbrellas, etc.), human visitors of different genders and ages, recordings of storms or other sounds played on low, and so on… the list is endless!
If your puppy ever reacts with alarm, stop the new stimulus and go back a step. The process should be enticing and enjoyable. Otherwise, it won’t work as it should and could increase fear.
Also, be mindful of your puppy’s safety. Ask your veterinarian when you can safely introduce your pup to other dogs, or go outside or to dog parks to play. This will depend on their vaccination schedule, since puppies are at a higher risk of infectious disease.
Many dogs walk on a leash to use the bathroom each day. And even those who mostly stay indoors might go on the occasional walk for fun, for travel, or for a vet visit.
The key is to go slow. Start by leaving their collar or harness on for brief periods of time, with praise or treats. Gradually increase the length of time. Then, attach the leash and let them wear it in the home at first, before taking them outside on walks.
As with socialization, follow your vet’s recommendations for safety, and wait until your puppy is fully vaccinated before bringing them on outdoor walks.
Basic Commands like “Sit,” “Stay,” “Come,” and “Lie Down”
These are some of the first tricks to teach a puppy. They’re good for your puppy’s learning process — kind of like a young child beginning to go to school and learning the alphabet.
These tricks can also be valuable for keeping your puppy safe. For example, telling your puppy to “sit” if they are about to run out the door could help keep them indoors and prevent them from getting out and getting lost.
Of course, these commands should not be entirely relied upon for safety, especially early in the learning stage. Everyone in the home should also take precautions to keep doors shut and pick up items they don’t want a puppy to chew on. But, these commands could potentially help, especially as your furry friend gets older.
Start by teaching your puppy a simple “sit.” Shape the behavior using food-luring. This is when you hold a treat in front of your puppy, then raise it over their head. As their nose follows the treat, their backside will naturally lower. As this happens, say the word “sit” and reward them with the treat and praise.
Once your pup masters this, begin to practice “sit” in different rooms of the home, and with distractions. Then, work on having your puppy sit before their meals or before the door to the home is opened.
You can follow a similar process with the other commands.
Avoiding Undesirable Behaviors
In addition to teaching your puppy the behaviors you’d like to see, training also helps prevent the behaviors you DON’T want to see.
For example, training can help with chewing, biting, and jumping habits, as well as with territorial behaviors such as resource guarding.
Never yell or punish, but instead use signals to show the puppy this behavior isn’t beneficial to them. For example, with biting, give a sharp “Ow!” or “No!” and immediately stop playtime. Pull your hands away and ignore your puppy.
Then, when your puppy calms down, praise them and give them attention. Also, offer a chew toy. This redirects their natural biting behavior to an object that is a better alternative to your fingers.
What’s the Best Way to Train a Puppy?
Remember, you are training your puppy from the moment you bring them home — whether you know it or not!
So, you’ll want to be proactive in teaching your adorable pup what is, or isn’t, acceptable behavior. For this task, you’ll want to use positive reinforcement, consistency, and patience.
Positive reinforcement means praise or rewards (treats, attention, or a toy — whatever motivates your dog!) for performing behaviors you would like to see, whether that’s staying quietly in a crate, performing “sit,” or anything else.
Puppies should have fun and feel supported during training. They will learn faster with positive reinforcement. On the other hand, punishment, yelling, or other negative techniques could cause fear reactions that they carry into adulthood, slow down or halt their progress, and adversely affect the human-animal bond.
When offering treats, check with your vet to make sure the amount offered fits into your puppy’s nutritional plan. Keep pieces very small (the size of a fingernail or smaller is plenty). Small training treats are available from many pet food suppliers, specifically for this purpose.
Consistency is also important. Without consistency, it’s like you are sending mixed signals to your pup, which can make it more difficult for them to learn.
So, do some training every day. Puppies have short attention spans, but 2-3 five-minute sessions per day is a great place to start.
Also, be sure everyone in the home helps to reinforce the rules. For example, if you discourage your puppy from jumping, but your partner allows your pup to jump on them, they won’t learn that rule very well.
And finally, patience is important. Think of a young puppy the same way you might think of a toddler — they are eager to learn new things, but they don’t yet understand how the world works, and they have short attention spans. Also, young puppies have physical limitations, such as how long they can “hold it in” while potty training.
Resources to Help with Puppy Training
If you’re new to training a puppy, don’t worry — you’re not alone! There are plenty of ways to get help with the process.
If you want personalized assistance, consider working with a reputable dog trainer. Ask your veterinarian if they have recommendations for a local (or virtual) trainer, or do an online search and check reviews. A reputable trainer should always let you observe and be involved in the training process, and they should use positive reinforcement techniques.
Also, look for puppy obedience and socialization classes. Look for classes that require vaccinations, as this is a good sign that the trainers care about your puppy’s safety.
Also, check these resources for more details on the training process:
- The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine’s tips for puppy manners training
- The AKC’s advice for teaching a puppy five basic commands
- Detailed steps for crate training your puppy
Your new puppy is smart, curious, and eager to form a bond with their new human companion.
Training can bring out some of your puppy’s best qualities, support your new friendship, and set your puppy up for a lifetime of confidence and good manners. So, get started today, and have fun!