How to train your puppy: benefits and tips
- How to train your puppy: benefits and tips
Adopting a sweet little puppy is such a fun and exciting time! Along with the nearly unbearable levels of cuteness comes a nearly blank slate when it comes to behavior and expectations. Your puppy really only knows what it’s learned from its birth home and is primed to learn.
While puppy training might seem a little overwhelming, puppies are similar to human babies in the way they absorb information at almost unbelievable levels in their early months. The best time to start training a puppy is now.
What are the first things you should do when training your puppy?
When training your new puppy, it’s so important to have realistic expectations for their ability to learn. Adjusting to a new home, especially at such a young age can be overwhelming.
Prioritize making your new puppy feel at home and building your relationship. Giving your puppy time to get to know you and your routines is imperative especially in the first few weeks together. Only once you have a strong bond with your puppy and they feel safe and secure in their new family can training skills begin.
How to train your puppy
In addition to their entire world changing, your puppy is quite literally a baby with developing mental abilities. When training your puppy, have realistic expectations for their capacity to learn at their age.
Puppies develop their attention span as they age, meaning younger puppies simply cannot pay attention as long as an older pup. Have patience while your puppy tries to understand what you are asking of them.
Patience will get you far, but consistency will supercharge your training efforts. Puppies are always learning so the more consistent you can be in your training the more efficient your puppy will be in learning.
When it comes to dog training, obedience training was the primary option for decades. With the scientific advancements in understanding how dogs learn, obedience training is now considered an outdated and even harmful training method.
Today we know that positive reinforcement training is the most effective dog training method. Luckily it is simple and enjoyable: dog owners reward desirable behaviors and ignore unwanted behaviors. Rewards can be treats, praise, a pat on the head, or a quick game …the important thing is that the reward is of high value to your dog.
Some puppies will do anything for a chewy treat while others respond to praise and belly rubs. Take time to find out what your unique dog loves most, and you will see your training sessions take off!
Why is training a puppy important?
The benefits of training your dog are nearly endless, it builds your dog’s confidence and trust, provides mental stimulation, and strengthens the bond between you and your dog.
Dog training is a core foundation of responsible pet ownership that can create opportunities for you and your dog to live a more full and happy life together. Training is a way to communicate with your dog, training your puppy starts them off on the right path to successful ideal behavior.
How to start training your puppy
Your new puppy has been learning from the day it was born from their mother and littermates, and from the environment, they are born into. From the moment you pick up your puppy, they are learning from your actions and reactions.
The first thing you should do is be aware that your puppy is always learning from you. In fact, The Humane Society advises dog owners to be aware of accidentally training unwanted behaviors.
For example, if you are crate training your puppy but you can’t stand to listen to them cry and eventually let them jump in bed with you, you’re training your dog that if they cry long enough they will be let out and cuddled. You're unintentionally rewarding (cuddles in bed) the behavior you want to discourage (crying) – and reinforcing that behavior.
Weeks 8 to 16 of training your puppy
From around weeks 8 to 16 of your puppy's life, they are extra sensitive to socialization, meaning they are determining what situations are safe or scary. This time is critical to teach your puppy that the world is a safe and good place rather than one to fear.
Exposing them to the sights, sounds, and experiences of the environments you would like them to feel comfortable and confident is the first priority over cues. During this time practice exposing them to positive experiences with the people and places you will frequent with them, especially being handled by medical staff.
Puppy training at 8-10 weeks old
This is around the age that many new puppy owners bring home their new puppy. During this phase of your puppy’s life, they can handle learning the basics:
Continue to prioritize building your connection and creating structure above all else
- Name recognition
- Potty training
- Crate training & being alone calmly
- Introduce basic cues like sit & come
- Start socialization within the safety measures to protect against diseases
- Body handling - including their mouth, ears, paws, face, and everywhere a veterinarian may need to inspect
- Train your puppy not to bite
- Maintain structure and routines at home
Puppy training at 10-12 weeks old
At this point, your puppy is feeling confident in basics and is ready for more cues:
- Introduce the leash and harness to your puppy
- Continue socialization and body handling by others
- Impulse control practice like sitting before being served dinner
- Start threshold training (asking your puppy to sit at doorways instead of bursting through)
- Start practicing basic cues like place, sit, and down
- Discourage jumping that is cute now but problematic later
Puppy training at 3-4 months old
Your puppy is mentally ready to begin more complex training routines:
- Begin working on Stay and Leave It - both build on impulse control training
- Start command combinations like sit-stay and limit distractions
- Start to link cues together like sit/down/stay to keep your puppy engaged
- Begin to socialize with other dogs after your puppy has received all their vaccinations. When socializing, focus on quality over quantity. Don't force interactions and monitor closely
- Take any steps back to strengthen skills as needed
You may need higher-value treats during this training phase to combat distractions. Your puppy is also likely in the peak teething stage and will have a strong desire to chew and bite. This time is key to learning what is appropriate (chew toy) and inappropriate (the kids' hands) to bite.
Puppy training at 4-6 months old
Advance on cues in more distracting settings like outside in public and new spaces:
- Continue to socialize in new environments
- Teach recall - this can be a lifesaving cue and is imperative to off-leash walking
- Extend walks to work on your puppy’s leash training skills
- Start to wean your puppy off of food rewards by using praise or affection if they are responsive
- Maintain structure and routines at home
Puppy training at 6 months - 1 year
Your puppy should know all of the basics and have a solid foundation of what is expected of them. Continue to reinforce all the cues and desired behaviors your puppy has learned and challenge them with different distractions while training to give them opportunities to improve their skills.
At every point in your puppy’s training, its normal to take steps back to strengthen skills as needed. Your puppy is learning so much so quickly, don’t feel discouraged if you need to slow down or take steps backward to solidify concepts for your puppy.
Always maintain structure and routines at home as much as possible. You can expect to plateau or even step back on training with any big changes in your daily routines.
Puppies and dogs all have unique thresholds for what they can tolerate. Working within your dog’s threshold keeps training positive and effective.
The lifelong benefits of training your puppy
Each puppy is unique in their ability to learn, what motivates them, and how they respond to new challenges. But every puppy will benefit from forming a safe and secure bond with their new family and learning what is desired of them through positive reinforcement training.
Petcademy – which is included free in the Lifetime Protection Membership Plus is an excellent training source for force-free training videos, tips, and more to help you train your dog to be their very best.