Congratulations on welcoming a puppy into your life! This guide is here to help you navigate the first few months with your new canine family member.
The biggest training priorities for your new puppy include socialization, house training, and basic skills. Puppies under about 15 weeks of age are more open to new experiences and information than adult dogs (or even older puppies), so this is a critical time to help them make positive associations with people, dogs, sounds, and other experiences. You can also start teaching your puppy basic skills like sitting, coming when called, and polite walking.
The good news: Young puppies can start learning training basics even as young as eight weeks old. Keep in mind that puppies are easily distracted and have very short attention spans, so make sure you keep training sessions short and work in a quiet environment at home.
And don't forget: Reward your puppy generously to help them learn to love training.
Learning Priorities for Puppies 8-10 Weeks Old
First, new puppy owners will need to set up a daily routine to help your puppy become accustomed to their new environment.
That means you'll need to set consistent times for your pup’s meals, potty breaks, playtimes, nap times, and training sessions, which will help your furry friend learn the household schedule quickly. You should also prioritize crate training and potty training at this stage. Helping your puppy learn to love the crate will help you potty train faster and keep your puppy safe at times when you can't closely supervise them.
You should also begin socialization after the first few days of your puppy's arrival. Socializing your new pup helps them learn what's safe in their big new world. Just make sure you start slowly and make their new experiences positive. You can accomplish this by pairing treats with new people, dogs, sights, sounds, and smells to help your puppy make positive associations with their new home and neighborhood.
Learning Priorities for Puppies 10-12 Weeks Old
At around 10-12 weeks of age, you should continue socializing your puppy by widening their experiences. Bring humans other than your immediate family members into the fray — you can start by inviting a couple of friends over. You can also take your pet to outdoor spots close to home. Just make sure you're avoiding crowded areas at this stage.
You should always carry treats when you take your pup outside, and be sure to make use of them. You can pair those treats with new experiences to help your pup continue making positive associations with the outdoors.
In addition, you can give your puppy chew toys to help them learn to play independently. Try out toys with different textures, shapes, sounds, and sizes to find out what your puppy likes. Plus, you can use toys to redirect your puppy from biting you or your clothes.
Meanwhile, you should continue helping your puppy love their crate and learn to spend time alone in it. You should start by leaving the house for 5-10 minutes, then gradually build up the time.
It's also important to help your pup learn how to enjoy handling. Be tactile, and reward them for it. Touch your four-legged friend's paws or ears briefly, then follow up with a treat. Your pup will learn that handling means good things for them. Critically, this will help make them more comfortable with veterinary care.
Finally, start working on fundamental skills like "Sit" and "Come." Remember that teaching your dog a new behavior is a process and you shouldn't anticipate instant results, so be patient and reward your pup generously to build their interest in training.
Learning Priorities for Puppies 3-4 Months Old
At this point you should continue working on potty training and crate training on a daily basis. Leaving your pup in the crate for an hour or so at a time will help them learn to hold it between potty breaks, and give you time to get things done while they're safe in their crate.
You can also start taking your pup out on the town more. Once your furry friend has finished their vaccine series, it’s safe to take them to more populated areas. Remember to pair all their new experiences with treats to help them make positive associations.
Your pup is also more ready to work on leash walking at this stage. You should start by practicing walking skills in quiet areas, then gradually introduce them to more distracting places.
Practice your pup’s skills while out on walks. You can ask them to sit, or wait at corners and reward them for checking in with you when it’s distracting.
Learning Priorities for Puppies 4-6 Months Old
Learning new skills isn't enough — your puppy needs lots of practice to solidify them. Just continue to be patient and reward desired behaviors. Oh, and don't worry if your dog’s training regresses — just continue working to keep them focused on you. You may need to increase your rewards temporarily until they get back on track. And apart from edible treats, you can try mixing in other rewards like play and toys.
At the same time, you should continue to train them in more distracting environments. Work on socialization by greeting people and dogs, going for car rides, practicing body handling, and visiting the vet’s office.
Making Training A Part of Your Everyday Life
Adapting to a dog-friendly lifestyle can be an adjustment! Try fitting training into your everyday routine instead of setting aside a particular time to train each week. Just be consistent and use treats to help your puppy understand that training is fun and rewarding. You can even use a treat pouch, or stash jars of treats around the house for impromptu training. And always carry treats on walks, and stop a few times to work on skills like sitting.
It's a good idea to use meal times as a reminder to work on training. Grab a handful of kibble at mealtimes to work on training skills, then give your pup the remaining meal portion in their bowl.
Another piece of advice: Keep training sessions short. That'll make sure your puppy stays excited to keep learning instead of getting restless.
Now that you've learned the basic timeline, it's time to dive into some specific training techniques.
How to Potty Train a Puppy
First, just remember: Potty training takes time and patience! Don't expect perfection overnight. But if you use these guidelines, it'll be as quick and easy as possible:
- Set a consistent daily routine for your puppy, including meals, play, and naps.
- Take your puppy out to potty when they wake up, after meals, after naps, and after play sessions. A young pup should be taken out 10 minutes after they start playing, as play can bring on the need for a potty break.
- Always accompany your puppy on potty breaks, so you know whether they’ve pottied or not.
- Reward your puppy with treats after they potty. Be sure to play outside with your pup for a few more minutes as an additional reward.
- You can prevent accidents by supervising your pup. Keep them confined to one room while you're supervising. You can tether them to you by putting a leash around your waist or keeping them in your lap.
- If you can’t closely supervise your puppy, put them in their crate. A crate is the best way to prevent accidents during potty training. (Use the crate training tips in the next section to make sure your pup likes to spend time in their crate.)
- If you want your pup to use pee pads, lead your puppy to the pee pads on their regular schedule instead of taking them outside. And reward them for pottying on the pad.
- Clean up accidents with an enzymatic cleaner to remove odors and prevent your pup from going back to the site of accidents.
- This is a very important thing: Never punish or yell at your pup for accidents in the house. If your puppy is having a lot of accidents, tighten up your schedule and management to prevent as many of those accidents as possible.
Crate Training a Puppy
Crates are extremely helpful when it comes to preventing accidents during potty training. Just as important, they give your pup a safe place to hang out when you’re busy with other activities or away from home. Here are some important rules of thumb:
- When you're potty training, make sure your puppy only has enough room to stand up, turn around, and lie down in the crate. This prevents your pup from using one end of a large crate as a potty area. You can use a plastic bin or a crate divider to limit the amount of space in the crate.
- Your pup’s crate should be located in a common area where the family spends time, so they're not isolated when inside the crate.
- You can help your pup love their time in the crate by giving them treats when they’re in it. Just sit close by and offer treats when they're calm and relaxed inside the crate.
- By that same token, you can feed them meals in the crate or let them play with toys in the crate while you're there to supervise.
- Gradually build up the amount of time your puppy spends in their crate. Start with just a few minutes and increase the time every day.
Training a Puppy to Sit
"Sit" is one of the first basic commands you'll want to teach your pup. Follow these steps to get it right:
- Hold a treat right at your pup’s nose, then slowly move the treat up and slightly back towards the top of your pup’s head to elicit the sitting motion. As soon as your puppy’s butt hits the ground, give them the treat. Repeat the process often.
- After many successful repetitions, make the same motion with your hand, but without a treat. When they sit, say “Yes!” then reach for a treat and give it to your pup. Continue practicing using your empty hand to cue your pup to sit.
- When your pup has the hang of the hand signal, add in your verbal cue “Sit.” So say “Sit,” then use the hand signal. When your pup sits, say “Yes!” and then give them the reward.
- Over time your dog will start to sit as soon as they hear "Sit," and you can phase out your use of the hand signal.
Leash Training and Walking
This is another crucial skill. Follow these guidelines to become a dog walking wiz:
- Pair your leash with a harness instead of attaching it to their collar — it's safer and more comfortable.
- Start getting your puppy used to the harness and leash. After you put on the harness, give your dog a treat. Let your pup wear the harness for brief periods while you play with them and give them treats. (Just don’t leave your puppy unattended while wearing a harness.)
- Teach your dog a focus cue, like a kissy noise, a click of the tongue, or even a word like “Focus.” Every time you cue your dog to focus on you, give them a treat. Practice this inside the house when it’s not distracting.
- When out walking your dog on a leash, you can use your cue to ask your dog to focus on you. Always reward your dog when they turn toward you.
- If you see an upcoming distraction, use your focus cue before your puppy notices to help them pay attention to you instead of the distraction.
- If your pup lunges or barks at dogs, people, or cars, use your focus cue to get their attention. Work on your timing to try to prevent barking and lunging.
- When your puppy is first learning leash-walking skills, be generous with rewards for paying attention to you and walking nicely. You can reduce the number of treats you use over time, but plan on using treats regularly for several months.
Teaching Your Puppy to Come When Called
Also very important! Just follow these steps:
- Choose a cue for your puppy like “Come” or “Here.”
- At first, make coming when called extremely easy for your puppy by starting when they're within 1-2 feet of you.
- Say “Come,” and as soon as they notice you, offer several treats, one at a time. This generosity lets your pup know that coming to you is extremely rewarding, and keeps them with you for several seconds.
- If your pup doesn’t look or come near you, use encouraging words, get on the ground, and entice your puppy to approach.
- Gradually add to the distance your pup must move to get to you, one foot at a time, until your pup comes from 6-8 feet away.
- Try repeating the process while standing in a different room than your puppy in the next session. Remember, you may have to encourage your puppy to come from further away. And keep being generous with your rewards!
- Once your pup has learned to come when called inside the house, you can take the game outside! Use an enclosed yard or a long leash to practice outside.
What About Dog Training Classes?
Taking your furry friend to puppy training classes and puppy socials can be rewarding for both of you! Training classes are often worth the investment of time and money to learn from a professional dog trainer with years of experience. Expert instruction can help you socialize your dog and learn basic skills and good manners at an early age.
Just remember that classes can be distracting, so your dog may make better progress if your training program includes at-home practice between class sessions. And make sure to find a trainer that uses only positive reinforcement techniques to keep your dog enthusiastic about training and maintain your caring relationship with your dog.