With their satin soft ears, perfectly plump paw pads and irresistible puppy eyes, it’s easy to fall in love with your new puppy. However, what you teach your new puppy is a different story.
Tons of adorable puppies grow up to become adult dogs with unmanageable behavior problems, and animal shelters are full of dogs that were given up because no one took the time to train them. If you want your puppy to grow into the adult dog you always wanted, training should be a top priority. Puppies are never too young to learn, and your training sessions should begin the day you bring your new family member home.
Here are the first 10 lessons to teach your new puppy how to get your relationship started the right way.
1. Toilet training
For the sake of your floor, potty training should be at the top of the agenda of things to teach your new puppy. Before you get started, you’ll need to consider your living situation and your puppy’s vaccination schedule, but potty training a dog always involves the same three steps.
First, let your puppy go to the designated potty spot. Say something like, “Go to the potty,” and reward them when they do their work.
The second thing you need to know is what to do if your puppy makes a mistake, which they inevitably will. If you notice your puppy lifting a paw or squatting on the carpet, calmly interrupt him and lead him outside to his potty. Unfortunately, if you don’t catch them red-handed and only find the stinking evidence of their crime, you have no choice but to grab the carpet cleaner. Scolding them afterwards or rubbing their noses in the mess won’t do you any good; in fact, it will seriously damage your budding bond.
Finally, keep your expectations in check. It is commonly believed that puppies can only ‘hold it’ for as many hours as they are months old. This means that your two-month-old puppy needs to go to the toilet every two hours.
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2. Playing passing
A puppy biting can be cute, but the older he gets, the worse the problem will be. To set your puppy up for success, you need to teach your new puppy proper play, starting during your first play session. If they are playing with their teeth or claws, stop playing immediately and say something like, “Ouch!” in a startled tone.
They won’t learn the “no teeth” lesson on the first try, but if you are consistent, they will eventually connect the dots and realize that if they bite, the fun is over. Dr. Becker of Mercola Healthy Pets also reminds pet owners that harsh punishment is never the answer to training a puppy. She says,
“Whatever you do, don’t try to control your puppy’s aggressive behavior by acting aggressively yourself. It is never appropriate or productive to hit or shake a puppy, or grab its snout.”
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Your puppy’s train of thought probably goes something like this: “Oh, look, that hooman is talking to me. That’s a nice hooman, I wonder what… SQUIRREL!’ It’s cute, but it’s not ideal for training. Without focusing first, all future training sessions will both begin and end with frustration.
The first lesson in teaching your new puppy to concentrate is the “look at me” game. The rules are simple; if your puppy looks at you willingly, he gets a treat. You can wave your hands or click your tongue to get their attention, but don’t touch them. When you first start playing, your puppy only needs to look at you for a second to earn his reward. But as you go along, make sure they pay attention to you longer before handing out the good stuff.
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4. Name recognition
Some dogs learn their names naturally over weeks, months, or years, but your puppy’s life will be a lot less confusing if you take the time to formally teach him his name. The first lesson of teaching your new puppy’s name recognition is a lot like the “look at me” game. But this time you want your pup’s name to be the cue to look at you. Say their name only once and reward them when they look at you.
You will need to play the simple name game several times a day for several days until your puppy responds reliably to his name. From there you can increase the difficulty by adding distractions and calling out their name in unfamiliar environments.
Having a good memory is one of the most important skills to teach your new puppy, but it is also one of the most difficult to perfect. Your puppy won’t be a rock star right away, but learning this lesson early could save his life one day in the future.
American Kennel Club teaches pet parents the basics of “come” training in a calm, familiar environment. They say,
“First, get into a squatting position with your arms wide open. Say the word ‘come’. If she [the puppy] starts moving towards you, give her verbal praise. Whatever you do, don’t reach out or grab her when she comes close to you. That will confuse her.”
To make sure your puppy knows you are in training mode, use his newly earned name recognition skills. Say her name and then call her to you. Remember to always use the same language and say the cue only once. If your puppy doesn’t come to you, calmly walk over to him, tie a leash and take him back to where you called him. Praise and reward them before trying again.
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6. Sit down
If a dog only knows one thing, it’s usually the word “sit.” Puppies as young as eight weeks old can learn this skill, and most pick it up quickly.
First, hold your hand with your palm facing up and place a tasty treat on your fingertips. Make sure your puppy doesn’t take it from you while you hold it in front of his nose. Once his eyes are on the prize, slowly raise your hand above the puppy’s head and say the word “sit.” As they follow the treat, the natural movement is to sit. As soon as their fluffy bottom hits the ground, tell them how great they are and give them the treat. Continue repeating this motion until you teach your new puppy to sit without the treat in front of him.
The key to teaching your new puppy to “stay” is to convince your dog that staying when you say so is more rewarding than anything he could do. Start by having your dog sit still while close to you. Instruct them to sit down, then hold your hand with your palm facing them and say “stay” in a firm voice. As long as they stay focused on your hand and don’t move for 20 seconds, give them a reward.
Repeat this process several times before stepping back. If your dog moves, guide him back to his original spot and try again. Don’t increase the distance between you and your dog until he reliably stays away from where you are. As they get better, you can let them stay longer while you are further away.
It is no fun to have your arm pulled out of its socket while walking. Even if your puppy remains small forever, all dogs must be kept on a leash. The traditional meaning of the word heel is for the dog to walk close to your left side, but you can choose the side that feels most comfortable.
Your puppy’s first lesson in tracking should happen during your first walk together. Start by positioning them so that they are standing next to you, facing forward. Use their favorite squeaky toy or a tasty treat in your other hand and hold it out in front of you. As you step forward and say the word “heel,” you want your puppy to follow the prize and step forward with you.
If they get distracted, squeak the toy or call their name. Reward your puppy for the first few attempts after a few steps. As they get better, try to keep their focus longer. Once they get the hang of following, drop the toy and rely solely on the verbal cue.
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9. Go to your seat
If your dog is overly enthusiastic about greeting visitors, excited about the approaching mealtime, or if he’s about to do something naughty, you’ll wish he knew a “place” command. It’s about focusing your dog’s energy on learned behaviors that will keep him out of trouble and also satisfy his need to do something, even if that something is waiting patiently.
The first thing you need to teach your new puppy is a space that is 100% your dog’s own; a dog bed, mat or crate are the best options. Your goal is to teach your dog the “place” command so that no matter what is going on around him, he knows that the best things happen when he is in his place. To perform this trick correctly, your pup will also need to know the cues for “sit” or “down” and “stay.” Best Friends Animal Society suggests introducing the trick this way:
“Throw something tasty on with the arm closest to the mat. As soon as the dog steps onto the mat, use a clicker or say your marker word (e.g. “yes”). Once the dog has eaten the treat, get his attention, say your release word (e.g. “free”) and toss another treat, this time off the mat.”
Try to do this after a few repetitions by pointing to the spot and only throwing the treat away when your puppy is in the correct position.
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10. How to be alone
Dogs with separation anxiety howl for hours, destroy furniture, go indoors to the bathroom, and hurt themselves trying to escape. It is a serious behavioral problem and it is your job to do everything you can to ensure that it does not bother your dog. You will be tempted to smother your new puppy with all your love and attention for the first few weeks he is home, but you will need to teach your new puppy how to stay apart.
Crate training is an excellent way to train a dog to be alone, but whether you crate train or not, the key is to introduce the concept of being alone gradually. Start with five minutes, and if that goes well, increase the time to 10, 15, 30, and then to a full 60 minutes. Don’t forget your pup’s potty schedule, but letting him lie down during the day is something he’ll have to get used to. The sooner they learn that lesson, the less likely they are to develop separation anxiety.
To ensure you’re helping your dog’s progress rather than hindering it, make sure you don’t make any of these 5 common new puppy mistakes!