How To Train A Puppy Step-By-Step
Welcome to Puppy Training 101 🎓
Puppies are so freaking cute — everyone knows that.
What might not be so cute, however, is the somewhat daunting idea of training a puppy (especially if you’ve never done it before).
Luckily, puppy training doesn’t have to be such an intimidating thing. All you need is time, patience and a lot of treats.
Here’s how to get the training process started.
Why should I train my puppy?
“Training a dog while he is young will give you the best chance of owning a well-behaved dog once he is fully grown,” Iris Ulbrich, a behavior consultant and trainer with Tully’s Training in Los Angeles, told The Dodo.
It’s not impossible to train your puppy when he’s older, but it can be a more challenging process.
“If you start training too late, after the cute puppy phase has worn off, you run the risk of the dog having learned a lot of bad behaviors, such as barking, jumping or chewing,” Ulbrich said.
The obvious reason to train a puppy is to make sure he’s always on his best behavior, but it turns out you aren’t the only one benefiting from puppy training.
“Training is also considered mental enrichment, [and] the more mental enrichment a dog gets, the happier they usually are,” Ulbrich explained.
Which commands and tasks should I train my puppy to do?
According to Ulbrich, there are several areas of training you’ll want to tackle within the first six months after you bring home your puppy. These areas are:
But don’t get too overwhelmed. Your puppy will likely catch on quickly.
What you'll need to start training your puppy
To make your training effective, you’re going to need a few things on hand before you get started.
Firstly, Ulbrich recommends either a flat collar or a harness, as well as a non-retractable leash for walks and leash training.
You’ll also need a training treat (or several different kinds) your puppy loves. Ulbrich recommends using three types of treats: low-value treats, like his daily kibble, a medium-value treat, like a soft chew, and a high-value treat your pup can’t get enough of, like a piece of plain, cooked turkey or chicken.
You’ll also want a handy treat pouch so that you can carry these treats with you wherever you go.
We have a roundup of some of the best puppy training treats right here.
How to train your puppy
The best — and kindest — way to train your puppy is through positive reinforcement.
“Positive reinforcement training focuses on utilizing tools such as verbal affirmation, eye contact, touch, a treat, a clicker, a toy or outside time in order to reinforce a dog’s desire to repeat a behavior we want to see more of,” Ulbrich explained.
Basically, this means you make sure you’re rewarding your puppy every time he responds to a cue or does something you want entirely on his own.
“It is possible to capture a dog’s behavior when it naturally occurs and then reinforce it, or to teach individual behaviors through operant commands,” Ulbrich said.
Positive reinforcement is effective because it allows your puppy to associate good things with good behaviors, which means he’s more likely to get in that habit of exhibiting those behaviors.
“During training and throughout our dogs’ lives, we want to be rewarding the behaviors we like, increasing the frequency in which they happen,” Ulbrich said.
However, you do NOT want to use negative reinforcement training, which is punishing your puppy when he does something you don’t like, because that could be harmful or even inhumane.
“For the behaviors we do not like, we will ignore or redirect into something positive that we can reward,” Ulbrich said.
Here’s how to use positive reinforcement training to master the basics.
House training your puppy is the only way to avoid pee- and poo-related accidents from happening inside. It’s definitely one of the most important training tasks to complete, and it may be the easiest one on the checklist.
The best way to start the process is by getting your puppy on a walk schedule. “Put your puppy outside every one to two hours for a potty break,” Dr. Corinne Wigfall, a vet with SpiritDog Training, told The Dodo. “Stay out for at least 15 minutes to give a good opportunity for toilet time.”
Then, when he’s done his business, reward him with praise and a treat.
You can also use puppy pads, which are scented in a way that attracts your puppy to pee on them rather than on the floor. But you should still be working on the outside schedule even if you’ve set up pee pads, as this will teach him that, ideally, he should be doing his business outside.
“Continue to have a puppy pad station inside as an emergency backup, and only remove it when you have had two weeks of no accidents inside the home,” Dr. Wigfall said.
You can learn more about house training your puppy here.
Once you have everything, it’s best to get your puppy used to having a harness on and a leash behind him. You can do this by attaching a “dragline,” or a leash without a loop at the end, to his harness while he’s hanging out around the house. Leashes with loops are more likely to snag on things, which could be a safety hazard.
You can then teach him heelwork, which is when he walks right by your side. Do this by putting a treat in front of your dog’s nose while out walking and then directing his attention and following it to your side. Then praise and reward when he’s in the right spot.
If your puppy insists on pulling, always stop walking and wait for him to stop, too. You can also do this if he likes to switch from side to side. And if your puppy is lagging behind, stop and wait for him to walk to you without making eye contact, then praise and reward.
Check out our detailed step-by-step leash training guide here.
Being in the crate
Crate training is when you teach your dog that his crate is his safe haven. Crates can be used to keep your puppy safe while you’re not at home, for potty training purposes, or for sleeping and resting.
First, make sure you have a crate that’s big enough to comfortably fit your puppy, yet not so big that it doesn’t feel cozy and den-like. You’ll then want to fill it up with all his favorite things, like toys and treats (though, nothing he can choke on).
“To ensure that your dog enjoys hanging out alone in a confined location, we need to build positive associations to their crate,” Shelby Semel, head trainer at Animal Haven, told The Dodo. You can then close the door to crate so your puppy has an increased desire to get in there and explore.
Once your puppy is comfortable being in the crate with the door open, try closing the door while you’re still at home to see how he reacts. If he stays calm, then you’re ready to lock it and go on a test outing (for just a couple hours at most in the beginning).
Learn more about how to crate train your puppy here. And if your puppy is having trouble adjusting to the crate, we also talked to Semel about what to do if your puppy won’t stop crying and barking while he’s crated.
Sit, stay, come
Sit, stay and come are three of the most important cues your puppy should learn so that he exhibits good manners both at home and in public.
Semel suggested beginning training during downtime rather than after mealtimes or when your pup is bursting with energy. This will help your dog stay focused.
To teach him the sit cue, place a treat in your cupped hand and hover it in front of your dog’s eyes. Slowly move your hand above his head so that your puppy’s head goes up and his bum goes down. When he’s sitting, say “yes” and give him the treat. Once he’s learned this luring technique, you can do the same motion without a treat and say “sit,” which will teach him to sit on cue.
Teaching your puppy to stay is similar. Have him sit or lay down first and then put the palm of your hand in front of his face. After a few seconds of him staying, say “yes” and give him a treat. When you can get your puppy to stay for about 20 seconds, add the verbal cue “stay” and reward with a treat.
To teach your puppy to come, first call his name and reward with a treat when he recognizes his name and comes to you. Say his name and reward when he comes to you voluntarily, too. Once the name recognition is there, build up distance between you and keep practicing and rewarding.
You can learn how to train your puppy to follow all seven basic cues with this helpful how-to.
Puppies are so cute — but that bite is far from adorable. Nipping and biting is totally normal puppy behavior, and they do it to play, explore, get attention and to soothe sore gums when teething.
But it’s important to train your puppy not to bite as soon as possible, and you can do so, firstly, by making sure your pup has plenty of exercise. “A tired puppy is a well-behaved puppy,” Semel said. “Make sure your dog is getting what they need to be tired and calm.”
You should also make sure you always have a toy on hand while playing, as this directs their attention to something other than your hands.
And when your puppy does bite or nip, respond with a loud “OW!” to teach him that nipping is a no-no.
If you’re interested in learning more about training your puppy not to bite, check out this how-to.
Challenges that come with puppy training
It’s super important for puppy parents to understand that training takes time and a lot of patience. Puppies are just babies, after all, and they need constant reinforcement and help to learn good behaviors.
“New puppy owners need to realize that puppies go through a lot of developmental phases in the first months of their lives,” Ulbrich said. “Most of them are normal but need consistent addressing in order to enable a dog to become the best version of themselves.”
“Even if a puppy owner has great intentions, it is difficult to stay consistent on a scientific training approach course with the amount of information people can find online,” Ulbrich explained. (In other words, don’t trust everything you read because there are a lot of ineffective or even harmful training methods out there!)
And don’t give up and let your puppy have it his way — training is both beneficial for you and your dog because, as Ulbrich said, “oftentimes all the dog wants is a job,” and being “challenged to be obedient,” is an incredibly worthy job to have.
If you and your puppy need more help on your training journey, reach out to a certified dog trainer or behaviorist in your area (your vet may have a few suggestions). They’ll help you adjust your technique and help your puppy learn the ins and outs of being a good dog.
But with patience, time and love, you can help your puppy grow up and exhibit the best behavior possible.
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