When you bring a puppy home, you start with a blank slate. That means you have the tremendous responsibility to form your cute ball of fluff into a well-mannered dog. Use DogsBestLife.com’s Puppy Training 101 guide to prepare your dog for success.
The first thing you need to know or remember is puppies — and dogs — are a lot of work. Puppies have a lot of energy and require supervision to help them learn to behave.
Kathy Thorpe, Paw School in Denver’s owner, recommends people research before choosing a dog.
“Don’t just go based on how cute they are,” she says. “You need to be honest with yourself and decide whether you are more active or sedentary and get a dog that will work with your lifestyle. You don’t want a dog who has behavioral issues because they aren’t getting the exercise they need.”
Tiana Nelson, president of PawsCo, says it’s essential for people to understand that getting a pet is a significant commitment. PawsCo is a Denver-based nonprofit dedicated to reducing pet overpopulation.
“Bringing an animal into your life is a big step, and it requires transition time for both the human and the animal,” Nelson says.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed when you start with a puppy or a new dog. Don’t get stressed out — this should be a fun time for you and the dog. You can also seek help from professional dog trainers like Head Start Dog Training, who believe in reward-based training. It helps you and your dog to enjoy the learning experience and have fun.
That’s why we’ve created Puppy Training 101 — a puppy training guide designed to help you use dog training tips that work best for you and your dog.
Puppy training 101: Bond
Thorpe recommends that new dog owners spend plenty of time bonding with their dogs before starting anything else.
“I get calls asking about training before people even bring the puppy home,” she says.
“Slow down. Take a week or so to let the puppy get acclimated to you and your home before you start taking them out. Give yourselves at least a week to bond.”
Nelson agrees. “It’s important to remember that you’ll both be getting used to each other — and your new routine — for several weeks to several months.”
As part of the bonding process, I recommend spending lots of time petting and holding your puppy. That’s basic puppy 101. Puppies love to be held and petted.
Browning loved being held like a baby. He’d rest his head and front paws on my shoulder and stretch his (then) little body along my chest, and prop his back paws against my waist.
Sydney has always liked curling up in my lap while resting her head on my arm. She liked the added security of having my arms around her — even at age 11, she wanted to be held and cuddled.
Nutmeg, my Pembroke Welsh Corgi, is a cuddle bug. She wants to sit on my lap or snuggle up next to me.
Dogs — especially puppies from a breeder or even ones adopted from a shelter if kenneled with littermates or other puppies — are used to body contact. They love to snuggle, and holding and cuddling your puppy is an easy way to let her know she can trust you.
You can also use fun bonding games to teach your puppy critical skills including coming when called, interacting with you even in distracting places, sitting when asked, and being still when touched and examined.
After you bond with your puppy, start socializing.
Thorpe urges dog owners to focus on socialization first and then worry about obedience training.
“Many people are over-achievers who want to get off on the right foot, and they want to rush into obedience training,” she says. “I suggest they start with socialization because it’s much more important. Up to 16 weeks is when the puppy is creating or developing its personality. That’s when it’s important to expose them to new people, experiences, and other dogs.”
Nelson recommends new pet owners think about socialization using a stair-step approach.
“It will pay off to be intentional,” she says. “Introduce your new pet to new situations in slightly predictable environments, and provide them with lots of positive reinforcement, praise, and treats. Your animal is reading your confidence, so choose situations you are comfortable in, and that set your animal up for success are helpful.”
Wondering how to socialize a puppy? Take your puppy with you from the beginning to meet new people and experience different situations. Don’t worry that a 10-week-old puppy or a 13-week-old puppy is too young to socialize.
I got Nutmeg when she was 10 weeks old. She’s by far the most confident dog I’ve owned. She loves meeting new people and wants to meet new dogs from day one, but hold off on doing that until your dog is fully vaccinated.
Courtesy: That Dog Geek
For the first 16 weeks, Thorpe says that puppies are creating or developing their personalities.
That’s why exposing them to lots of people, different kinds of experiences, other dogs, and car rides is critical. Training tip: Take dogs with you when you run errands and invite friends who have vaccinated, well-behaved dogs over to your home.
“Get them out to see the world,” Thorpe says. “Reward them for their good behavior with praise, petting, and treats. You don’t want to force new things on them, but you need to get them out.”
Remember to praise your puppy when your dog does what you want. You can’t say “good boy” or “good girl” too often.
Nelson says socializing puppies helps build a foundation that will allow them to succeed for the rest of their lives.
Nelson says one excellent option is to look for a puppy kindergarten or socialization class. The courses offer a chance for the puppy to meet new dogs and new people — all with the oversight of a trainer.
“It’s a great first step,” she says.
At Paw School, the puppy socialization classes are a mix of play with interruptions to work on skills such as walking on a leash and learning to focus on their owners, Thorpe says.
Wait to introduce your puppy to other dogs until she’s gotten her vaccinations. Or you can set up a puppy playdate with an older who has had his shots.
Puppy training 101: Potty training
One of the first things most new dog owners want is to quickly and effectively potty train their dogs. That’s basic puppy training 101. You want to do everything you can to avoid accidents in the house.
Create a daily schedule to help your puppy learn when it’s time to go out to potty. Your puppy’s daily schedule should include three meals, potty breaks about 20 minutes after meals, and nap times throughout the day.
A puppy schedule at 8 weeks will be different than a puppy schedule at 12 weeks or a puppy schedule at 16 weeks. As puppies age, their bladders get bigger, and they can wait longer between potty breaks.
Thorpe recommends initially taking the puppy outside at least every two hours and then extending the time between potty breaks.
“Unless they have an infection, most dogs will be house trained by the time they are 5 to 6 months old,” she says.
Courtesy: That Dog Geek
Make training fun
Because your dog wants to please you, Nelson suggests associating potty breaks outside with positive things — such as praise and treats — from the first day.
Treats create a potent reinforcement tool because they appeal to a dog’s sense of smell, taste, and touch. As all dog owners know, treats help fill the stomach, which is every dog’s top priority. Choose healthy and delicious treats such as pig ears for dogs.
“Create boundaries and a routine for them,” Nelson says. “Don’t give them access to the entire house initially. Maybe make them a cozy place in the kitchen or work with them on crate training. Be sure to let them outside or take them on a walk before you leave and immediately when you return. Making sure that a new pet learns that going to the bathroom outside earns lots of positive rewards is key.”
If you feel frustrated by training, don’t think you have to do it alone. Instead, find a dog trainer like The Dog Wizard, who can help you turn your furry trouble-maker into a well-mannered dog.
Thorpe says most dog trainers consider crate training a positive because it gives the dog a safe, secure place to be. Don’t keep the dog in the crate for too long, and never use it for punishment.
I’m a big believer in the power of crate training. I’ve used it with my four dogs, and it works. How long the dog needs the crate will depend on you, your schedule, and your dog.
Browning, my beagle-labrador mix, slept in his crate until he was about 10 months old. Then, like a baby who outgrows a crib, he didn’t want to sleep there anymore and was quite vocal about it. I got Finley, a beagle-cocker spaniel mix, when he was 4 months old, and he never got attached to his crate.
But Sydney, my Australian shepherd-corgi mix, still loved her crate until the end. She slept in it every night, and it was her safe space. I often found her curled up there, taking a nap.
With Nutmeg, I put her crate in my bedroom to hear her easily when she needed to go out during the night. In the beginning, she woke me up two or three times a night. But she never had an accident in her crate. And it didn’t take more than about a week before she slept through the night.
Puppy training 101: Obedience training
Thorpe encourages owners to wait until their puppies are 12 weeks to15 weeks old before starting formal obedience training or attending training classes. She also suggests they attend four or more puppy socialization classes and start working with their puppies at home before attending obedience classes.
The lessons at home can be as simple as helping your puppy learn to control her bite. Puppy teeth can be razor-sharp. As they start teething, puppies want — and need — to use their mouths more because they hurt.
Thorpe says it’s essential for your puppy to understand they can never bite or gnaw on you. When puppies play with their littermates, they get a yelp in return if they bite too hard.
Thorpe says that dog owners need to do something similar if a puppy bites. “Pull your hand away and say, ‘Oww.’ If the dog bites again, say ‘oww’ and then walk away.”
Removing yourself — for 30 seconds to a minute — sends the message to your puppy that if I bite too hard, mom goes away, she says. “You want your dog to understand how much is too much.”
You also can use safe chew toys to help your dog work off her need to bite or chew.
Mix training with playtime
Puppy training 101 tip: Training can begin as soon as you bring your new pet home, Nelson says, and there are opportunities for training everywhere.
“Another word for training is teaching, so recognize that your new pet is looking for your guidance and praise — you can begin working with them right away.”
Again, don’t make training a chore. You can make almost anything a game, including teaching your puppy impulse control.
Use impulse control games to teach your dog essential life skills. Games like these help curb unwanted behaviors like barking and jumping and can improve your dog’s overall behavior.
Another valuable early training tip is to teach your dog to walk on a leash.
In the beginning, you won’t be able to go too far because puppies don’t have much stamina. When I first got Sydney, walking around the block would exhaust her. Nutmeg was the same. Her little Corgi legs tired out quickly, so in the beginning, I wore a front carrier so I could pick her up when she pooped out.
Thorpe says it’s typical for young dogs at 8 weeks to 10 weeks to tire out quickly. So, consider your early leash walks more for exposure than exercise.
“They won’t walk very far. They’ll stop and become little cement posts. It’s just a puppy thing. Most of them the time, they love to play and bounce around, but when you put a leash on them, they will want to stop.”
Start by choosing a collar and leash that fit your dog. Don’t use a collar that’s too loose or too tight. Because puppies grow quickly, get an adjustable collar.
Start with a 6-foot leash. You don’t want to allow your puppy to get far away from you. You want to stay close so you can quickly scoop your puppy up if she tries to eat something dangerous.
Wondering how to train a dog to walk on a leash? Your goal is to get your puppy to walk on a loose leash.
Start early so your dog gets used to being on the leash. Don’t drag your puppy behind you, and don’t let your puppy pull you. You want your dog to walk by your side with a loose leash.
“Puppies want to explore, and although it’s cute when your puppy pulls on the leash, someday your 10-pound puppy will be 75 pounds, and they will want to repeat that behavior,” Thorpe warns.
“When they start pulling, you should stop and wait for them to realize you’re not moving. You’re telling them in a non-verbal way that if they get to the end of the leash and pull, we don’t go forward. When they relax and let the leash loosen up, then you go forward. You’ll end up with better leash-behaved dogs in the long run.”
Consider using a training tool like the Trip Less Trainer for bigger dogs- or determined leash pullers- a shorter leash the human holds using a thumb tab. The shortened strap prevents the dog or the owner from tripping or getting tangled. It allows the owner to correct behavior issues quickly.
New dog owners must remember this training tip: puppies have short attention spans. They do best when you keep training sessions short and mix obedience training with playtime.
And there’s no ideal time when you have to start teaching your puppy.
Dogs love to learn, and it’s never too late to start training. Focus first on basic commands to teach your puppy to sit, stay, and wait.
Providing vet care
Part of being a good dog owner involves ensuring your dog gets proper health care. Ask friends or family members for recommendations if you don’t know a veterinarian.
Puppies need a lot of care — including a series of vaccinations — and you’ll need to decide whether and when to spay or neuter.
Don’t be shy about asking your vet questions or doing research.
I also recommend getting pet health insurance to help cover significant expenses.
Dog owners can buy policies for general health coverage (which helps with costs like vet visits, vaccines, and spaying or neutering) and catastrophic care in emergencies.
Handle with care
Be sure to touch your dog a lot when she’s tiny. Stroke her ears and hold her tail and paws. Brush her coat and teeth.
“Helping your new pet become comfortable with handling will help when it comes to a lifetime of brushing their teeth, having their nails clipped, and going to the vet,” Nelson says.
She suggests touching your puppy’s ears, mouth, tail, and paws daily.
“Always do so with a gentle demeanor since pets can read our emotions well,” Nelson says.
Training tip: Give your dog treats and always speak calmly so your dog has a positive association with handling.
I decided to brush Sydney’s teeth daily when she was a puppy. Unfortunately, she hated having her teeth cleaned. But she loved having her coat brushed.
So, I decided to make it all a process. I got her hairbrush out when I got her toothbrush and toothpaste out. After making sure she saw the hairbrush, I brushed her teeth.
Then, I brushed her coat. Giving her a treat after brushing her teeth defeated the purpose. But brushing her coat gave her a reward she enjoyed and provided some essential grooming.
Establish a routine
Providing structure and lots of positive reinforcement for a new pet is essential. Puppies need to learn how your world works and what expectations you have for them, Nelson says.
Creating a daily schedule — regular times for eating, walking, and sleeping — makes your dog feel more secure, helps with potty training, and can help prevent bad behavior.
Your puppy deserves nothing but the most nutritious fresh food for dogs. Do research to determine the ideal food for your dog. Better yet, consult your veterinarian to determine the best diet for your pet.
Nelson says it also helps to learn canine body language to understand how the new pet communicates to communicate with your new dog successfully.
Thorpe warns dog owners that training is a lifelong process. And some dogs can be more challenging to train than others.
“Say you have a chocolate lab; you might wonder why he’s still acting so wild after months of training. It’s not that he’s not learning; he’s still very young. You’ve got to stick with it.”
Puppy training 101 tips
Use our training guide to create a plan that works for you and your puppy.
Teaching your puppy to be a good dog is all about building and following a schedule. Dogs love routine. They like to know what you expect from them, and they love to please you.
Help your puppy learn how to do that, and you’ll have a long, happy, productive relationship.
Sara B. Hansen has spent 20-plus years as a professional editor and writer. She’s also the author of The Complete Guide to Cocker Spaniels. She decided to create her dream job by launching DogsBestLife.com in 2011. Sara grew up with family dogs, and since she bought her first house, she’s had a furry companion or two to help make it a home. She shares her heart and home with Nutmeg, a Pembroke Welsh Corgi. Her previous dogs: were Sydney (September 2008-April 2020), Finley (November 1993-January 2008), and Browning (May 1993-November 2007). You can reach Sara @ firstname.lastname@example.org.