Getting a puppy is a fun and exciting time. Everyone wants a well-trained, friendly and obedient dog. But, not everyone has a plan to set their puppy up for success. In order to have a well-trained puppy, you should have goals and a training plan in place to help you achieve success.
You should start training your puppy right away as puppies are very impressionable and are learning machines!!! Training should NOT be a stressful or boring “drill session” for you and your puppy. Instead, your sessions should be enjoyable and help create a relationship between you and your puppy.
But what skills should you train your puppy? What are the most important skills to teach right away? Thought this varies from puppy to puppy, here are my suggestions!
These skills are not necessarily in chronological order, so I am not suggesting you must teach your puppy these skills in a specific order.
Your Training Sessions
The Length of Your Session
The length of your session depends on your puppy. Some puppies love training and can train for 15 to 30 minutes without an issue. I would say the majority of young puppies (8-12 weeks of age) can only work for approximately 5-15 minutes. However, others might find training to be a little stressful, maybe even boring. For these types of puppies your sessions should be short and fun. Many puppies have very short attention spans. Keeping a session short and fun will leave a better impression on your puppy. A short session can be anywhere from 30 seconds to 10 minutes long. This is truly based on the puppy. You can train your puppy for 30 seconds to 10 minutes, take a break by playing or allowing your puppy to chew on something and then repeat the process one or two more times. OR you can literally have a 30 second to 10 minute training session and then end it on a good note and move onto something else. This is SO SO important! You want to leave your puppy wanting more!
It is important to know your puppy and figure out if your puppy wants to train for short periods of time or longer periods of time. If you have just gotten your puppy and your puppy has only been home for a couple days, there really is no reason too much on training. Don’t put so much pressure on your puppy. Learn about who your puppy is, what your puppy is like, what your puppy enjoys etc. Personally, I like using playful interactions with toys and/or food as this is a great way to start learning about your puppy.
Make it Fun!
Most owners (including myself sometimes) make training sessions this repetitive boring activity. This may cause the puppy to become disinterested or even a little stressed. Make your sessions enjoyable by using food, toys and verbal praise. Get your puppy excited and interested in working with you as a team. Doing so early on will benefit you down the road. Making sessions enjoyable also helps a puppy build a relationship with you, which is very important when teaching the 6 Foundation Skills I have listed out below. To learn more about how to make your training sessions fun and engaging, check out my blog on Creating Reward Events with Food & Toys. You will find helpful information and video’s so that you can see what this looks like. I find this to be an important skills and topic as it helps build a relationship with puppies. You really want to find that joy with your puppy and loose yourself in play!
Step 1: Hire A Professional
Many puppy owners decide they do not need a dog trainer, until they decide they need a dog trainer. It is important that you consider hiring a professional as soon as you get your puppy (or before your puppy arrives home) so that you have someone coaching and guiding you to help lay the foundation for success. If you are looking for a dog trainer and live near me on Long Island, you can check out our website to learn more about how we can help you and your puppy.
The 6 Foundation Skills
- Play & Getting To Know Your Puppy- This for me is rule #1! As I mentioned above, you want to create a relationship and connection with your puppy. A lot of dog owners make the mistake of asking their puppies to do to much right away. Look at it like any relationship you have with someone. Initially, you get to know the person by learning about what they like, what they don’t like, what makes them excited and even stressed. The same is true for your puppy! I always suggest before starting to ask our puppies to sit, down, stay, come etc etc that we just learn about the puppy. Play with your puppy. Use toys to tug and goof off. Let him win and do not worry if the puppy doesn’t drop the item. Who care! Grab a second toy and start playing with that one by yourself until the puppy drops the toy he has and comes running to you to play with the next one. You can also use food as a toy. I always say make the food come alive! Toss a treat so the puppy chases it. Then toss another treat in the opposite direction and let puppy chase that one. You can then even add a little luring where your puppy follows your hand and earns the treat as a reward. Take a look at my blog on using food and toys as play and rewards.
- Name Game- Your puppy knowing his name is extremely important. A dog’s name should mean that when it is said, your puppy turns and looks at you and/or comes to you. Many dog owners think a puppy knows his name, but this is a skill that must be taught to a puppy. It is also important to keep in mind that you do not use the puppy’s name as a negative thing. You do not want your puppy learning that the name means he is in trouble, because the chances are is that he will learn to avoid you over time. In this video, I call the puppy’s name, “Penny” and reward her with a toy. You will notice that I make the reward a 30 second play session with her.
- Coming When Called (aka Recall)- Coming when called is a skill everyone wants their puppy and adult dog to know. My advice is that you should teach this skill as soon as you get your puppy. When you start, you want to try and make this a fun and enjoyable skill. Coming when called should be the best thing ever in the eyes of your puppy! PRO TIP: If you have dreams of allowing your dog off-leash, then teach your puppy this skill right away! Most owners seem to wait until their puppy is 6 months to 1 year old before practicing recall and off-leash skills. This can be too late for some dogs, so start early! Here are two video clips of me practicing recalls with my dogs. In the first video, my puppy Quest is learning her recall on a long line to help guide her if she doesn’t respond. In the second video, you will see what my adult dog Journey’s off leash recall looks like. In both these videos you will notice how playful I am with them and how I reward them for a job well done.
- Eye Contact/Auto Check-ins- Many puppies need to learn that focusing on their owner is a valuable and rewarding skill. Eye contact teaches the rules of attention. Depending on how you teach eye contact (because there are many ways to teach this skill), it can start to lay the foundation for impulse control and making good decisions. We want to teach a puppy that offering eye contact is a good thing. You can check out this video on how I like to teach eye contact using The Third Way method by Chris Bach. I also like using Suzanne Clothiers Auto Check-in concept which you can watch here.
- Sit Maintain- Sit Maintain, also known as Sit Stay, is a skill I like to teach right away. I teach this using The Third Way method created by obedience champion, Chris Bach. I want a puppy learning to sit and maintain his position until I release him with a release word. This is a great skill to continue in helping a puppy learn about self-control. Sit Maintain becomes a useful skill that can be used in many areas of the puppy’s life. For example: sitting at the door rather than bolting out the door, waiting politely for dinner rather than jumping or begging, waiting to be released out of his crate instead of just rushing out and much more. This skill takes some time, consistency and patience. If your puppy messes up, don’t be hard on him, instead help set him up for success. In this video, you will see what Sit Maintain starts to look like with some distraction in the environment.
- Relaxing/Settling- One thing to get in the habit of is teaching your puppy to relax. I personally like doing this on a dog bed with a bone, food puzzle toy or other valuable chew item. I like placing the puppy in this space after play time, coming back from a walk or some other stimulating or arousing event. Doing so, helps the puppy learn to settle or shift down a couple gears and relax (and maybe even fall asleep) after something exciting or stimulating. As you consistently practice this skill, it will help your puppy get into the habit of relaxing faster. Take a look at what this looks like.
Extra’s to Consider:
Since everyone likes a BONUS, here is a little list of other things I like doing with puppies while they are young and impressionable.
- Socialization- This is exposing a puppy to his world in a safe and positive manner. You can check out our detailed blog and socialization check list by clicking here.
- Using and teaching “Markers”– This is very important when training. Check out this quick intro video on markers.
- Learning Tug-of-War and play- Playing tug-of-war and other play skills is not only fun, but it starts building a relationship between puppy and owner. A great resource on tug and play skills is the book called the Interactive Play Guide by Craig Oglivie. You can also check out our blog and “how-to” video on tug.
- Top 10 Things To Do With a Puppy- Here is our list of the top 10 things to do with a puppy! You can check this out by clicking here.
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About Anthony De Marinis
Anthony De Marinis specializes in working with dogs with severe behavior issues, specifically with aggressive behavior. He provides comprehensive in-home and virtual behavior consultations, as well as dog training services across Long Island, NY. (Online Virtual Consultations for aggression and behavior modification are also available for clients who are local and out of state.) Anthony has several professional certifications which include: Certified Dog Behavior Consultant from the International Association for Animal Behavior Consultants, Accredited Dog Trainer by the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, Licensed Family Dog Mediator (LFDM), Fear Free Certified Training Professional (FFCP), Certified Graduate of distinction from the Victoria Stilwell Academy for Dog Training & Behavior, and The Third Way Certified Trainer. Anthony currently has an interest in training and behavior modification in Working & Sport bred dogs. He is also learning about and currently competing in agility and sheep herding. Anthony has two Australian Kelpies, Journey and Quest, both of which are training in agility and sheep herding.