How to Train a Puppy: 13 Tips From a Dog Trainer
Bringing home a puppy is so exciting! All that cuteness and the snuggles can't be beat. Another benefit of puppies is that they're too young to have picked up many bad habits—they're more or less a blank slate. But that also means it's up to you to teach your little furball whatever he needs to know about being part of your family. Wondering how to train a puppy? We asked Heather Gillihan, a certified dog trainer with Zoom Room, for her tips on how to get your new addition off to a great start.
To set yourself up for success, Gillihan says that training begins before you get a puppy. Make sure you have everything you'll need for a new puppy and that you've puppy-proofed your home. Know ahead of time where you want your puppy to sleep, play, and go potty. Also, consider what areas of the home will be off-limits.
When it comes to teaching your puppy right from wrong, positive reinforcement training is the best method. It's based on using high-value treats like bits of hot dog, chicken, or cheese to reward your puppy for a job well done. This will teach your dog that good things happen when they listen to their humans.
Training a puppy covers so many facets of life. Gillihan weighs in with some insider tips on how to create structure, teach manners, and potty and crate train your newest family member.
Start Training From Day 1
It's easy to laugh at the cute things puppies do. The problem? When your dog is fully grown, those same antics—like jumping up on people to get attention—are a nuisance. "Every minute, with every interaction, one of the two of you is being trained. Make sure it's the puppy, not you," Gillihan says. Don't encourage the bad behaviors right now, and you won't have to worry about them in the future.
Keep an Eye on Your Puppy at All Times
Letting your puppy wander around unattended is a recipe for disaster (think: potty accidents and chewed-up belongings). When you can't be actively watching your pup, confine him to a small area or tether him to you with a leash or a longer house line.
Feed Meals in the Crate
To get your puppy to associate good things with the crate, Gillihan recommends feeding meals there. Wait until your puppy starts eating to close the crate door. But as soon as he's done, open the door so your pup can come out. As your puppy gets comfortable with the crate, extend the length of time he's in there before opening the gate. Be sure to do crate training in baby steps so you don't spook your pup.
Make Bedtime Extra Cozy
Those first few nights in a new place can be anxious ones for your puppy. Put a stuffed animal designed to give comfort in your puppy's crate. Some even have a heartbeat and can be warmed up to make your pup feel like he's still sleeping with company.
Keep the Crate Close to Your Bed
To help ease first-night jitters, keep your puppy right next to you overnight. Put your puppy's crate on top of a sturdy table or chair so it's at the same level as your bed (but not in your bed). You can poke your fingers through the crate door to feel even closer. If your puppy cries at night, take him to go potty and then immediately place him back in the crate. Over time, slowly move the crate further away from the bed, down on the floor, and then into whatever room your dog will sleep in.
Keep a Schedule
Getting your puppy on a schedule is the key to fast potty training, says Gillihan. Most puppies need to go potty after they eat, nap, or have a play session. First thing in the morning, take your puppy out to go potty. "If your puppy relieved himself, then he's earned 30 to 45 minutes of playtime," she says. After that, it's time to go back to the crate to settle down. Many pups will get tired before this time period is up, so playtime might only need to last 10 to 20 minutes depending on the energy level of your puppy.
If your puppy falls asleep in the crate, you can leave him in there longer. But if he's awake, take your puppy out of the crate after 15 minutes and give him an opportunity to go potty. If he doesn't go, then it's back to the crate for another 15 minutes and then you try again. Once he relieves himself, playtime begins again. The sequence goes potty, playtime, and then a crate break.
Slowly Expand Your Puppy's Access
If you let your puppy have the run of the home, he'll likely have accidents. Keep your pupper in a confined area and open the rest of the home to him slowly. "A good rule of thumb is that for every month your puppy goes without having an accident in his primary space, he gets access to another room."
Learn Your Puppy's Potty Signs
Pay close attention to your dog's body language when you're taking him outside to go potty. What does he do as he prepares to do his business? Those are the same behaviors your puppy will do in the house, too. "I know with one of my guys that when he starts walking in circles, he's getting ready to poop or thinking about it. So we go outside," Gillihan says.
Create a Potty Station
If you have to leave the house for hours at a time, set up a space for your puppy to hang out. You can use a gated room or playpen area. Put the crate with your puppy's bed in the area as well as a potty pad.
Teach Your Puppy Not To Bite
Puppy teeth are sharp and when they're young they like to gnaw, especially on your fingers and toes. Get your puppy to stop biting by ending playtime if he bears down too hard. "I'll walk away, go into the bathroom, and shut the door for like 10 or 20 seconds," Gillihan says. You can also redirect your dog to an appropriate chew toy and away from your body.
Start Socializing Right Away
Introducing your puppy to new places, people, and other pets is a great way to help him become familiar with a variety of situations. Some vets recommend not allowing puppies out in public until they receive all of their vaccinations at 16 weeks. However, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) believes puppies should receive socialization before they are fully vaccinated.
"Behavioral issues, not infectious diseases, are the No. 1 cause of death for dogs under 3 years of age," AVSAB writes. You can still safely expose your dog to new things so as not to miss out on this crucial socialization period.
Incorporate Training Into Everyday Life
"You don't have to commit 30 minutes of undivided attention to training your puppy," Gillihan says. "Just use tiny segments throughout the day." For example, practice basic cues like sit and stay while your coffee is brewing or there's a commercial on TV.
Use Treats as Rewards
Stock up on treats—you're going to use a lot of them during training. But what about once your pup knows his stuff? You have to make the transition from "bribe" to reward, says Gillihan. Once your little canine understands the behavior you're looking for, hide the treats. Always praise your dog for a job well done, but occasionally reward with treats as well. The more a behavior becomes a habit, the less you need the treats.