How to Train a Puppy, the Basics

Bringing home a new puppy is an exciting time. It’s also an important one because this is the best time for your four-legged friend to learn.

In this article, we look at different types of puppy training, and the benefits training has. Here are the topics we’ll discuss:

  • The benefits of puppy training
  • How old should a puppy be to start traning?
  • When to start puppy training classes
  • When to start leash training a puppy
  • How to teach loose-leash walking to a puppy
  • How to crate train a puppy
  • Potty training
  • Plus tons more puppy training essentials

The benefits of puppy training

Socialization and obedience training prevents boredom and will help you form a bond with your dog. It also helps to build trust. When your dog obeys commands, you can give them more freedom and allow privileges like off-leash walks.

How old should a puppy be to start training?

Puppies start learning through handling and socialization from the moment they’re born. Good breeders know this and will handle and socialize with pups throughout the time they spend with them. 

Obedience training can also start at seven to eight weeks of age, and most trainers agree that this is the best time. However, there’s evidence that obedience training can be effective regardless of age.

What’s positive reinforcement?

Positive reinforcement is rewarding the desired behavior with praise, toys, or treats. You must give the reward to your pup as soon as the correct behavior has occurred. If it isn’t given instantly, your dog may associate it with the wrong action.

Never punish your puppy for undesirable behavior; this will teach them to fear you. Punishment can also be perceived as a form of reinforcement, without showing your dog what is desirable.

When to start puppy training classes

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Puppies as young as seven to eight weeks can begin training classes. However, your pup should have its first set of vaccination seven days before starting its first class. You should also protect them against fleas and worms beforehand.

Online vs. in-person training  

The benefit of using online resources is that you get to train with your puppy in a quiet environment without distractions. However, your puppy may struggle to transfer skills learned in this type of environment to the outside world.

In-person training usually involves taking your puppy to professional training sessions, whether one-to-one or group classes. 

In-person classes are also an excellent way to teach socialization, on top of the obedience skills they will learn. Participating in group sessions can help your dog learn how to remain focussed while distractions are present.  

Obedience vs. socialization classes

Obedience classes focus on teaching your dog commands which will help keep control of your canine in specific situations.

Socialization goes beyond the classroom, and there are other environments your pup needs to encounter to become well-rounded.

Socialization begins at birth; it involves introducing your puppy to new smells, sights, sounds, and textures. You can help your dog feel comfortable with visits to the vet and groomers by frequently handling and grooming.  

Walking your puppy in different environments will help them gain experiences such as noisy traffic. The idea is that they become accustomed to these things, so they’re less likely to become distracted or distressed in the future.

When to start leash training a puppy 

You can introduce your puppy to the leash as early as four weeks old. How fast they learn this skill depends on consistency and dedication.

how-to-train-a-puppy

How to teach a dog loose-leash walking

It’s essential to introduce the collar/harness and the leash before beginning any leash training. The Animal Humane Society recommends you use a leash between four and six feet long and non-retractable

  • Make sure the collar/harness isn’t too heavy for your pup. 
  • Let your puppy wear their new bit of bling around your home; eventually, attach the leash too. 
  • Play with your dog and offer treats while they’re wearing the collar and leash. 

Doing these things will create a positive relationship between your pup and their leash and help them focus when training begins.

Positioning your dog

To begin, you need to choose which side you want your dog to walk on. For example, if you’d like your pup on your left side, hold treats in your left hand and the leash in your right. The leash should hang loosely in front of you in a ‘J’ shape. 

  1. Stand with your dog by your side and take a step forward, then offer your dog a treat in line with the seam of your pants. This helps put your pup in the correct position next to your heel. Repeat this several times.
  2. When your dog is attentive, you can gradually increase the number of steps between each treat.
  3. If your dog ever pulls on the leash, stop walking, call them back to your side, or lure them with a treat. 
  4. If you use the treat to lure your dog back, don’t reward them with it right away. Take a couple of steps forward with your dog in the correct position before allowing them to take the treat.

How to crate train a puppy

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Crates are excellent potty training tools as dogs don’t like to sit or sleep close to where they urinate or defecate. 

Make sure the crate is just big enough for your dog to be able to lie down, turn around, and stand comfortably. If it’s too big, your puppy may use one side as a potty and sleep comfortably in another corner.

  1. Make your puppy feel comfortable with the crate by adding their bedding, a treat or two, and their favorite toy. Use positive reinforcement to encourage your pup to keep exploring.
  2. When your dog is happy inside the crate, you can begin closing the door behind them, but don’t lock it at this point. 
  3. Extend their time in the crate by giving them a long-lasting chew treat or feeding them their meals inside.
  4. You can start locking the crate once your dog is comfortable inside. The first lock-in should only last a few minutes, and you should stay close. If your puppy looks distressed, let them out. You don’t want them to become vocal, as they may begin to associate barking as a way of getting released. 
  5. Keep extending the amount of time your puppy stays in the crate while you’re close. 
  6. Then begin to leave the room for short periods while they’re confined. Your puppy will eventually get used to being alone in the crate. 

Potty training a puppy

Can an 8-week-old puppy be potty trained?

At eight weeks old, your pup can’t control its bladder yet. Experts recommend starting potty training at 12 weeks old. You can still use preventative methods like creating a schedule to potty train your puppy from eight weeks. 

Puppies this age will need a bathroom break every two hours during the day. Take your puppy outside in the morning, before bed, and after eating, drinking, and playing.

As soon as your pup has been to the toilet outside, reward them with praise or a treat. 

A strict feeding schedule consisting of three small meals can help regulate your puppy’s need for the bathroom. Feed your puppy their last meal of the day about four hours before bedtime. 

Controlling your dog’s diet can also prevent bouts of diarrhea which can be a setback if you’re trying to potty train.  

How to house train a puppy in an apartment

If you live on the upper floor of an apartment building, it can be a struggle to get your puppy outside in time. Using puppy pads could help while your dog is young as they’re easily accessible.

Pro tip: Carry your puppy to their destination. A puppy that is being held is much less likely to pee on you or themselves than a puppy that is on the floor.

Place your pup on the puppy pad about 15 minutes after eating/drinking or if you notice them sniffing around.

Remember to reward your pup immediately after they have used the pad as a toilet.

How to potty train a puppy without a crate

Like any house training, whether you’re using puppy pads or taking them outside, anticipation is key. Again, you should watch their behavior and take them outside after meals. 

Look out for your puppy circling a bit, this could be an indication he’s getting ready to poop! And if your puppy has lost interest in its toys and is sniffing around, it could mean he’s about to pee.

Basic puppy training essentials

how-to-train-a-puppy

Sit

There are two training methods typically used for teaching your puppy to sit; capture and lure.

Capture

  1. Stand and face your dog with treats at the ready. 
  2. Present the treat to your dog and wait for them to sit. 
  3. As soon as they sit, praise them and offer a treat. 
  4. After repeating this action several times, start using the command ‘sit’ when your dog begins to sit.

Lure

  1. Place a treat in front of your dog’s nose, then raise it above their head, so they look up. 
  2. Usually, as a dog lifts its head like this, it’ll sit. If your puppy does sit, let them take the treat once their bottom is touching the ground. 
  3. Repeat this several times, then begin doing it without a treat in your hand, but still, reward them once sat. 
  4. Once your puppy responds to your hand consistently, begin using the command ‘sit’ immediately before you use the hand signal.

Stay

Before teaching your dog to stay, they need to know how to sit on cue.

  1. Put your dog in the sit position and face your dog.
  2. Give the verbal cue ‘stay’ followed by a hand signal, showing your dog the palm of your hand works well. Treat your dog instantly after you’ve used the hand signal. 
  3. Gradually increase the length of time between treats while they stay in the sit position.
  4. Go back to using a shorter time if your dog becomes impatient and gets up too soon.
  5. The next step is to put distance between you and your dog. Ask your dog to ‘sit’ and say ‘stay,’ use the hand signal and take a step back. Go back to your dog and reward them. Keep increasing the distance.

Come 

  1. Move a few paces away from your dog and call their name and the word ‘come’ in a friendly tone.
  2. When your dog comes to you, gently hold their collar and offer them a treat.
  3. Gradually increase the distance between you and your dog before calling them to come. It may be helpful to have someone hold your dog’s collar while you move away. 

Lie down

You can teach your dog to lie down in a similar way to ‘sit’ using the capture or lure method.

Capture

  1. Begin in a room that has minimal distractions. Wait for your dog to lie down and immediately give them a treat when they do. 
  2. Give your dog a cue to stand back up and lure them with a treat if necessary.
  3. When your pup is lying down quickly after standing, introduce the command. This could be ‘down’ or ‘lie down.’ Use this command right before your dog completes the action.

Lure

  1. Lure your dog to the floor using a treat.
  2. Reward your pup when their elbows touch the floor.
  3. After repeating this action several times, start using an empty hand to lure your pup to the floor. Give a treat when your dog is entirely on the floor.
  4. When your dog can follow your hand signals, begin using the command ‘down’ when you start moving your hand.

Chewing and biting

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When a puppy plays with its siblings, they bite, and they don’t always know when this is inappropriate. To try and prevent this, you can teach bite inhibition. 

If one of them gets hurt during playtime, they’ll yelp. If your pup bites your hand, you can make a high-pitched ‘ow’ noise to mimic the behavior within the litter. This should help your puppy learn that it isn’t appropriate to bite down hard. 

If your puppy keeps biting hard when you’ve made the ‘ow’ sound, it’s best to ignore them and move away.

You could also try getting your dog a toy to chew as an alternative to your hand and furniture.

Jumping 

Dogs jump up to get our attention. So if you give them attention, even if you’re telling them off, they’ll keep doing it. It’s best to ignore this type of behavior.

Uncontrollable barking 

  1. Capture your dog barking and say ‘quiet’ using a firm tone. 
  2. Wait until your dog stops barking, even if it’s only for a split second, quickly praise them and give them a treat.
  3. Be sure never to reward them while they’re barking.

How often should I give the command?

You should only have to give a command once. Repeating the instruction will teach your puppy that it’s acceptable to ignore the initial instruction. 

After giving the command, try to use treats or guide with a leash to encourage your puppy to complete the action. Once your pup has responded, reward them with affection and verbal praise.

How often should I train my puppy?

Any training session should last about five minutes, with a limit of three sessions spread across a day. A puppy’s attention span is short-lived, and over-training may cause frustration. 

What to do if my puppy is easily distracted or excitable?

If your dog is easily distracted or excited, try these top tips when training:

  • Get rid of distractions: Use a quiet room with no food, toys, or other pets inside.
  • Use high-value rewards: Pick a reward your puppy really likes. Some pups love a food treat, while others may prefer a squeaky toy.
  • Offer attention: Sit quietly in a room. Every time your dog focuses and pays attention to you, give them a treat.

Top training tips

  • Minimize distractions, start by training in a quiet room and gradually progress to exciting outdoor spaces.
  • Keep training sessions short and sweet.
  • Always end a session on a positive note.
  • Be patient; all dogs learn at different paces.
  • Prioritize the ‘sit’ command as this helps assist other commands such as ‘stay.’
  • Have fun!

Key takeaways on how to train a puppy

Although training your pup at home is ideal, we also recommend signing up for puppy training classes. Trainers can demonstrate techniques and guide you through more challenging exercises. 

Training classes also help incorporate real-life distractions. Let’s face it, the world isn’t quiet, and your pup needs to learn how to focus in a noisy environment. Training your puppy well gives them the freedom to enjoy privileges off-leash while remaining under control and safe. 

Kate Basedow, LVT
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