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Training a Puppy - 6 Things Your Puppy Should Know How to Do

This 12-week old Koolie puppy is eager to learn! She wants nothing more than to work with you!

Why should you begin training a puppy right away? It’s because younger dogs learn at a faster rate than an older dog, so there is no better time to train your puppy how to be your ideal companion than right now.

A lot of people don’t realize that dogs aren’t born knowing how to be “good”. When we think about “good dog behavior”, we think of a social construct that humans came up with. Dogs don’t naturally know what it is that we want from them. It’s up to us to show them how to behave!

1. Recall

Up until about 12 - 16 weeks of age, puppies have a very strong instinct to follow their owner around. This is the ideal time to nurture that instinct and lay down a solid foundation for a recall! When your puppy follows you, give them a treat.

Walk a short distance away and invite the puppy into your space. If they continue following you, praise them and give them another treat! Once your puppy is reliably following you around, give a verbal cue, such as “come here”.

At first, we’ll try not to use that cue unless we are prepared to reward the puppy with a treat. NEVER call a puppy over to you with the intent of punishing them. If you feel the need to punish your puppy, walk over to them, rather than calling them to you.

We never want your puppy to think, “If I go to my owner, I’ll get in trouble.” We want your puppy to think, “Yay, my owner wants me! Good stuff always happens when I go to my owner!” The longer and more extensive your history of reinforcement when recalling, the more stronger the behavior will be.

owner training a puppy bowser rottweiler with treatThis 5-month old Rottweiler puppy has an excellent recall, because he always gets a tasty treat as a reward!

If you adopted an older puppy with a more independent personality, you will have to keep them on a long, 10-foot line until they learn how to recall. It’s important to not let your puppy blow you off, because that will teach your puppy that there aren’t really any consequences for ignoring you.

Always give your puppy a treat for doing a recall. Once they’re perfect at recalling on the 10-foot line, upgrade to a 20-foot line and see if your puppy will still recall despite the extra distance.  You may then allow the puppy to drag the line and continue practicing your recalls.

Depending on the individual, you may have to practice for a few weeks, or even a few months. Once your puppy is reliably recalling to you every single time in a variety of situations, you should try to remove the leash. If your puppy blows a recall while off leash, take a step backward, and use the long line again.

Don’t remove the line until your puppy has demonstrated understanding of the recall.

The important thing to consider is that a recall behavior must be maintained. That means that even after your dog has learned a recall, you still have to reward them for that behavior, either with treats or toys, every once in a while, or the behavior will start to deteriorate.

2. Automatic Sit

owner with treat training a puppy bowser rottweiler to sit

Teaching a “default behavior”, such as sit, or down, is incredibly valuable to our training toolbox. Many puppies will try to jump up or paw at you demandingly - wouldn’t it be better if your puppy automatically sat down whenever they wanted something?

The first thing to do is put the “sit” command on cue. You can lure your puppy into a sit, as seen in the photo above, by holding the treat just above their head - most puppies will sit down to get a better look.

The moment your puppy sits, say “Yes!” and give them the treat. Try this step multiple times until your puppy will sit without a treat lure. Once your puppy learns what “sit” means, try to wait and see if the puppy will offer a sit. Don’t give a cue, just wait until your puppy sits down.

As soon as your puppy makes the decision to offer a sit, praise them warmly and give them a jackpot of treats! As we advance in our training, instead of asking the puppy to sit, we wait for them to make the decision themself, and then reward heavily for it!

You don’t have to limit rewards to just treats. Try to offer access to the outdoors, play time with a toy, or anything your puppy finds rewarding. Your puppy will quickly learn that when they sit down, they’ll get what they wanted!

How to solve your puppy's chewing problem

3. Relaxing

Most puppies need to be taught how to relax, when left alone AND when exciting things are happening. It would be helpful to take your puppy on a sniff walk, or play some tug, immediately prior to this type of training session. Your puppy will be much more amenable to the concept of relaxing (compared to attempting this type of training immediately after your puppy wakes from a nap).

Set out a comfortable mat or bed that your puppy can lay on. You may need to tether your puppy to some furniture so that they can’t run off to amuse themself. You can either wait to see if the puppy will interact with the mat, or you can lure the pup to sit on the mat using a treat.

Continue feeding treats until your puppy steps off the mat. Wait for a moment - many puppies will make the decision on their own to lay back on the mat, to see if it produces more treats out of you. If that doesn’t work, lure the puppy to the mat using a treat, and continue to feed treats. You can slowly increase the period of time between treats.

Do this several times a day. After a while, your puppy will start to go over to the mat by themselves, sit on it, and and look pointedly at you to see if you’ll offer a treat. When this happens, give your puppy a treat jackpot!

banksy circus koolies relaxing on bed outdoors eating natural bully sticksUpon arriving at a campsite, rather than letting these Koolies run amok, they were tethered and given a beef tail to chew while their owners set up camp. They were able to relax calmly until their owners were ready to play with them!

This exercise can be modified by using a crate. You can lure your puppy to the crate with food, and continue feeding as long as your puppy is sitting in the crate. If your puppy walks out of the crate, stop feeding. As soon as the puppy wanders back in the crate, give them another jackpot!

Shut the door, give another treat, step away for one second, then return immediately and offer another treat and open the crate door. The next time your puppy willingly goes in the crate, give a reward, and then step away for 5 seconds, and repeat.

You can gradually increase the amount of time your puppy sits quietly in the crate using this method. We also recommend giving a long lasting chew, such as a bully stick or a stuffed frozen Kong, to your puppy if you have to step away from the crate for more than 5 minutes. 

4. Being Handled

It can be challenging to provide thorough, quality veterinary care, if your dog refuses to be handled. It’s very easy to use positive reinforcement to teach a puppy to accept, and even enjoy, handling.

Common veterinary procedures involve restraining (for nail trims, blood draws, injections for medications/vaccines, collecting fecal samples, and more). Introduce handling techniques to your puppy right away, even before their first veterinary visit.

Gently pick up your puppy’s paws and give them a treat while you are examining their digits. Pull back a lip to examine their teeth, and then give them a treat. Gently grip your puppy’s ear, peer inside, and give your puppy a treat. By gradually increasing the amount of handling, and by offering plenty of treats during the process, your puppy will quickly grow accustomed to being handled.

Your veterinarian will thank you!

5. Pottying On a Variety of Appropriate Surfaces

Think of all of the surfaces you might expect your dog to eliminate on. Grass, dirt, mud, gravel, wet grass, snow, and possibly more: just because your puppy knows to eliminate on grass, does not mean that they will willingly go outside when it’s raining to go potty.

When you first bring your puppy home, you should try to get them to go potty on every type of surface that you would expect them to go on as an adult dog. This is part of socializing your puppy - getting them used to pottying on different surfaces.

You may even have to set it up where you thoroughly drench your lawn with the hose to simulate a rainy day. Puppies that are 12 weeks old and younger will be much more accepting of different potty surfaces than an older puppy or adult.

Always have a treat ready to offer your puppy whenever they potty in any appropriate location!

6. Socializing/Desensitizing to Daily Life

Why do some dogs freak out when they see a person wearing a hat, or sunglasses, or a big coat? It’s because they received incomplete socialization during the critical socialization period at ages 3 - 12 weeks. It’s much more easy to prevent a fearful reaction to everyday stimuli through passive exposure than allowing it to develop and then attempting to correct it.  

As soon as you get your puppy, you need to be taking them out into the world and showing them that it’s not scary. Commit to spending 5 minutes a day, every single day, to taking your puppy out on a field trip, up until your puppy is at least one year old.

A good field trip would include taking your puppy to a new place, and offering them a treat every time they interact with something new, whether it’s an object, a human, or an animal. Try to expose your puppy to people who are very young and old, in a wheelchair or on crutches, wearing a hat, coat, or glasses, people of various ethnicities, people carrying boxes, kids on bicycles or skateboards, and more.

Your puppy doesn’t have to directly interact with every human or animal you pass by - you can offer your puppy a treat just for focusing on you and calmly walking past the distraction.  You can desensitize your puppy to loud noises, like fireworks and thunderstorms, by playing a recording of fireworks at a soft volume, feeding treats while the sound is playing, then turning the sound off, and then starting the next session at a louder volume, and so on.

The important thing to remember is to start slow. Don’t overwhelm your puppy. If you do accidentally push your puppy too far, take a step back and re-evaluate the situation.

How to solve your puppy's chewing problem

Are there any other essential skills that you think all puppies should learn? Tell us about it in the comments!

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