Written by Leslie Ingraham
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 01/14/2022, edited: 08/18/2022
Did you get a puppy for Christmas, but don’t know a lot about training? You don’t have to be an expert to get your puppy started on the road to good behavior. All you need is common sense, a few ideas, and a commitment to making your pup the best dog they can be.
Want to know more? Here are a few tips on successful training that may help.
Basic puppy training is easiest when a pet parent rewards their pup for doing the right thing. Positive reinforcement teaches the puppy that if they do what their mom or dad is asking, they get a reward. For the great majority of young dogs, food is a primary reward, followed by secondary rewards like petting and verbal praise. Determining what will motivate your fur buddy the most will make training easier and more efficient.
Make a list of the things your dog responds to like food, playing with a toy, or cuddling. Some pupsters will respond best to work, like retrieving a ball. Arrange your list with the items the dog responds to most at the top, then the rest in descending order to help identify the most effective training triggers for your special puppy.
Lastly, outfit your arsenal with many kinds of treats, from every day treats to high-value treats that your pup would do anything for! You may have to do some taste-testing beforehand to see what your pup loves best.
Timing is critical. Even a split second after a puppy performs a task may be too late to reinforce that what they did was right. The pup may not be sure if sitting was being rewarded, or getting up immediately after. In these cases, it can be helpful to add a “mark” like a clicker. Clicking at good behavior is fast, and it should be followed by both praise and a high-value reward.
While you should build training sessions into your puppy’s daily routine along with feeding and potty times, be sure to take advantage of random opportunities to teach or reinforce desired behaviors. For example, mealtime is ideal to teach basic commands like “sit.” If you teach your fur baby to sit before giving them their meal, they soon learn that this behavior produces food, and they’ll eventually start to sit before eating without you having to remind them.
Keeping in mind that puppies have a short attention span, plan training sessions to be only 10 to 15 minutes long. As they get older, you’ll be able to lengthen them.
Puppies learn best when behavior requests are delivered consistently, using the same words for each command. Find a word or phrase to represent the desired behavior and use it every time. Let family and friends know what the “code” words are, too, so they don’t confuse the pooch. For example, if you want your puppy to come to you, you can use the words, “come,” “here,” or “to me." Be sure it makes sense to you so that using it every time feels natural.
Consistency is also important in Fido’s routine. Spontaneous play or other activity adds excitement to a day, but puppies do best when they learn they can count on certain things happening at around the same time each day. Mealtimes, play time, training time, potty time and more help them adapt and anticipate what’s expected of them.
In the beginning, it makes sense to train your pup in a quiet space in your home to ensure you have their undivided attention. New skills might be best to begin in your designated place inside, especially for puppies who can easily be distracted. But you’re going to want them to heed your commands no matter where you are, like on the sidewalk or a section of your yard. Distractions like traffic noise, other people, and dogs will enter into the picture eventually, so moving your practice area outside the home will get Fido used to them during “class.”
The opportunity for training can appear anywhere at anytime, so be ready with training treats wherever you go with your pup to teach them when the moment presents itself. On a walk? Be ready to train "sit" to let other walkers go by, or "leave it" to discourage your pup from eating anything they find on the trail. At the vet? Training your pup to "stay" while on the scale for a weight is a pawfect training moment.
While the time required for a puppy to be proficient at any given command will vary depending on their personality and temperament, there are typical time frames that you can expect. As your pup masters a command, be sure to incorporate it into later training sessions to build a strong foundation for each one.
Here are examples of the most common puppy training commands and the average time each one may take. All of them can be started at 2 to 3-months old:
Sit: 1-2 days
Down: 1-2 days
Stay: 3-4 days
Come: 1 week
Leash training: 4-5 days
Drop it: 1-2 weeks
Leave it: 1-2 weeks
Potty training: several months to a year
By the time your pup reaches their first birthday, they should have a mastery of these basic behaviors. Continuous training as the dog matures will strengthen the bond between you and keep them interested and occupied. And don’t furget to have fun!
Are you new to puppies and how to train them? Wag! can help. Engage a professional in-home trainer through Wag! today to help map out the timeline that’s right for your fur baby, and to assist with teaching specific skills.
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