There is no getting around it, training a puppy is much easier and less frustrating than training an adult dog. Puppies are naturally curious and very enthusiastic learners, and they are still at an age where they have not had a chance to form any bad habits.
With that being said, new puppy owners are not always sure when exactly their dog’s training sessions should begin. On top of that, many are also unclear about which commands and tricks they should start with.
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To clear up some of the confusion, we are going to quickly explain what age is appropriate to begin training your new pup. From there, we will explain five basic cues you should start with.
Starting with the basics will help build your young pup’s confidence and prepare him or her for the more advanced training sessions that will follow.
When Can You Begin Training a Puppy?
While it may sound fast, puppy training can actually begin almost as soon as you bring your new puppy home. In most cases, a pup will be about 8 to 10 weeks of age when they are first brought home.
While they will still have a very short attention span at this age, puppies are still capable of learning a few simple obedience commands. While more formal and advanced training sessions should wait until the dog has reached about six months of age, if you follow the right steps, you can certainly teach your dog the basics much younger than that.
What Should You Keep in Mind When Training a Puppy?
As mentioned, young puppies have very short attention spans, which is why it is critical that you show patience and keep your training sessions brief. Do not allow yourself to get frustrated with your young pup! This is very important, as dogs, especially when they are puppies, respond much better to positive reinforcement than anything else.
You should aim to build your young puppy’s confidence with praise, pats, scratches, and puppy-appropriate treats. Again, all of your training efforts should be centered around positive reinforcement, meaning you reward behavior you want to encourage, rather than punish incorrect behavior.
It is also important to be consistent with your cues and training efforts, even if the results are slow. The last thing you want to do is confuse your little puppy to the point that they become discouraged from dog training.
5 Basic Cues to Start With
We will now go over some of the basic training cues that you should start out with. Not only are they easier for puppies to learn than the more advanced commands, but they are also very useful things for your pup to understand.
1. Teach Your Dog to Come to You When Called
This is a really important cue that can be very useful when it comes to keeping your curious pup out of trouble. To teach this basic cue, work through the following steps:
- Sit with your puppy and clearly say his name, or the word “come.” Whenever you say your chosen cue word, give your puppy a treat.
- After the dog associates the word with a reward, you can drop a treat on the floor. When the puppy eats it, say your cue word. When the pup looks up, give him or her another and say their name or your cue word.
- Now try placing a treat a few feet away from you. Say your cue word as the dog discovers and eats the treat. Continue to do so until the dog turns to face you when you say the cue word.
- Now do the same but take a few more steps away from the treat. When you say the cue word, the dog should look at you. At this point you can hold out another treat so they run to you. When they do this, offer them plenty of praise. After enough puppy training, they will associate that cue word with going to you for praise and treats.
2. Basic Leash Walking Obedience
Getting your puppy comfortable with a leash is important, as it will make walks much easier and teach the young dog a valuable skill.
Puppies can get frustrated and confused the first time they wear a leash, so it is important to offer praise and positive reinforcement when they walk with one correctly. You will want to teach your dog basic walking cues, like “heel” and “sit.”
Once the dog is used to the feeling of a leash, offer treats when they stand next to you. Also, be sure to use your chosen cue word when they are doing so. It will take time, but proper leash behavior is very important.
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3. Teaching Your Puppy to Sit
“Sit” is one of the most basic and useful commands. To teach it to your pup, follow these steps:
- Stand in front of your puppy with an enticing reward and wait for him or her to sit. As they sit, say your cue word and offer a treat.
- You should now have the puppy’s attention. Move around the room so they stand. Once they sit again, repeat the cue word and reward process.
- Continue to do this until the dog associates the cue word with sitting and a reward.
4. Teaching the Puppy to Lie Down on Command
The “lay down” or “down” cue is very similar to “sit,” so you can follow a similar training strategy:
- Hold a small treat in your hand in a highly visible way (between your thumb and index finger works well).
- Hold a treat close to the dog’s nose. This will really let the dog know that you have something tasty, which should get their full attention. With a straight arm, slowly move the treat hand from the dog’s nose down to the floor just in front of them.
- As your arm moves, the dog’s nose will follow. Clearly say the words “lay down.” If the dog is following properly, they will bend their front legs so their nose can follow the treat to the ground. Keep your treat-holding hand still and do not release the treat until the dog’s back end has also dropped to the floor.
- After the dog’s hindlegs and rear have hit the ground, release the treat and praise the pup, but only if they are still laying down. Repeat the process several times and give the dog praise and a treat each time they complete everything correctly.
5. Teach Your Puppy to Stay
“Stay” is another important command, but it involves more patience, as you will need your young puppy to hold a position until they’re given a release cue.
It is important that they already understand how to sit on command, as “stay” is an extension of this cue. To teach “stay,” follow these steps:
- Decide on a release word, like “up,” “stand,” or whatever you prefer.
- Have your dog sit, then throw a treat on the floor and say the release word as they go toward the treat. The dog should begin to associate the word with a treat. At this point, you can start saying the release word before you throw the treat.
- Face the dog while he or she is sitting and offer a treat for sitting still. Praise your dog for sitting still for a while. This is where you should be introducing the “stay” cue word. Gradually increase the amount of time between treats. Do not punish your dog for standing too early, but do not offer a treat.
- Once your dog can sit still for a while without moving, you can start taking a few steps backward to put distance between the two of you. Have the dog sit, then take a few steps back. Then go back toward the dog and offer a treat if he or she is still sitting.
- Keep practicing until your dog can sit in place no matter where you move. Once this is mastered, you can reintroduce your release command.
- Putting the two commands together can take time, but knowing how to stay still on command is an extremely valuable skill that is worth the time and effort it takes to learn.