Puppy training can be a challenge that requires patience, understanding, positive reinforcement and love (not to mention lots of treats!). But where should you start and when?
The basics are typically initiated from the minute you introduce the puppy into your home. More advanced commands and behaviors should be slowly but firmly incorporated into the routine as your puppy grows older.
Let's take a look at the timeline of training milestones that are vital for your puppy to mature into a smart, well-behaved, and properly trained dog.
Related: Leash Training A Puppy
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2-4 Months Old
It all starts with the fundamentals. This is the age range where you must introduce the foundation for raising your dog.
First and foremost is potty training. Your dog should not relieve him or herself in the house - that's what walks or the backyard are for. You need to teach your puppy that outside is where he or she must do their business. The most important thing to remember about potty training is that your puppy is going to have an accident or two, and that it is normal. You need to show patience yet be firm in your discipline. Do not scold or hit the puppy as this is only going to make things worse. Punishments like this teach your puppy to be afraid of you and cause more accidents. Potty training is the single most important training that requires positive reinforcement.
You won't be able to accomplish this training without the proper set-up first. Create an area where the puppy will be confined until he or she is fully potty trained. Once that has been constructed, you must begin taking your puppy out on a leash every 30-40 minutes, so you can establish a routine. Pay attention to the puppy while outdoors and do not allow him or her to become distracted by the surrounding environment and external stimuli. Give it about five minutes and if the puppy does pee or poop, rewards are in order in the form of treats and praise. You might even allow some playtime off leash. This is all done so the puppy understands that peeing and pooping outdoors is a positive behavior. If the puppy does not pee or poop, that's okay, bring the pup back in the house and try again.
If sleeping, you need not wake the puppy up to bring him or her outside during those 30-40 minute intervals, but always lead the puppy outside after a nap or after a meal. Again, it's all about establishing a routine and educating the puppy as to where and when bathroom time is supposed to occur.
This part of training your puppy requires routine on the puppy's part and yours as well. You will undergo some training of your own so you are better able to carve out time in your day to ensure that the puppy doesn't have accidents in the house. You can teach the puppy not to pee or poop on the floor, but you are the one who must take the puppy outside to do his or her business. If you don't set your own routine and follow the rules you are establishing, the puppy will become confused and the training won't take. This is a group effort on the part of you and your pet.
Another crucial aspect of house-training your puppy is the use of a crate to give the puppy a place of his or her own to rest. Dogs need their own space, away from loud and disturbing stimuli that might be upsetting or startling to them.
The use of the crate is not to be for punishment. If it is used for punishment, your puppy will soon find it to be something to fear and he or she will refuse to go back inside. But if the crate is utilized in a way that allows for the puppy to learn right from wrong without negative encouragement, it can be a valuable tool in the maturity and training of the dog.
This form of training can be ideal for helping to potty train your puppy as well as discouraging destructive behaviors around the house, such as chewing up shoes and furniture or damaging parts of the home. A little “time out” in the crate can work wonders, just don't leave a puppy of this age range in there too long.
Basic Commands and Name Recognition
These are the commands that every dog should know and obey.
Come when called
A puppy should know his or her name when you say it. Training them to learn their name and respond to it isn't tricky, but it does require time and patience. Be sure not to associate calling the dog by his or her name with negative stimuli. Practice it in all manner of situations.
You definitely want to teach your puppy the proper method for loose-leash walking. This is when the dog is not pulling on the leash or leading, but instead walking by your side at the pace and speed you set.
Teaching these four fundamental commands should be started as young as seven to eight weeks. This lesson can be accomplished through the use of food rewards or other pleasant stimuli such as toys. You simply show the puppy the treat or toy, speak the command, and influence the puppy's behavior in the direction you wish the dog to take.
As an example, for the command “sit” you would hold the prize over the puppy's snout and move back to urge the pup to the seated position.
A dog that has failed to socialize is going to demonstrate a variety of negative qualities in his or her temperament. It's up to the owner to do the work of socializing the puppy at this age. The reason for getting started on this when the pup is so young is because this socialization period will lay the groundwork for the dog's personality and temperament through maturity. This is also why having the basic commands down pat early on, because if you are going to expose your puppy to the people, places, and sounds of the world around him or her, you will need to know you have the ability to keep your puppy under control. It's a big world out there and you want your pup to see and experience it all, but in a safe manner for the dog and those around him or her.
Another aspect of a dog's successful upbringing and good disposition is the animal's ability for maintaining impulse control. Teaching the dog to wait for something he or she wants and not chase it down or jump up to get it can be done through playing games or “cause and effect” exercises that instruct your pet not to behave poorly.
4-6 Months Old
As the puppy matures, you can start with more advanced and complex commands and expectations:
If you have successfully trained your puppy to respond to the basics like sit, heel, and lie down, you will have laid the groundwork for the dog to learn further commands. These commands will not only make the dog a better-behaved pet but give him or her a more well-rounded personality.
As your puppy reaches this age range, you should expect your dog to behave properly on longer walks. This can only be accomplished through successful learning of the simple commands and teaching the dog not to pull or wander from you while on the leash. If these behaviors continue to occur, you must correct the dog. It will be much tougher to break your pet of the habit as the animal gets older.
Fewer food rewards
The treat-based system of rewarding your pup for a job well done should begin to get phased out. Food is still a powerful motivator for a puppy at 4-6 months of age, but it should be relied upon less as expectations of good behavior from the dog increase. Don't eliminate the practice entirely, but focus these rewards on teaching the dog new tricks and behaviors and allow the previous training to sink in and become a component of the dog's daily routine.
We never want to leave our beloved pets home alone but we do have responsibilities outside of our personal lives and that will have your pooch staying home alone for a while. Puppies at this age range should not be left alone for any longer than two hours at a time. You may find your puppy is scared or lonely so make sure the pup is in a large, spacious crate with some toys. But keep in mind, even with a distraction a puppy will crave human interaction.
6 Months to 1 Year
By this point in the timeline, your pet should be exhibiting typical behaviors of a well-behaved and properly trained dog.
Mastery of basic behaviors
The basics should be fully ingrained into the dog's behavioral patterns. Commands such as sit, stay, come, down, and so forth, should all be obeyed without fail and despite environmental distractions. Even more important, the dog should be heeding your commands when off the leash.
By this point in the puppy's growth, polite play should be understood and complied with as the dog learns the difference between which items are acceptable for playtime and which are off-limits, such as furniture, shoes, clothing and other items. Puppies are still teething at this stage of growth and so it's vital that your pet understands “no biting” and obeys when told to stop.
Related: 11 Tips For A First Time Dog Owner
Other General Tips
Use reward training
Reward training uses positive reinforcement. You can entice your pup to learn with rewards that don't always have to include food items (although treats are typically very popular.) Find out what else your pup considers rewarding, be it a favorite toy, a blanket, or anything that will show the dog he or she has done well. A reward-based system utilizing positive reinforcement is the most effective way to train your dog.
It bears repeating again. Patience is the only path to success. Your puppy is young, energetic, and has a whole lot to learn about you, him or herself, and the surrounding world. Allow that discovery to happen but also work to shape how the puppy responds to stimuli. Some puppies learn quicker than others and it's up to you to work with the dog to help you both achieve success. That takes patience, caring, and compassion.
Create structure and routine
If you want to train your puppy, you must establish structure and routine. Repetition is how we all learn and showing your dog right and wrong through repeated actions makes it easier to understand. A puppy will not be trained correctly without these fundamental building blocks for learning.