Bringing home a puppy is so exciting! All that cuteness and cuddles can’t be beat. Another benefit of puppies is that they’re too young to have picked up many bad habits – they’re pretty much a blank slate. But that also means it’s up to you to teach your little furball everything he needs to know about being a part of your family. Wondering how to train a puppy? We asked Heather Gillihan, a certified dog trainer at Zoom Room, for her tips on getting your new addition off to a great start.
The best way to train a puppy
To be successful, Gillihan says training begins before you have a puppy. Make sure you have everything you need for a new puppy and that you’ve puppy-proofed your home. Know in advance where your puppy will sleep, play and go potty. Also consider which areas of the house are taboo.
When it comes to teaching your puppy right from wrong, positive reinforcement training is the best method. It relies on using quality treats like hot dog, chicken, or cheese chunks to reward your pup for a job well done. This will teach your dog that good things happen when he listens to his people.
13 expert tips for training your pup
Raising a puppy encompasses so many facets of life. Gillihan shares some insider tips on creating structure, teaching manners and potty-training his newest addition to the family.
1. Start training from day one
It’s easy to laugh at the cute things puppies do. The problem? When your dog is an adult, the same antics — like jumping up on people to get attention — are a nuisance. “Every minute, every interaction, one of you gets exercised. Make sure it’s the pup, not you,” says Gillihan. Don’t encourage bad behavior now and you won’t have to worry about it in the future.
2. Keep an eye on your pup at all times
Leaving your pup running around unsupervised is a recipe for disaster (think: potty accidents and chewed stuff). If you can’t actively watch your pup, confine him to a small area or tie him to you with a leash or longer house leash.
3. Feed meals in the crate
To help your pup associate good things with the crate, Gillihan recommends feeding meals there. Wait for your puppy to start eating to close the cage door. But once he’s done, open the door for your pup to come out. Once your puppy has become accustomed to the crate, increase the time he is in before opening the gate. Make sure you do the crate training in small increments so you don’t startle your pup.
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4. Make bedtime extra cozy
The first few nights in a new place can be anxious for your pup. Place a stuffed animal in your pup’s crate that is designed to provide comfort. Some even have a heartbeat and can be warmed up so your pup feels like he’s still sleeping with company.
5. Keep the box near your bed
To ease the first night’s nervousness, have your pup right next to you overnight. Place your puppy’s crate on a sturdy table or chair so that it is level with your bed (but not in your bed). You can stick your fingers through the crate door to feel even closer. If your puppy cries at night, take him to the potty and then put him back in the crate immediately. Over time, slowly move the crate further away from the bed, onto the floor, and then into the room where your dog will sleep.
6. Keep a schedule
Getting your pup on a schedule is key to quick potty training, says Gillihan. Most puppies need to be potty trained after eating, napping, or playing. Go potty first thing in the morning with your puppy. “If your pup has relieved himself, he deserves 30 to 45 minutes of playtime,” she says. After that, it’s time to return to the box to settle down. Many puppies become tired before this period is up, so playtime may only need to be 10-20 minutes depending on your pup’s energy level.
If your puppy falls asleep in the crate, you can keep him in longer. But if he’s awake, take your puppy out of the crate after 15 minutes and give him a chance to go potty. If it doesn’t go, then it goes back into the crate for another 15 minutes and then you try again. As soon as he has relieved himself, the game time starts again. The sequence goes to the potty, playtime, and then a crate break.
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7. Slowly expand your pup’s access
If you let your pup stay indoors, chances are he will have accidents. Keep your puppeteer in a confined area and slowly open the rest of the house for him. “A good rule of thumb is that for every month your pup is accident-free in their primary area, they are given access to a different room.”
8. Learn your puppy’s potty training signs
Pay close attention to your dog’s body language when taking him outside to potty train. What does he do while preparing for his business? These are the same behaviors your pup will exhibit indoors as well. “I know from one of my guys that when he starts going in circles he’s ready to poop or think about it. So let’s go outside,” says Gillihan.
9. Create a potty station
If you have to leave the house for hours, set up a space for your pup to hang out. You can use an enclosed space or a playpen area. Place the crate containing your pup’s bed in the area, as well as a potty pad.
10. Teach your puppy not to bite
Puppy teeth are sharp and when young they like to gnaw, especially fingers and toes. Get your pup to stop biting by ending playtime if they press too hard. “I walk away, go into the bathroom and close the door for about 10 or 20 seconds,” says Gillihan. You can also direct your dog to an appropriate chew toy and away from your body.
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11. Start socializing right away
Introducing your pup to new places, people, and other pets can help him get used to a variety of situations. Some vets recommend not letting puppies out in public until they have had all their vaccinations at 16 weeks. However, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) believes that puppies should be socialized before being fully vaccinated.
“Behavioral problems, not infectious diseases, are the #1 killer of dogs under the age of 3,” writes AVSAB. You can still safely expose your dog to new things so as not to miss this crucial period of socialization.
12. Integrate the training into everyday life
“You don’t have to spend 30 minutes of undivided attention training your pup,” says Gillihan. “Just use small segments throughout the day.” For example, practice basic cues like sitting and staying while your coffee is brewing or a commercial is on.
13. Use treats as rewardss
Stock up on goodies – you’ll use a lot of them during training. But what if your pup knows his stuff? You have to make the transition from “bribe” to reward, says Gillihan. Once your small dog understands the behavior you are looking for, start hiding the treats. Always praise your dog for a job well done, but also occasionally reward him with treats. The more a behavior becomes a habit, the less you need the treats.