Bringing home a new puppy is incredibly exciting! Making sure the training of a new puppy goes smoothly requires careful planning, however. Check out our top puppy training tips below!
Meeting Basic Needs: Exercise and Enrichment
Before training traditional obedience cues like “sit”, “down”, “heel” or “come” there is much to consider! Puppies whose mental, physical, and social needs are met will be most able to absorb new information, so we will want to have a plan in place for meeting these needs. Exercise for young puppies must be age appropriate, low-impact, and of an appropriate duration. Several short walks exploring open spaces (either fenced-in or with the puppy on a longline connected to a harness for safety), opportunities to navigate appropriate puppy obstacle courses, play time with appropriately matched, safe, social dogs, short interactive play sessions with toys, and swimming supported by a doggy swim professional for safety, can be great options for meeting our dog’s needs.
Mental enrichment is equally as important to provide daily! Our puppies are intelligent problem solvers and the more directed outlets we can give them, the less likely they are to find ways to entertain themselves in ways we may not appreciate (like chewing on your favorite throw pillow). Puzzle toys, training games, nosework games, and trick training can be excellent options for meeting our puppy’s mental needs. Added bonus- licking (think working on a filled Kong, Toppl, or Lickimat) promotes relaxation and encourages your puppy to spend more of their time lying down calmly than tearing through the house! Interesting chews can also help a puppy learn to spend time self-soothing and burning energy, without directly engaging with you to stay busy. Edible chews like Bully Sticks, Whimzees, and freeze-dried snacks, can keep your puppy entertained for a short period of time, maybe long enough for you to cook yourself a meal without puppy underfoot. Other items like bully horns, split antlers, and raw beef bones can be appropriate choices for puppies who have their adult teeth (typically over 4-6 months of age).
If we can meet our puppy’s daily needs for physical exercise, mental enrichment, and social engagement, we see significantly fewer undesirable behaviors, such as mouthing, barking, and destructive behaviors. Check out our puppy enrichment blog for more tips and tricks on this topic!
Potty training is one of our very first training goals with a new puppy! Keep in mind, puppies do not achieve the muscle tone for full bladder and bowel control until they are several months old. Their success will depend on consistently managing them, reinforcing them for going potty outside, and taking them out on an appropriate schedule so they can be successful. This training piece will take up much of the day in the first days and weeks that they are home. Check out our potty-training blog for more tips on this topic!
Planning for Socialization
We know that the developmental window for socialization closes at or around 16 weeks. While dogs continue to learn and make new associations throughout their lives, their ability to absorb new experiences with a higher level of comfort and confidence begins to diminish greatly after 16 weeks. Because of this, it is critical to have a plan in place to support your puppy socially from the moment they come home. Socialization should include controlled, positive exposure to novel sounds, surfaces, people, animals, handling, traveling, and much more. It will be important to take your puppy out for socialization adventures multiple times per week. A well-run group puppy class or doggy day care can be an excellent part of your socialization plan, and offers a safe, clean, controlled opportunity to get your puppy out in the world. Check out our puppy socialization blogs for more tips and tricks on this topic!
Reinforcing for Good Choices
Positive Reinforcement is incredibly powerful and tells us any behavior that is reinforced is more likely to happen again in the future. Remember, reinforcement is from the perspective of the learner, so your puppy chooses what qualifies as a reward! So, if your puppy takes a sock out of the laundry basket and goes tearing through the house with it while you chase them, then engage in a game of tug in your attempt to take it from them, the puppy was likely reinforced for that interaction, because from their perspective, it was fun! Because of this, it will be more likely to happen again in the future. All too often, our puppies learn that barking, jumping on humans, taking items, chewing on things, and more undesirable behaviors result in all kinds of attention, and they repeat these behaviors as a result.
To combat this trend, we want to be sure to reinforce our puppies heavily for making positive choices. Each day, put a few pieces of their regular kibble or tasty treats in your pocket (or, better yet, put closed treat jars throughout your house for easy access). Watch your puppy throughout the day and be intentional about reinforcing them for making positive choices. Does your puppy lay on their bed and chew on an appropriate toy? Praise them and toss them a treat! Does your puppy calmly walk up to a human and keep their feet on the ground rather than jumping on them? Crouch down, offer social attention, petting, and praise them! While you are cooking or preparing food does your puppy calmly keep their feet on the ground (or maybe even settle on a dog bed in the kitchen with the chew you’ve thoughtfully provided them)? Praise them and toss them a treat! The choices that we are intentional about reinforcing will be the behaviors your puppy continues to repeat, so take advantage of the choices they naturally make and utilize the power of positive reinforcement to mold the behavior of your young dog.
Finally, let’s talk about training cues! Cues are words like “come”, “heel”, “stay”, etc. While these are important skills to build, notice that this is the last thing on this list! Supporting our puppy’s emotional, physical, and social needs will be our primary focus, as training cues become significantly easier once these other essential needs are met. The key to training young puppies is to keep training sessions short and highly reinforcing. An ideal training session with a young puppy might only be one to three minutes, though we can train several times per day. Be sure to reinforce for each correct repetition, especially in the beginning when it is incredibly important to teach our puppies that interacting and engaging with us is reinforcing and worthwhile. Training sessions should feel like play! So, keep your tone light and upbeat, run around, get silly, and reinforce often. Contact your local Central Bark for more resources on Puppy Hour, Group Training Classes, and more professional support.
Have you recently brought home a new puppy? Check out our blog Bringing Home a New Puppy.