6 Puppy Training Basics

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Everyone loves puppies. I probably love puppies most though. While I hear from many other dog trainers that the time comes when they are over puppies, this hasn’t happened to me yet! I get excited with every new little fluffy clumsy pup who comes through my door.

Puppy training is hugely enjoyable for me – to start out with a little dog who is a blank slate, and teach him and form him into the companion we want him to be is a process I cherish.

Here are some important puppy training basics – SpiritDog Training edition:

1. Show them what you like

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Puppies do a lot of stuff wrong. They jump up on everybody, they pee inside, they chew the furniture and bite hands.

However, they actually do a lot of stuff right, too! We tend to overlook it since we are so tired from dealing with all the things they aren’t good at (yet).

Pay attention to the things your puppy is doing right. Is he sitting at your feet while you are relaxing on the couch? Fantastic! Pet him, praise him and give him a cookie. We want him to repeat the behaviors we like – and the best way to ensure that is to show him that he can earn attention, petting and treats by doing them.

Make sure to note every time he is a good little dog, and let him know. He will thrive with all the reinforcement, his behavior will improve drastically, and you yourself will be more optimistic (it will be needed in the moments when you step in his poop in the middle of the night…).

2. Have a routine

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Puppies are like toddlers. They constantly want to play and explore their world and never sleep. I am not entirely sure if puppies actually need to sleep. When Kix was a puppy she didn’t seem to ever sleep.
However – you will need sleep and some downtime from your little tornado.

To make it fair and predictable for you and the puppy, make some kind of a schedule. You don’t need to follow it religiously, but having some sort of guideline will make life easier.

It will also allow your puppy to understand when to play and when to sleep. He will wind down easier, and (big advantage!) his digestion and potty habits will become a lot more predictable if he is on a set schedule of eating, playing and sleeping.

3. Start taking him on walks now

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Young puppies come with an amazing built-in training hack: They never leave you. Until the age of about 3-4 months (depending on the breed and personality), little puppies tend to not wander to far from their owner.

Now is the time to start taking him on walks. If safe to do so (no cars, no other dangers) take him on a walk without a leash to get it ingrained in him that one stays with the owner no matter what.

By the time your puppy is old enough to even think about leaving you on a walk, you will have already made a habit of him staying with you.

2 months worth of 2-3 little walks a day, that means an average of 150 walks of him not leaving your side. This is plenty of experience to form a habit, it will become second nature for your pup to never stray.

4. Teach him to relax without a crate

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It is so tempting to put a wound-up puppy in a crate, shut the door and let him deal with himself. Unfortunately, it can quickly get to a point where this is the only way he can calm down.

(Want to read more on crate training? Check out The Smart Way To Crate Training A Puppy)

It is an important skill for puppies to be able to zone out within commotion. If we teach him now that it’s possible to relax while other things are going on, it will be a lot easier to take our dog with us in the future – on road trips, to a coffee shop patio, to the park.

When your puppy is crazy and needs a nap, try tethering him to you. Put a leash on him and sit with him somewhere. It can be on the couch with you reading or watching TV, or in your office with you working. If he complains and wrestles with his leash, ignore it. Eventually he will give up and go to sleep.

We want him to understand that it is ok to close his eyes, and he doesn’t have to fear missing out on something. We will also at the same time teach him that we always are a safe spot to sleep next to. When I am at the computer writing to my online students, there is never a dog missing curled up at my feet.

5. Take him along

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The more people, dogs, situations your puppy can encounter, the better. Take him along everywhere you go.

You don’t need to plan a special “dog outing” every day. Just taking him to the post office with you and playing in the parking lot, or taking him along to pet-friendly stores (such as Home Depot), or bringing him to pick up a relative at the airport are great experiences.

Don’t do dog parks quite yet though: Because of the many dogs from different backgrounds, your puppy might pick up an illness before he is completely vaccinated. Stick to places less populated by dogs, and expose your puppy to other dogs in safe situations: a puppy class, a playdate with your friend’s dog etc.

6. Have fun

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Don’t take yourself or the puppy too seriously. It is a time of messes and a bit (or a lot – depends on how lucky you got!) of destruction and a time of occasionally wondering “Why the heck did we get that puppy again??”.

For a few months, your house will probably not look as clean and tidy as usual and your nights will be interrupted by urgent potty breaks. Don’t worry – the puppy time will be over and your life will be orderly again.

Until then, enjoy – cuddle your puppy, laugh at his antics and don’t forget to take many pictures, you will cherish them forever.

Happy training!