Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He also trains dogs, mostly large breeds and those that suffer from aggression problems.
When Should I Start Training My New Puppy?
Do you have kids? Did you decide to wait and send them to school after they hit their teens? No, probably not. Unfortunately, this is still a common recommendation given to some novice dog owners—let the puppy grow up before starting training. By the time a dog is six months old, she is an adolescent and as wild as a teenager who has never been asked to sit still in class and learn.
And there are dog owners that follow that advice! Many of you will remember “Marley,” and all the problems that author had with his Labrador Retriever. Remember the part where he is advised to let his dog grow up and start obedience training when he is old enough to benefit from classes? How many out there read that book and nodded their head in agreement?
You Can Start Training When Your Pup Is a Few Weeks Old
“Waiting” is also a common belief where I live, and many new puppy owners will delay obedience training until six months. It is wrong, though, and not the best thing for a puppy. Puppies can actually start training when only a few weeks old. I have begun basic training as early as five weeks, and since most new dog owners will not bring their puppy home until eight weeks of age, their puppy is old enough to start training.
Differences Between Training a Very Young Puppy and an Older Dog
There are a few things you need to remember when training a small puppy, though.
- No matter which training style you normally use, when working with a young puppy, you must use treats and be positive. (I use these chicken liver treats.) Be sure to cut them up very small when training a new puppy; they should be no bigger than 1/3 of your little fingernail, and if you are working with a toy breed, make them even smaller. Puppy tummies are small and fill up fast.
- Use a gentle voice, and never speak to your puppy as loudly as you would do with an adult dog. NEVER yell, and no matter how you plan on training a dog of any age, you should never hit your puppy or dog.
- Do not use a leash and lead your puppy around like you might do when training an adult dog.
- Don’t try to teach tricks. Your puppy may be able to pick up a few things, like “spin,” but she is still not as coordinated as an adult dog, and some movements are difficult for her. If she becomes frustrated, she is going to be more difficult to train later on.
- Keep your puppy training sessions short and fun.
Commands to Teach a New Puppy
|Command||How to Do It?|
A relay is best. Call the puppy to you and give her a treat, then a second person does the same.
Hold a treat up in front of the puppy, and move it over her head so she sits down naturally.
When the puppy is sitting, hold the treat in front of her and move it down to the ground so she lies down natrually.
Put your hand in front of the puppy´s nose, give her the command to stay, and then immediately call her to you and give praise.
Basic Commands When Teaching Your Puppy Early
Here are some commands and concepts you can start teaching a young puppy, listed in order from the easiest to the most challenging.
1. Teach Your Dog to "Come"
This is the ideal time to teach your puppy to come to you. Young puppies want to be close to you, and the hardest part will be to get them to stay away from you so that you can call them to repeat this command again. If you have two people training the new puppy, have them call her name and “come”, and then when she runs to the new person she is given a treat. Just repeat this a few times, and if the puppy starts running to the second person even without being called start working on something else. Puppies figure this out really fast, so DO NOT give her a treat if she is running to the new person even without being called.
2. Train Her to "Sit" on Command
Almost as easy as teaching a dog to come, you should teach this in the first session and reinforce it every time you are training. I say “sit” and, holding a treat in my fingers, move it over the puppy´s head so that she sits down naturally. There is no shoving down on her hind end, no negatives involved at all. If the puppy were to fail to sit, I would not give her the treat and would move on to something else so that she would forget quickly. This “treat in the fingers” method has only failed when I am training an old dog—with a new puppy it always seems to work.
3. Train Her to "Lie Down"
This is not as natural for your puppy, nor is it as easy to teach as sitting on command. I have seen far too many big dogs who never learned this command early and their owners are not able to handle them when they get big. To teach this command, tell her “down” when she is already sitting, then move the treat out in front of her face so that she has to stretch out and lie down to grab it. This needs to be repeated every session.
4. Train Her to Accept a Leash
You should not expect to train a very tiny puppy to the leash. Attach the leash to her collar and let her drag it around a little. When she is walking to a new place in the yard or apartment, hold on to the leash as she is walking. After a few sessions, you can start walking while she is wearing the leash, and she will walk alongside you. If you need to, give her a treat from time to time so that she stays interested in where you are going and does not pay attention to the leash.
5. Train Her to “Stay”
This is probably the most difficult of all commands for a puppy to learn, so I would not recommend you use it more than once during each short training session. (Unlike sit, which you can do over and over). When the puppy is sitting in front of you with his leash attached, put your hand in his face, say “stay” in a firm voice, and then move back a step or two (while you are stepping down on the leash). If the puppy stays, call him immediately and give him a treat and lots of praise!
Keep Your Early Puppy Training Sessions Short
Young puppies, just like small children, have short attention spans. They are not able to go to long training sessions with other puppies. The best thing you can do for your puppy is to give her a 5-minute training session three or four times a day.
If you feel like you are not able to train your own puppy, and want to take her to formal classes held by a trainer, many will require that the puppy be old enough to have received her vaccines. You should start on the basics now, and think of those sessions as puppy kindergarten. If you have children, did you teach them to put on their shoes and button their clothes before kindergarten?
You need to do the basic training at home, even before kindergarten starts, and when she is old enough take her in for canine good citizen classes.
And remember to take a lot of pictures, because before you know it that little puppy is going to be that big dog sleeping in the corner of your bedroom. And enjoy it—training a puppy is easy and a lot of fun!
More Advice About Puppies
- How to Train a Crazy, Chewy, Nippy Puppy
Even when you manage to get control of the housebreaking issue, your new puppy is still going to provide you with plenty of perplexing problems. This article provides a few tips on how to deal with some of the most common puppy problems.
- The Best Puppy Food Is Raw Dog Food
The best food you can give your puppy is not in a bag, nor can you just go out and buy a can. Give your new puppy what she needs.
- How to Teach Bite Inhibition To A Puppy
Teaching a puppy to control the force of her bites is one of the most important things you can do for your dog. It may end up saving you, a family member, or a friend, and it may end up saving her life!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
Question: I have four puppies, and they are seven weeks old. Can I train them together?
Answer: Each puppy will still need to learn each lesson, so training four puppies will probably take you 20 minutes, but it can definitely be done.
Question: How do I know if my puppy can hear?
Answer: If you have a white Boxer or one of the dogs that are prone to deafness, and you are concerned, you can do a test by standing behind the puppy, where he or she cannot hear you, and slapping the bottom of a pan. The noise is loud, and if the puppy does not jump up, he will at the least turn around.
Amie Butchko from Warwick, NY on February 06, 2014:
Great hub! I think I could learn a lot from you! I have a pug that says so!!!!
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on January 29, 2014:
Hi Austinstar that is always sad to see, both with puppies and little kids. They are so fragile at this time, and even a harsh voice can scare them---to hit one really is too much.
Lela from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on January 29, 2014:
It never fails to amaze me how many people punish their dogs for coming when called. If the puppy doesn't respond they yell, scream and even hit the dog for not coming. Well, duh! I wouldn't come either if you were going to yell and scream at me!
Bob Bamberg on January 28, 2014:
Another great hub which will be very helpful to folks if they just stay consistent. I've seen owners who go to puppy classes, but when they came into the store, the dog would be on his own at the end of the leash. They'd be reading labels or talking with someone, not paying attention to the puppy. He'd get away with behaviors that should be immediately corrected. It seems the owners forgot the training before the dog did. Voted up, useful and interesting.