The First 3 Things to Teach Your Puppy
When you first get your puppy, it’s really exciting. But it can get less exciting pretty quickly as you realize that you won’t be sleeping for awhile, and you’ve just brought a little pee and pooping machine that likes to bite into your house.
You know you’re supposed to train your puppy, but training can feel overwhelming at first since you have to juggle so many things. You need to housebreak them, walk them, feed them, and occupy them when you need to do something else.
But making daily training a priority (for just 5-10 minutes a day) will get you out of the crazy new puppy stage much faster, and start teaching your pup all the fundimentals they’ll need to be the well behavied dog you want.
When to Start Training a Puppy
At 8-week-old puppies can start to learn the basics.
The quicker you teach your puppy to listen (our first training excercise), the better your training will go as they get bigger. Once they know that they should look at you and listen when you talk to them, you’ll be able to starting teaching them more commands.
The Power of Yes
When you have a puppy, sometimes you feel like you’re spending the whole day saying ‘No!’. I get it. But let me encourage you to focus on praising your puppy for what they are doing right instead, and ignoring what they do wrong.
You see, puppies are like kids – they love getting praise and attention. And they’ll repeat whatever is getting it for them. And if they’re not getting a lot of praise, they will settle for attention (even if that attention is you saying ‘no’ over and over).
The more you communicate with your puppy by saying a happy “Yes!” when they do something good, the more they will understand what you want them to do.
We can build every training technique on this one simple thing.
What is the first thing you should train your puppy?
The first thing you need to teach your puppy is to look at you when you say their name. You can’t train them anything else if they don’t pay attention to you when you talk to them. You might have already dealt with the frustration of having your puppy ignore you. This simple exercise will teach them that when they hear their name, they should look and see what you want them to do.
The Attention Game
- Get some high-value treats like cut up chicken that will really interest your pup.
- Sit on the floor with your puppy
- Say your puppy’s name and hold the treat up to your eyes. If they look at the treat, say “Yes!” in a happy voice and give them the treat.
- If they don’t look, put the treat close to their nose so they can get a smell, and then lead their attention up to your eyes with the treat. When their eyes come to your eyes, say “Yes!” and give them the treat.
- Once they get this, try it without the treat in front of your face. If they don’t look at you, just go back and do more of steps 1-4.
- Don’t worry if your puppy is excited or starts to climb on you. Focus on them focusing on you. You can train them not to climb in another session once they know how to pay attention.
- Repeat this exercise a lot, and in different situations and locations to make sure your puppy will look at you no matter where you are or what is happening around you.
One of the first things puppy owners want to teach their puppy is how to sit. And ‘sit’ is a great start to teaching ‘stay’ which is really useful when you need your puppy to be still while you brush them or wipe off their feet. Here’s the best way to teach your puppy to sit:
- Move a treat right under your puppy’s nose to get their attention.
- Lead their head around a little with the treat (if they are not used to following a treat with their nose, let them have a treat a few times so they get the hang of it)
- Slowly move the treat over the top of their head moving it toward their back. They will follow it with their nose, which will cause them to sit. (This might take a few times. Make sure you’re moving the treat slowly)
- The second their butt hits the floor, say a happy “Yes!” and give them the treat.
- After a couple of times, add the word ‘sit’ when you start to move the treat.
- Keep practicing and reward for progress, not perfection.
- Make sure to praise them and give them a treat whenever they sit
- Once they get the hang of it, if you say ‘sit’ and they ignore you, don’t say ‘sit’ over and over. Go back to guiding them with the treat and praising them when they finally sit. If you keep repeating the cue ’sit’, you’re teaching them they don’t have to listen the first time.
teaching ‘Leave it’
Leave it is a very useful tool. Imagine your puppy ignoring your lunch plate, or walking by a chewable shoe because you said ‘Leave it’.
But before you teach this one, make sure you know the difference between ‘leave it’ and ‘wait’. You’ll want to use ‘leave it’ for things you never want your puppy to have, like your socks and houseplants. And ‘wait’ for things they just can’t have right then, like a toy you’re trying to pick up or their food bowl when you’re still making their lunch.
- Hold a treat in your hand and close your fist on it
- Let your puppy sniff your hand. They will try to get the treat
- As soon as they pause, look away, or bring their nose away from your hand for any reason say ‘Yes!’ and give them a different treat (**This is important…they should never get the treat that you’re holding in your closed hand that you use for ‘leave it’. You should always give them a different treat. This teaches them they can never have the thing you say ‘leave it’ about.)
- Practice until they realize that NOT going for what is in your hand is what they get rewarded for.
After they get the hang of leaving the treat in your hand, you can make it harder by:
- Opening your hand with the treat in your palm. Say ‘leave it’ and if they go for it, close your palm to keep them from getting it. If they look at you or move their nose away from the treat, they get praise and another treat.
- Put the treat on the floor and tell your puppy to ‘leave it’. Be ready to cover it with your hand if they go for it.
- Extend the time that they have to wait for the treat
- If your puppy gets the treat because you weren’t quick enough to cover it, that’s your fault. Don’t scold them, just start again.
Young puppies are like sponges, and if you know the right way to train them, they can learn very quickly. So, jump in and start training your puppy as early as possible so they can start to learn what you want from them. Teaching your puppy to pay attention to you with The Attention Game, and then moving on to Sit and Leave it with start you off with a great foundation to teach your puppy any other command you need.
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