The first things you should teach your puppy are:
- How to go potty outdoors or in a designated area, such as a puppy pee pad
- Socialization (getting used to new environments, people, and animals)
- How to be alone
- Bite inhibition
- To come when called
- Walking nicely on a leash
- To sit, lie down, and stay on command
The specific thing you should teach your puppy first is debatable, and you should be training your puppy to do multiple things at once. For instance, you can teach them to sit and also be potty training.
It takes a puppy multiple days, weeks, or months to learn new things, depending on what it is they’re learning.
Above are the most crucial things to teach your new puppy, as they’re things every adult dog should know how to do reliably. You can train your puppy further once they’ve picked up these basics.
In this article, I’ll discuss what you should teach your puppy first as well as how to train them.
The First Things to Teach your Puppy
Some basic training to work on with your puppy includes potty training, socialization, and bite inhibition. These are vital skills that will set them up for success throughout their life.
The American Kennel Club also has what they call their “Basic 5” which are recall, basic leash training, and the commands “sit,” “stay,” and “down.”
Of course, there are a ton of other things you can teach your pup, but these are the basics. They’re also things your puppy can handle from the age you adopt them.
Training for sports or harder tricks can wait until they’re a bit older. Depending on the task, you might begin training at 6 months or one year of age.
How to Train Your Puppy These First Things
While training, remember that puppies have short attention spans. They’re also bound to mess up, especially in the beginning.
Don’t expect them to learn everything at once, and never scold or punish your puppy for not learning right away. Keep training sessions short and try to stop on a positive note, before either of you become tired, bored, or frustrated.
Keep training fun by using positive training techniques. Never try to dominate your puppy, and don’t use negative reinforcement such as yelling at or punishing your pup.
These training methods erode the trust between you and your pup. They can also promote fearfulness and aggression.
Don’t try to exercise a hyper pup, but instead ensure that they’re getting plenty of exercise. At the same time, you don’t want to try training your puppy when they’re super tired and wanting a nap either!
Try to train when they’re at a moderate energy level for the best results.
Potty training is both very simple and a thing that many people get wrong.
First, let’s discuss the “don’ts” of potty training: never punish your dog for accidents, rub their nose in their mess, or expect them to hold it for too long.
Potty training may become tedious very quickly, as it requires you to constantly monitor your pup for signs that they need to pee or poop. You’ll have to bring them outside very frequently in the beginning, when they are still learning and can’t hold their bladder for long.
Your new, two month old puppy cannot wait hours for you to bring them outside. Instead, expect to be taking them out at least once every two hours—but likely more often to avoid accidents.
To potty train your puppy:
- Bring them outside at least once every two hours. Allow them to sniff around until they find a suitable place to go. (If you’ve ever had a dog, you know that they usually walk in circles for a bit and can be finicky!)
- Monitor them indoors. Watch for signs that they have to go, such as sniffing, circling, or squatting. You’ll learn quickly how your puppy acts when they’re about to pee or poop! When you see these signs, bring them outside.
- Don’t forget nighttime outings! Unfortunately, your puppy’s bladder needs don’t disappear at night. Don’t expect a full night’s sleep for the first few months after adopting your puppy. Especially until they are potty trained, they’ll need to go frequently—day and night.
- Have patience. Potty training takes time! It’s relatively low effort, but it does mean you’ll be going in and out of the house many times each day. While this can be frustrating, remember that it isn’t your puppy’s fault and that this is what it takes to have a potty trained dog!
- Don’t punish your dog for accidents. Be sure to clean them thoroughly, but don’t mention them to your puppy—they’re an expected part of the process. Scolding or otherwise punishing your puppy can make them fearful, which can result in even more accidents.
In the end, your pup won’t have accidents if you take them out frequently enough. Adjust your own schedule instead of expecting them to hold it longer than they can.
Potty training using a puppy pee or grass pad is very similar to the steps above. Simply bring them to the pad instead of outdoors.
Socialization, so They’re More Adaptable
Socializing your puppy allows them to grow into a confident, adaptable adult dog. It teaches your puppy not to fear new things, which in turn makes them friendlier and less likely to be aggressive toward people or other animals.
Socialize your puppy by introducing them to a variety of people, places, dogs, and experiences. This begins very early in your puppy’s life, starting from their interactions with their mother and siblings.
The breeder or rescue organization you adopted your puppy from should have continued to socialize your puppy through handling them and allowing others to do so. If your puppy grew up in a home with other animals, such as cats, this also aided in their socialization.
Socialization continues until a puppy is three months old. The goal is to introduce your puppy to many different situations so that they know how to handle these as an adult dog.
Here is a handy list of things to consider socializing your puppy to. Of course, no list will be completely comprehensive.
Think about things that some adult dogs have difficulties with, such as veterinary care, grooming, or loud sounds.
Lifting your puppy’s feet so that they get used to them being handled makes it easier to trim their nails. Getting them used to the sound of the vacuum cleaner shows them that it’s not going to hurt them, but is only noise.
Leaving your puppy alone for a few minutes at a time, then longer as they get used to it, will teach them not to panic when you have to run an errand or leave for work. (With this one, do keep in mind that puppies can’t be alone for more than a couple of hours at this age!)
Other experiences may be unique to your lifestyle, such as if you’d like to hike with your pup or bring them to work with you.
Always keep the experience positive for your puppy. Give them lots of praise and treats when they experience something new.
Don’t overwhelm them with many new things at once, but instead start small by introducing them to your home and family. Slowly incorporate new noises, smells, and objects.
Once your puppy is vaccinated, they can begin to go on adventures outside the home.
Before you begin introducing them to other pups, you might want to wait until they are spayed or neutered. Many dog parks and other dog-friendly areas require this.
You can also choose to only allow your puppy to be around other spayed or neutered dogs.
Bite Inhibition, so They Don’t Bite Others
Puppies begin to learn bite inhibition while playing with their siblings or mama dog. However, you’ll have to continue this training—especially if you don’t have another dog in your home.
One big pro to adopting two puppies or even having an older dog in the household is that they teach one another things, such as how hard to bite.
Teach your puppy bite inhibition by:
- Never allowing them to bite you. Not even during play! Use toys instead of your hands and feet while playing rough so that your puppy doesn’t learn that biting people is okay.
They will not grow out of this behavior as an adult dog if you never teach them better!
- When your puppy does bite, distance yourself from them. There’s no need to punish your puppy, as that can actually make them more prone to biting! Ignoring them actually works much better.
Gently set your puppy down away from you or leave the room yourself. Close a door between the two of you if needed, and give them time to settle down.
Don’t ignore them forever, but just a few minutes will get your point across.
- Providing many toys, including teething toys. You can’t expect a dog not to chew, especially not a teething puppy. Chewing is a natural instinct that all dogs have. This means they need something acceptable to gnaw on.
- Redirect your puppy to toys when they bite. Instead of walking away when your puppy bites, you can try keeping toys on you and tossing one their way when they nip at your ankles!
This works well for some puppies, while others might ignore the toy or see it as a reward for biting. The best thing to do is to try both ways and see what works best.
- Reward them for chewing toys. When your puppy chews a toy, reward them with praise or a treat! This will show them that this is what you want them to bite.
Whenever you’re teaching your puppy not to do something, it’s important to show them what they can do instead to get out that same urge or instinct!
Remember that all puppies bite. They aren’t being bad or trying to hurt you, they just don’t know better yet!
Teaching Them Recall, so They Come To You
Recall teaches your puppy to come to you. This is especially crucial in off-leash areas.
Although most places have laws requiring you to keep your dog leashed outdoors, there are exceptions. One example of this is probably your local dog park!
Your own property is not an exception to this however, and you could face consequences for allowing your dog to wander off-leash in unfenced areas like the front yard.
Even if your puppy will always be on leash, you might need them to come when you call them in from the back yard or if they happen to get out and run off on you.
It’s a valuable skill for them to have, just in case something goes wrong.
To train recall:
- Start small, with few distractions. Inside your home is a great place to start, since you have much more control over the distractions your puppy will face!
- Hold a toy or treat. Make sure it’s something that’ll be very interesting to your puppy. Wave it around, squeak the toy, or call out to your dog to get their attention.
- Reward your pup for coming to you. If you’ve chosen the right item, your puppy should naturally walk over to see what you have. Praise them and give them the toy or treat you were holding.
- Say “come” as your puppy moves toward you. Now that you know the signs that your puppy is going to come to you (such as perked ears, looking your way, or stepping in your direction), give them the command so that they can learn what it means.
- Repeat until your puppy comes without seeing the treat or toy first, but continue to reward them. You aren’t far enough along to phase out treats quite yet!
- Increase the difficulty by adding distractions and new environments. For instance, call your puppy when the rest of the family is around or you have a guest over. Try practicing recall in a fenced yard where there is more to see, hear, and smell.
- Repeat, repeat, repeat! Give your puppy lots of practice in various situations to ensure they understand the command no matter where they are or what’s happening around them.
Remember that some pups are difficult or impossible to train to reliably come when called. Some breeds or personalities are simply too independent or single-minded.
Some examples of this are hunting breeds that can be difficult to stop once they’ve spotted a prey animal, such as a squirrel.
Until or unless your pup learns reliable recall, don’t allow them off leash in unenclosed spaces. It simply isn’t worth risking them running away or into traffic.
Leash Training, so Walks are Safe and Fun
Every dog should know how to walk on a leash, so it’s something every puppy must learn!
There are two methods of leash training. One involves teaching your puppy to “heel,” which means walking right beside you with their focus on you, not the environment around them.
Then there’s the more relaxed method of leash training, where you allow your pup more freedom to sniff and look around, but not to pull on the leash.
The American Kennel Club recommends starting puppies off with this more relaxed method, though some sources disagree and say to teach heeling first.
It may depend on your dog, but in general I recommend relaxed leash training for young puppies. This is because they need time to explore the outside world, which is all new to them. Puppies also have very short attention spans, so attempting to teach “heel” too young may be a recipe for disaster.
Teach your puppy to walk on a leash by:
- Letting them wear the leash indoors. This will help your puppy get used to the leash. If you’re going to walk them using a harness, have them wear it as well.
- Once they’re used to the leash, practice walking inside. Your home is familiar and has less distractions, so it’s an ideal place to start training.
- Reward them lots! Don’t hold back on the treats. Even walking a few steps is a huge accomplishment for your puppy at this point. Be sure to give your puppy an indication that the treat is coming, such as clicking your tongue.
- Move to outdoor training when your puppy is ready. If your puppy has made progress inside but seems to regress outside, don’t worry! That’s normal and expected in the beginning.
- Keep them distracted. When walking your puppy, you should always be aware of your surroundings. If you spot a distraction such as another dog, a squirrel, or the mail carrier, get your pup’s attention focused on you by offering a treat.
- Stand in place when your puppy pulls. Whenever your puppy pulls on the leash, stand still. Don’t tug the leash back, as this might hurt your puppy or even turn into a fun game of tug of war for them!
You can also try stopping, then turning around and continuing your walk in the other direction. This teaches your puppy that if they tug on the leash to get someplace sooner, they won’t end up getting there at all! It’s especially helpful if they’re trying to yank you toward something, like another dog down the street.
Teach Sit so They Are More Manageable
Training your puppy to sit will be helpful for managing them in many future situations, as well as future training. “Sit” is arguably the most important command for your puppy to learn.
It helps keep them in place when you’re on a walk or at the veterinarian, a dog park, or another public area.
Teaching other commands such as “wait,” “stay,” “heel,” and many more rely on “sit” as a foundation.
To teach your puppy to sit on command:
- Wait for them to sit on their own. Your puppy sits on their own all of the time, so you don’t necessarily need to prompt them to do so. Try calling them over and then waiting for them to sit in front of you!
- Say “sit” and give them a treat! You can also attach a hand movement like the one below so that your dog learns to associate that with sitting, too.
- Have your dog stand back up and try again. Stepping back from your pup usually causes them to stand again. You can also try luring them forward with a treat or calling them to you. You can also try using a “release command” such as “okay!” This will come in handy later.
- Repeat the above steps until your puppy can sit on command reliably. Puppies are fast learners, but they need to be shown multiple times before they understand and remember a new trick.
You can also try this method instead:
- Hold a treat in front of your puppy. Allow them to sniff it so that you have their attention!
- Slowly move the treat over your puppy’s head. This will cause them to sit as they try to reach the treat in your hand.
- When your puppy sits, say “sit” and give them the treat! Praise them for a job well done!
- Repeat the above steps until your puppy sits on command reliably. One time isn’t enough for your puppy to learn. Return to “sit” each training session until they have it down.
Remember to keep commands distinct from one another and consistent. Don’t try to teach your dog ten different words that all mean “sit.”
While your command doesn’t have to be “sit,” you do need to use the same one every time. I recommend against telling your dog to “sit down” as they might confuse this with the command “down” or “lie down.”
Lastly, never force your puppy to sit. Pushing their butt down is unnecessary, as there are other ways to show them what you want.
Forcing your puppy into a sitting position may upset or even hurt them.
The Down Command
“Down” or “lie down” is another basic command that comes in handy often while training. It can help to keep your puppy calm in various situations.
Other tricks such as “roll over” rely on first having your pup lie down.
To teach your puppy to lie down on command:
- Wait for your puppy to lie down naturally. Like sitting, laying down is something your puppy will do on their own. Wait for them to do so, or call them over and wait for them to lie down in front of you.
- Say “down” and give them a treat! If you want to attach a hand movement to the trick as well, most people hold out a hand with their palm facing downward and lower it toward the floor.
- Have your dog stand back up and try again. Step back from your pup. If they don’t follow on their own, coax them over with a treat or by calling their name. You can also try using a “release command” such as “okay!” This will come in handy later.
- Repeat the above steps until your puppy lies down on command regularly. Remember not to expect them to learn in just one day, but instead repeat the command through multiple training sessions until they’re pros!
You can also try the “lure” method instead:
- Hold a treat up to your puppy’s nose.
- Bring the treat down to the floor and hold it there.
- When your puppy lies down, say “down” and give them the treat!
As with sit, you don’t have to use “down” as your command—it’s just the most commonly used. The important thing is that the command is always the same and doesn’t sound too similar to another one.
Never force your puppy to lie down, as this could hurt or upset them. Instead, use one of the above methods to coax them into position.
The Stay Command
Teaching your dog to stay in place while you walk away or perform a task isn’t as simple as the two commands above, but it’s equally important and useful.
Once your dog knows how to “stay” reliably, you can have confidence being with them in many situations. For instance, your dog will stay in place as another dog passes by on the street, rather than tugging frantically on their leash.
When guests come into the house, you could also have your dog stay in place and not rush toward them right away.
To teach your puppy to stay:
- First, teach a “release command.” This might be “okay!” or “come!” You can train your puppy this by having them sit or lie down and then telling it to them as they stand back up, like I discussed in those sections above.
- Begin spacing out the release command. Have them hold their position for longer each time before saying it. This will also help to ensure your puppy knows what the release command means.
- While your puppy is staying in place, say “stay” and take a step back.
- If your puppy stays, release them and give them a treat! If they don’t, that’s okay! Have them sit or lie back down and try again.
- Work on extending the time and walking further distances. Have your puppy stay for five seconds, fifteen, thirty, and so on. Once your puppy can handle staying while you take one step back, increase it to two, then three, etc. Then you can try doing short activities while your puppy waits to teach them that even if you are doing something, they shouldn’t get up until the “release command” is given.
Don’t expect your puppy to stay in place for long periods. Remember that they’re young, with short attention spans and lots of energy!
Stay can be used when your puppy is standing, sitting, or lying down. Keep in mind that you might have to train all of these separately, however.
Dogs often have a difficult time knowing to apply the same behavior to various situations. For example, a dog might know how to sit at home but not know how to sit when outside.
Or in this case, they might know how to stay while laying down but be confused about combining “sit” and “stay.”
Writer: Katelynn Sobus