Have a new puppy and not sure where to start with training? Our professional dog trainer walks you through how to conquer puppy training.
As a dog trainer, people often ask me which commands to teach first when a dog enters the home. I recently added a sweet pup, Rossi, to our family and I started training these behaviors as soon as he came home with me. Like all my clients, Rossi was trained with only positive reinforcement methods. I rewarded him with treats, but, more importantly, with lots of praise, love and scratches. By three months old, Rossi was able to do the following commands consistently, after several short (and fun) puppy training sessions together.
The Behavior Commands:
- Sit – “Sit” is a foundation for many behaviors, but it’s also a calming technique for dogs. My dogs learn that in order to get a reward, I want to see a nice calm sit. Weather it’s putting on their leashes for a walk, or waiting for their dinner, dogs learn that a “sit” is what produces all the fun and goodies. To make it easier for dogs to learn, I signal the “sit” behavior with both a hand and verbal cue. This is handy for situations when the pup can’t hear us as well (like on a busy street or at an outdoor event), and it also makes it easier to communicate as they get older, when their hearing or eyesight starts to falter.
- Stay – “Stay” is another behavior that I use A LOT. “Stay” helps keep pets safe and avoid dangerous or stressful situations. For example, I ask for a “stay” (both verbally and with my hand) on a walk when a skateboarder is going by, to ensure a paw doesn’t get squished. I also use “stay” when approaching new friends, to keep the encounter calm and manageable.
- Come – My dogs LOVE when they are told to “come” to me — they RUN with joy. Why? Because I have heavily praised and rewarded this behavior. No matter where I am — hiking, walking in the park, or at the beach — when I call them to “come”, they do, immediately. Think of all of the situations when this command is important: What if there’s something up ahead that I need them to avoid? What if there’s a car in the parking lot that doesn’t see them? Coming immediately when called is extremely important.
- Crate – I’m a huge fan of crate training. When done properly, a puppy really learns to love his or her crate. (I often find Maggie sleeping in hers.) If it’s time to go to bed, or if you have to leave, just say “crate”, and train your dog to enter their crate. Crate training is also one of the easiest ways to: a) potty train a new puppy, b) keep them from destroying or chewing things when not in your sight, or c) avoid or fix separation anxiety. The crate is a nice, safe, quiet place your puppy can go when they are scared, uncomfortable, tired, not feeling well, or just need some alone time. (Don’t you wish you had a crate sometimes?!) 🙂
- Touch – This is a fun one. I teach my dogs to “touch” my hand with their nose, it seems silly, but I use it so much! If I need to bring my dogs closer to me, saying “touch” brings them close by. It’s very helpful when teaching a “heal” during a walk, or when encouraging them to approach something that they’re wary or skittish about. It’s also a great way to help your puppy (or adult dog) gain body awareness. I use “touch” a lot as my pets get older, and we transition to other more complicated commands.
- Name – Lastly, but obviously very important … puppies need to learn their name. When I call my dogs name, “Maggie!” “Rossi!”, that is their cue to watch me, tune in, and see what I say or do next. I also graduate to saying, “Watch me” once they have their name down. Some pet owners use the name as a “come” command — that choice is up to you. Using their name or “Watch me” has been super helpful when we are out hiking or walking. I can make sure they are paying attention to me, despite all the distractions around us.
Parting Puppy Training Tips:
- When teaching all of these behaviors, consistency is key. Make sure everyone in your family is on board and is aware of the commands you have established. If someone asks the dog to “sit” whenever a guest walks through the door, but no one else does, the behavior will be much harder to establish with your puppy.
- Keep your sessions short: 10-15 minutes is perfect! Remember, puppies are like small children – they have limited attention spans. So, better to have shorter, more frequent training sessions than longer ones that lapse for several days (or weeks).
- If your dog isn’t very food motivated, try training before dinner time, when food will have a higher value. When I trained Rossi, I often rewarded with kibble from his dinner — a bonding time we both still really enjoy.
- Remember to keep it fun and positive! Positive reinforcement works, so pile on the kind words and ear scratches. Always end your training session on a good note to keep it enjoyable for you both.
On a separate “puppy” note, I would also suggest looking into pet health insurance for your new family member. Check out a past iFetch blog article on things to consider when choosing pet insurance for your pup. At least for me, I’d rather be in a position to make a healthcare decision based on Maggie and Rossi’s comfort vs. the cost of vet bill, if something serious were to happen. If you’ve had a dog before, you know how quickly vet bills can accumulate.
We would love to hear what you want to teach your new (or older) pups, so don’t be shy! Comment below with your puppy training questions, find us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter @goifetch, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We can’t wait to join you on your puppy training journey.