One time when I was at the park with my Curly-Coated Retriever, River, we ran into a large group of friends from the community.
Lots of children were running around — many of whom were interested in River, who was about 1 year old and weighed 70 pounds.
Distracted by several conversations going on at once, I glanced at River, who was standing behind me, only to realize that one of the kids was trying to climb onto her back to ride her while another was attempting to grab her tail.
I quickly stopped the kids, but I noticed that River was actually happy during the interaction.
During River’s first year of life, I spent a lot of time socializing her around people, teaching her to love being touched, helping her overcome a nervous temperament and working on manners.
Her interaction with the kids at the park could have ended very differently if we had not laid a good foundation during her puppy days.
In this article, I will share 10 essential puppy training tips that will make life with your dog much more enjoyable and less stressful. These tips may even prevent a dog from being rehomed due to severe behavior issues later in life.
10 Essential Puppy Training Tips
Puppy Training Tip #1: Make Socialization a Top Priority
When you have a young puppy, there are so many things to teach. It’s hard to know where to focus your time the most when your puppy is growing so fast.
You can teach some things, like certain obedience commands, later or more slowly without lifelong consequences for the dog. But other things, like socialization, are dependent on the puppy’s brain development and need to be priority.
Socialization, along with bite inhibition and house-training (more on those below), should be a major focus in your training.
Socialization means exposing your puppy to as many new people, places and things as you can in a way that’s pleasant for the dog and not overwhelming.
Before your puppy has all their vaccinations, consider taking them to friends’ homes, where the chances of contracting something like parvo or distemper are minimal.
Puppy Training Tip #2: Teach Bite Inhibition
Bite inhibition is a dog’s ability to control the pressure of their bite. Any dog can bite when in the wrong situation, such as when injured or scared. How good a dog’s bite inhibition is will often affect the severity of such a bite.
Good bite inhibition can be the difference between a dog being euthanized because they caused severe injury and there being no trace of a dog’s teeth on skin afterward.
Bite inhibition is taught mostly during play with other puppies while young. Playing with the puppy, yelping loudly, stopping the play and ignoring them for several minutes when they bite too hard can also help them learn how to control the pressure of their bite.
Here are some quick tips for teaching your puppy bite inhibition:
- At first, simply yelp when your puppy bites hard enough to cause pain.
- As they improve, also yelp when they bite any amount of pressure.
- Practice this until they gently mouth you without applying any pressure.
- Before your puppy reaches 5 months of age, work on teaching the “Leave it” command and transition to using “Leave it” to teach them not to put their mouth on you at all.
The combination of yelping to teach bite inhibition and transitioning to “Leave it” will help your puppy learn how to control their mouth and keep their teeth off people in general.
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At around 5 months of age, your puppy’s jaws will begin strengthening, so teach bite inhibition while your puppy is still very young.
Puppy Training Tip #3: Practice Handling
Most puppies are fairly tolerant of being touched and held when you first bring them home at around 2 months old. They might be wiggly, but very few have any serious issues with being touched.
As they get older, a puppy who was previously fine with being touched or held may start protesting with growls, biting or avoidance. Those early puppy protests can lead to a dog who bites when touched in the wrong place, who can’t be groomed and who is dangerous around kids — who don’t know to give the dog space.
You can teach a dog to love or at least tolerate being touched using treats and kibble while they are young. Use your puppy’s meal kibble to practice feeding them their meals one piece of food at a time. Each time you give them a piece of food, gently touch them somewhere:
- Rub their ear and give a treat.
- Rub a paw and give a treat.
- Hold their collar and give a treat.
- Gently wiggle their tail and give a treat.
- Place your hand under their belly and gently lift them off the ground a bit and give a treat.
Always pair the touches with food, be gentle, and give extra attention to areas the pup is more nervous about being touched. Continue these handling exercises until your dog is at least 2 years old.
Puppy Training Tip #4: Use Kibble in Your Training Sessions
Pet parents have an awesome puppy training tool that many are unaware of: their puppy’s daily meal kibble. While your puppy is young, you can feed them all or most of their meals as training treats or in hollow chew toys.
Giving your puppy hollow chew toys, such as a KONG, stuffed with their kibble in a crate, in an exercise pen or while they lie on their dog bed can help them learn to self-sooth, self-entertain, be calmer and be less frustrated mentally.
A food-stuffed chew toy gives a bored and lonely puppy something fun to do while you are away or unable to focus on them.
Learning how to self-sooth and self-entertain is very important for a puppy. It can prevent separation anxiety later, teach a dog how to settle down in your home, and help you manage a variety of behavior issues like being pushy with guests.
Your puppy’s meal kibble is a great tool for making socialization fun for them, for motivating the puppy to learn commands, for teaching things like crate training and house-training, for desensitizing them to touch, and for managing behavior.
Because the treats are simply their kibble, the food is healthier, the dog is hungrier (and therefore more motivated to train), and there isn’t a risk of them becoming overweight. Just be sure to measure the correct amount of food into your training pouch or bag for the day so your puppy is getting the same amount they would have gotten in a dog bowl.
Puppy Training Tip #5: Find a Good Puppy Class
Finding a good puppy training class is related to so many of the previous tips. A good puppy class is a great place for your puppy to:
- Practice being handled and socialized by other people
- Learn bite inhibition and socialization by playing with other puppies
- Learn commands and manners with other distractions present
Not all puppy classes are created equal, so do some research to find a good one.
Puppy classes are so important that as a dog trainer, I attended another trainer’s puppy class with my dog when she was young — even though she already knew all the obedience commands, and I have taught puppy classes myself.
A good class provides socialization, bite inhibition and the opportunity for your pet to be handled by others — something that’s hard to provide at home.
Puppy Training Tip #6: Be Consistent With House-Training
House-training can be the hardest part of puppy training — and it’s definitely the most time-consuming.
I frequently talk with pet parents who are still struggling with potty training one or more years into the dog’s life. Most of those issues could have been prevented if they had been taught how to house-train more effectively while the dog was still young.
Here are a few quick puppy house-training tips for better success:
- If you don’t plan to use pee pads long term, then don’t use them at all — especially not past 8 weeks of age.
- If your schedule will allow it, start teaching your puppy to go potty outside as soon as they come home with you. That will usually mean taking them outside to go potty every hour during the day, and at least 1–2 times during the night for the first couple months of their life.
- As they get older, their ability to hold their bladder and their understanding of potty training will improve, and you will be able to get more sleep and slowly spread out the nightly trips outside a bit more.
Puppy Training Tip #7: Try Crate Training
Crate training is by far the easiest way to house-train in the long run.
Most puppies have a natural desire to keep a confined space clean. If the crate is only large enough for the puppy to turn around, lie down and stand up, and there isn’t anything absorbent in the crate, most puppies will try to hold their bladders while in a crate.
As a general rule, a puppy can hold their bladder during the day for their age in months, plus 1 — meaning that a 2-month-old puppy can hold their bladder for a maximum of 3 hours in a crate.
Those numbers are maximums, though. Ideally, you would take your puppy outside at least half as often as the maximum amount of time they can hold it when you are home to take them out. This means the same 2-month-old puppy should be taken outside every hour and a half.
There are additional benefits to crate training your puppy besides house-training. Most puppies go through at least 2 major chewing phases: when they teeth and when their jaws strengthen. Destructive chewing can be an issue for your dog until they reach 18 months of age. Many dogs continue to have issues with it past that age if they weren’t taught good chewing habits as puppies.
When you cannot supervise your dog, they need to be confined somewhere safe — where they cannot chew and swallow something dangerous. A crate is a safe space to confine most dogs.
Crate training can also prepare your pup for traveling, boarding situations, injuries or illnesses, and a host of other situations. When paired with things like kibble-stuffed chew-toys, crate training can also teach your puppy how to self-sooth, self-entertain and be calm.
As with anything in life, a crate should never be abused. A crated dog should always be provided:
- Enough potty breaks
- The right-size crate
- A safe and calm location with comfortable temperatures
- Mental and physical stimulation each day
- Physical affection from humans
Puppy Training Tip #8: Teach Commands That Help Build Manners
Many obedience commands can be taught later if you have to choose between time to socialize and time to train. However, commands taught in puppyhood can help you manage a variety of unwanted behaviors, help your dog be more polite and calm, and keep them safe.
The basic obedience commands, like “Sit,” “Down,” “Come,” “Heel” and “Stay,” are wonderful. But teaching a few additional commands can make your life even easier.
Teaching commands that help with spacial awareness, self-control and respect is wonderful. Commands like “Leave it,” “Out,” “Off,” “Wait” and “Place” can make life a lot calmer with your puppy, and may even prevent certain problem behaviors associated with a lack of respect.
If you can manage the extra time on top of socialization, bite inhibition, handling, house-training and crate training, start obedience and manners early to make the next year with your dog much more enjoyable.
Puppy Training Tip #9: Prevent Food Aggression Early
As with teaching your puppy to enjoy being handled to prevent aggression in that area, there is another important exercise you can practice to prevent future food aggression.
Most puppies are tolerant of people being around their food when they are 8 weeks old. It’s only as the dog begins to mature that food aggression begins to crop up.
Many people make the mistake of bothering a puppy and their food while they are eating — in an attempt to prevent food aggression. Unfortunately, this approach can actually cause food aggression because it creates stress linked to your presence near their food.
To prevent food aggression in your puppy, practice commands like “Drop it” using positive reinforcement:
- When you feed meals in a bowl, periodically drop a tasty treat into the bowl when you walk by or feed their meals in courses — giving them a little food and adding more to the bowl when they finish the first amount.
- You want them to associate your presence around their food with something pleasant so they look forward to you approaching them while they eat.
Working on commands like “Wait” or feeding them in a locked crate can also help with impulse control and respect surrounding food, or prevent anxiety about being approached during meals.
Puppy Training Tip #10: When You Need Some Help, Don’t Wait to Seek It
Some puppy behavior issues can be dealt with on your own. Other behavior issues call for professional help from a qualified dog trainer.
Don’t wait to seek help from a qualified professional dog trainer if your puppy begins to show signs of fear or aggression that seem unusual. Many puppies are rehomed each year because of aggression, fear, house-training issues or other behavior issues that were ignored for months until they became severe.
When the behavior is related to the puppy’s mental, sexual and physical development, timing is crucial. A puppy who begins to show a bit of fear aggression around 6 months of age is typically far easier to work with and help than a puppy who has been practicing that same fear aggression for the past year and is now 18 months of age.
Also, make sure you go to the right type of dog trainer. Some trainers specialize in behavior issues and aggression. Others have experience in a variety of areas. But some focus only on obedience and may not have the skills to help with an aggression issue.
Be sure to ask questions and learn about the trainer you plan to work with ahead of time to make sure you have the help you need.
In the video below, trainer Zak George teaches how to train your puppy 8 things in 7 days:
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