The to-do list associated with getting a new puppy may seem overwhelming. To make it more manageable, I’ve compiled the most important training items to teach your new four-legged family member.
1. To Know and Love His Name
What’s in a name? Well, nothing if your puppy doesn’t know it. Teach your puppy his name by saying it and immediately offering something fun and rewarding. Many times, puppies are used to hearing their name said in an angry tone, so they learn they better head for the hills when they hear it. Make sure to associate his name with positive experiences.
2. To Come
You can start preparing your puppy for this command even before you start training. Teach him that coming over to you means lots of fun, whether in the form of tug games, food rewards, meals, or belly rubs. You’ll be building a balance in the “come when called” relationship bank so that when the inevitable time comes when there is an emergency and you need your puppy to come to you, he will.
3. To Let You Grab His Collar
Many puppies have a “fight or flight” fear response when someone reaches for or grabs their collars. Your job is to create a puppy who has an expectation of an awesome reward when his collar is grabbed. Do this by practicing looping a finger through his collar and following it with a high-value treat or a game of tug.
4. To Like Life
Some puppies are easily scared or skeptical, especially during the fear period that usually occurs between 4 and 6 months of age. The best thing to do is to pair potentially scary experiences with something rewarding. But do this carefully. For instance, if my puppy were afraid of skateboards, I would not go into a skateboard park and offer treats there. He may become so stressed out that he won’t eat. Instead, I might drive to the same park but stay in the car with the window rolled down and feed high-value treats to desensitize him. At that distance, I know he’d be comfortable enough to take food from me. Over time (as in many sessions, not one long period), I’d gradually decrease the distance. Never force your puppy into a scary situation or punish him for anxiety.
5. That Nothing is Free
Teach your puppy that he can have his meals, treats, toys, and playtime by earning them through playing training games with you. It’ll move training forward and strengthen your relationship with your pup. Also, dogs are contra freeloaders, which means that they derive greater joy and value from working for things they love, rather than getting them for free. Tip: Ditch the food bowl and instead spend 10 to 15 minutes getting your puppy to work for his meal by practicing basic cues. As rewards, offer him kibble or spoonfuls of canned or homemade diets.
6. To Love the Crate
Your puppy will need to nap often. You can help him understand that his crate is the perfect resting spot and a fun place to hang out by reserving certain treats and toys for him to get only while in the crate. And instead of crating your puppy only when you go to bed or leave the house, put him in there for small amounts of time when you’re home, too.
7. To Trust People
Teach your puppy that good people bring good things. My student Elizabeth coined this phrase for something that I encourage all my students to do. Whenever she goes to the house of someone who has a dog, she brings the dog an extra special, high-value treat (cleared by the owner, of course). If the dog has training, she asks for a sit. If not, calm behavior earns the treat. It’s an effective way to create an optimistic dog who trusts strangers and knows to work for treats.
8. That You’re His Best Friend
My dogs love other dogs, but they love me more. That’s because I taught them to find me more rewarding than most anything else. Work on that skill while allowing your dog to socialize. You’ll know you’ve succeeded when he can come when called even if he’s in the middle of interacting with other dogs.
9. “Go to Place!”
Prevent jumping on guests and door dashing all with one command. Early on in training, I pair the sound of a doorbell to a reward for when my puppy runs to a mat. By teaching this, I acquire a strong “go to place” behavior, all cued up by the sound of the doorbell.
10. To Learn Self Control
Learning how to go from excited to calm on your command is an invaluable skill for a puppy. A great way to teach this is through playing tug. If you’ve not properly taken the time to teach this game, I would do it today. Like, now! You won’t regret it, and everything else you teach will become stronger and more functional because of this game. Also, you’ll never again have an issue asking your dog to sit when he’s excited because guests came to the house