- Kristen VanNess
New Puppy Parents: Training to Start on Day 1
There’s so much you can start on on your puppy’s first day at home, or at any point in the first few weeks. Getting off to the right start can make life easier for you and your puppy.
House Training/Eliminating Outdoors
Take your puppy outside or to his bathroom area frequently. Look for transition times, such as rest to play, or finishing a meal to exercise, or transitioning from play time to training time. These are great times to take a puppy outside. Puppies will need more bathroom opportunities during times of more activity—possibly every 10-15 minutes. If you think your puppy needs to eliminate, do not give him free run of the house. Instead, carry him in the house or use the crate, and give him another bathroom opportunity in 5-10 minutes.
Reward your puppy as soon as he eliminates outside. This will help him learn that outside or the specific bathroom area is the ideal place to ‘go.’
Restrict your puppy’s freedom in the house. This might mean using baby gates to keep him in the room with you, using a crate when your focus is on something else, or having your puppy actively engaged in play or training.
When you see your puppy beginning to squat, start adding your cue word for eliminating at this time. You might say “Hurry up!” “Get Busy!” or any word/phrase that you would like. You shouldn’t say the word when your puppy is done— you want the word to result in elimination each time your puppy hears the word.
Manners or Calm Around Food
Many dogs go wild with leaping, barking, spinning and running while their food is being prepared. This can be especially chaotic in multi-dog households. Your puppy can learn to be calm and quiet.
Take your puppy’s bowl to the area where you prepare the food. Reward your puppy for standing or sitting calmly. Feed at your puppy’s head height so that your puppy is not leaping up for the food. You may need to reward him several times. Open the dog food container or bag. Reward your puppy for calm and stillness. Close the bag and reward your puppy for holding still. Open the bag and reward your puppy. Once this is easy, you can scoop out some food into the bowl. Reward your puppy for stillness again. Dump the food back into the bag. Reward your puppy for stillness. Repeat the pattern a few more times.
If you do this training at meal times and at other times, your puppy will soon be a professional at holding still. If you see excitement, pause or go back to an easier stage of the training.
Focus on Family
If your puppy loves to look at you, follow you, and interact with you, then all other training will be much easier. Reward your puppy for moving towards you, looking at you, or moving with you. The reward might be happy talking, gentle petting, playing with a toy, or a piece of food.
Continue to reward your puppy for showing positive interactions with you so that your puppy finds you more interesting than many parts of the environment. This is easiest to establish when puppies first come home, though you can do it at any stage.
A common misunderstanding is that socialization means interaction. Socialization actually is about positive exposure, not specifically interaction. You do not want to overwhelm a puppy with too much when he’s not ready for it.
You want to see that your puppy is relaxed or happy about his environment. If your puppy is nervous or afraid, you are not creating a good socialization experience. Note that sometimes, it can be hard to distinguish between a puppy who is nervous and holding still, and a puppy who is calm.
Here is a great illustration by dog trainer and artist Lili Chin about evaluating puppies for relaxation or fear. If your puppy is afraid, reach out to a professional to help you make a plan.
Give your puppy enough space from the environment as he experiences new things. This might look like sitting on your porch with your puppy while bikes and skateboards pass on the sidewalk. If your puppy is happy or relaxed, then you know that the distance is appropriate, and you may be able to move a little closer. You don’t want to pull a puppy towards things he is afraid of or take a puppy to an environment where he will be surrounded by distractions without having space to take it in.
These tips are a great start for your puppy to learn about his new famil