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  • Kristen VanNess

Your Official Guide to Puppy Training

How long does it take to train a puppy? That depends mostly on when you start, what you want your puppy to learn, the environments where you want him to be, and the level of reliability you aim for. Having a strong focus on training over the first year and a half will give you a great start for the life of your puppy.

Puppy Training Timeline

8-10 Weeks

Your puppy is in his critical socialization period. Positive experiences at this stage of life can have important long-term impacts on his confidence and well-being. While skill training such as sit, down, and shake can be fun, you especially want to focus on confidence, attention, relaxation, and motivation.

A few helpful focus areas at this age may include teaching your puppy to relax in his crate, teaching your puppy to be comfortable being alone, helping your puppy learn to love playing tug and/or fetch with you, teaching your puppy to look to you for direction, and having him keep all four feet on the floor for petting. Puppies this age are not too young for house training.

Socialization is not necessarily interaction. A puppy this age is not yet fully vaccinated. Talk with your vet about the risk of infectious disease in your community. For many young puppies, you can provide socialization experiences by simply carrying him. From your arms, you can let him see, hear and smell different vehicles, people, animals, and environments. You should not allow your puppy to visit with other people while in your arms, as he is not able to move away if he is uncomfortable.

10-12 Weeks

Your puppy is approaching the end of his critical socialization period. Some puppies may be slightly more cautious towards the end of this time. If you notice your puppy is uncomfortable—for example, he backs away or is slow to approach—give your puppy the space he needs to feel safe. Continue socialization experiences in ways that are appropriate for your puppy’s vaccination status.

At this age, puppies continue to become more coordinated and more interested in the environment. If you have not fully puppy-proofed areas of your house, then now is the time to pick up rugs with fringes, decorative pillows, and interesting items at puppy height. An exercise pen can be used to block off shelves, bookcases or other areas you do not want to puppy-proof.

Now is a great time to build environmental confidence. You can find safe items for your puppy to go on, under, or through. This might mean encouraging him through a cardboard box tunnel with treats, using your voice and body language to invite him on and off a short footstool, getting him to go under a chair, or encouraging your puppy through a narrow gap between two cardboard boxes.

It is normal for puppies to explore the world with their mouths and for puppies to use their mouths for social play. We can provide for this social play by playing fetch and tug games with toys. Teaching puppies to grab a toy on cue as well as to let go of toys on cue can help with teamwork, cooperation, and give your puppy the experience needed to let go of other items he may pick up.

3-4 Months

By this time, your puppy is much bigger than when he came home, but you have to remember how much of the world is still new to him. You need to provide structure and controlled learning opportunities, and do your best to minimize rewards for behavior you do not like. Using rewards to teach your puppy to walk at your side as well as not going his direction if he pulls on the leash are good examples of this. Another example would be stopping to talk to the neighbors and rewarding your puppy for sitting and looking at you. It is a good idea to not allow others to pet your puppy if your puppy is jumping, pulling, or vocalizing.

Your puppy can learn about walking on a leash, coming when called, holding still, and being calm around strangers or guests.

For medium and large breed puppies, you should start teaching kitchen manners, such as staying on a bed while you prepare meals. It is much easier to start this now, before your puppy can reach the counter, than to wait until your puppy can easily steal items. Some of this can apply to dogs of all sizes, such as teaching them not to jump onto a coffee table.

Continue giving your puppy age-appropriate exposure to routines and experiences that will be part of his life. This might look like a few hours in the crate or pen while you are working, relaxing with a chew item during movie time, or practicing calmly walking in your neighborhood for a few minutes at a time.

4-6 Months

At this age, many puppy owners get frustrated with behaviors that may have seemed cute in a younger puppy. Address those areas and get additional help now rather than waiting longer.

Some puppies may display barking for attention. This behavior is typically learned because you tend to take the puppy outside, offer food, or start play time when he barks. While it’s essential to meet your puppy’s needs, you need to be aware of the timing so that your puppy is not learning to bark for attention. You want to provide play, interaction, and fun at times when your puppy is showing you behaviors you like, such as resting on a dog bed, quietly sitting and looking at you, or playing on his own.

Puppies this age look much more coordinated and mature, but are still very new to the world. While you can work towards walking on a loose leash, most puppies will do best with very short walks (2-10 minutes), broken up with activities such as tug or fetch, or with short training sessions. Many puppies do not have the patience or focus to enjoy longer loose leash walking opportunities.