When you bring home a new puppy, you might not be thinking about starting training right away. But the fact is that your puppy is learning from day one, so it’s important to start teaching your puppy a few things right off the bat.
The good news is that it won’t be hard to teach your puppy these essential training basics and set a strong foundation for a calm puppy in the future.
How to train a puppy
We’re not going to be talking about teaching your puppy to sit or stay in this post. We’re talking about establishing roles and positions in the dog world. It may seem obvious, but new puppy owners sometimes seem to forget that dogs don’t understand English.
In fact, dogs only use verbal communication as a last resort. So if you’re yelling just NO! or STOP THAT! and expecting your puppy to understand, you and your puppy are sure to get frustrated.
Before they’ll respond to verbal cues, you have to teach them what the cues mean. And even before that, you need to teach them who’s boss.
The very first thing to teach a new puppy
The first thing you need to teach your new puppy is that you are the leader of his pack. No matter who is around or what is going on, he should be looking to you for cues about how to behave.
To do this, you have to keep in mind how a dog perceives a leadership role. Here are some things that clue your dog in about your role in the relationship.
Pack leaders maintain the highest position.
You need to think about this in the most literal sense. Don’t allow your puppy to stand over you or sit above you in any way. While he’s still learning, keep the puppy on the ground, and when you do pick him up, don’t put him up on your shoulders.
Similarly, don’t allow your puppy to sleep on your bed. You can let him on the sofa or bed on the future once roles are established and understood, but while he’s still learning resist the urge to let him sleep on your level.
Pack leaders eat first.
In the dog world, a pack leader gets priority feeding position. In the real world, your dog will be eating his food from a bowl on the floor while you have dinner at the table.
Enforce your role as the leader by always feeding your dog on the floor – never on your table – and not feeding any table scraps.
Pack leaders assert authority
Dogs assert authority by enforcing the two above statements. If your dog tries to jump on your table and eat food, forcefully (not painfully) push him down and say NO!. You can choose any word to say here, but it’s important to be loud and firm when you speak.
Another way to assert authority is to put your hand on your dog’s head or muzzle and apply gentle pressure. Most dogs will understand this as an indication to be submissive.
How to train a puppy to pay attention to you
This is the easiest and most essential basic training tip you need to know. The first ‘trick’ to teach your dog is to wait for your command.
To begin, simply say your puppy’s name or otherwise get his attention. Look for your puppy to stare at you (or the treat in your hand) for just a second – then reward him. Do this 3 or 4 times then stop.
Over several days of training, gradually increase the number of times he must perform his trick and make him linger his attention on you longer and longer before rewarding him.
If you are planning to do any agility or advanced training, you’ll want to use clicker training. You can start to associate the clicker with the treat at the same time as you are teaching him to pay attention to you.
To do so, simply make the clicking sound at the same time you give the treat. Over time, he’ll associate the clicker with a reward.
Create a strong bond between you and your puppy
Strengthen your bond to your puppy by immediately rewarding him when he does what you want him to. This teaches him that there is a reward for minding your commands.
Whether you use edible treats, playtime, or physical affection, giving him a reward will motivate him to listen to your commands in the future.
Spending time with your puppy is essential for bonding. He can’t learn to love you if all you do is put him in and out of a cage. Going for leashed walks, playing ball in the yard, and back or belly scratches are all ways your pet learns to appreciate your company.
What if it’s not working?
There are a couple of reasons that your pet may not respond to this training.
- Excited puppies can’t pay attention – don’t try to train your puppy right after you get home from work. Choose a time when your puppy is calm, fed, and there are no distractions.
- Your puppy thinks he’s the boss – if your puppy is very stubborn, he may have already established himself as the leader … at least in his mind. You can re-establish yourself as an authority figure with these same steps. But you’ll have to be much more patient and possibly a bit more assertive (which is not the same thing as more aggressive).
- You’re doing the wrong thing without realizing it – very often pet owners do not even realize that they’re putting their dog in a position of power. Think back on your behavior and try to see if your dog could be getting mixed messages. For example, petting your dog when he barks at strangers isn’t calming him, it’s rewarding him for barking. Petting your dog when he jumps up on you isn’t showing affection, it’s telling him it’s okay to put his feet on you.
Dogs can be amazing members of the family, but untrained puppies can also wreak havoc on your home and nerves. Use these tips to help establish a strong foundation on which your puppy can learn advanced training.