Responsible pet parents understand living with a new puppy is like living with a toddler. So, pet parent need to spend time teaching that puppy to be a good member of the family. One way to do that is to reward good behaviors (ex. not peeing in the house) and redirecting bad behaviors ex. (offering a chew toy instead of your favorite pair of shoes).
Before you Begin Puppy Training
It can be overwhelming to decide the best things to teach your puppy. One of the best ways to interact with your dog and to get him or her to pay attention to you is to teach look or watch me command. This isn’t necessarily a trick, rather it’s a way to capture your dog’s full attention before you begin training. To do this, simply decide which words you will use and be consistent (i.e. “look” or “watch me”). Before you begin teaching your dog anything else, say “look,” and offer a treat when she responds. When you have her full attention, move onto the training.
Basic Puppy Commands
Teach your dog to Sit. This is a basic, and easy to teach, command. Starting out with something easy gives a positive boost to the training session for both the dog and for you. To teach sit, hold a treat by your dog’s nose. Lift your hand and the treat until his head follows your hand. This will naturally cause his butt to lower to the ground in a sitting position. After he’s sitting, say the word “sit,” and give him a treat and praise.
Repetition is key to mastering any command. Practice sit several times a day. Use the command to get him to sit before you put his food dish in front of him, or when you’re taking a walk and come to an intersection.
Tip: If you’re trying to teach your dog other commands he isn’t mastering, end the session before you both get frustrated, but end on a good note. If he has mastered sit, then have him do that—offer treats and praise, then playtime.
Teach your dog to Come. This command could literally be a life-saver. Teaching your dog to come when you call, first time, every time is a necessary command—especially if he slips out of his leash or out the door without his leash.
Teach your dog this command in the house by having someone hold him in one room, while you either go to the end of the room or another room entirely. Call him, with the come command. Infuse enthusiasm into your voice and reward your dog with a treat and praise when he comes on command. If, every time he comes to you, you are ecstatic to see him—petting and making a fuss over him—he will have no reason not to come when called.
Practice this command when you’re in a safe area where there are distractions. You will know he’s mastered the command when he comes to you, without hesitation, regardless of what’s going on around him.
Teach your dog to Give It or Drop It. This command is necessary in case you need your dog to drop something she’s picked up off the floor that she shouldn’t eat or if you want her to give you a toy, piece of food or your shoe that she’s chewing.
Leave it is a variation on give it. You can use the same idea (drop, give, or leave) as long as you use the same command so your dog doesn’t get confused. Know what action you’d like your dog to perform, then reward her for having done it.
For example, if you want your dog to give you a toy, give the give it or drop it command and hold out your hand. You may want to give a little tug on the toy and say the command again. Once she opens her mouth and gives it to you, reward and praise her.
You may consider the leave it command a separate one, and if that’s the case, drop an item on the floor and say the command. If your dog doesn’t pick it up, you can reward her with a treat and/or praise. Leave it is a command that therapy dogs learn, so they don’t pick up dropped medication if they are in a hospital or nursing home setting.
Teach your dog to Heel or With Me. This command is necessary when walking your dog on a leash without tugging. A dog who walks on a loose leash is a joy and makes it more fun for you to get outdoors and get exercise.
Snap on the leash and go for a walk, keeping your dog close to your side. If he starts to tug or get ahead of you, stop, ask him to sit. Then wait a second or two before you begin walking again. Repeat the command, heel or with me as you walk. Stop at all intersections or crosswalks and have him sit. When you begin walking again, make sure he’s looking at you and staying at your heel while you walk.
Offer a treat and/or praise when he walks at your side without tugging. Stop frequently when your dog gets ahead of you when you’re walking. Be prepared for leash tugging when a stranger or another dog passes, repeat the command until staying at heel is second nature. When this happens, stop, sit and wait until the distraction passes. Eventually, you will be able to walk along and your dog and will remain at heel.
Teach your dog to Lie Down or Down. This is important for your dog to learn because it can keep her from jumping on guests to getting on the counter and putting her face on the dinner table.
To train this, get your dog into a sit then you can coax him to the down position by moving your hand with a treat, toward the ground. He will follow your hand and will get into the down position.
Once he has learned this, you can move onto other things, like teaching him a trick of rolling over.
Teach your dog to Stay. When your dog has mastered the sit and down, you will want him to learn stay. Get her into a sit or down position, hold your hand up, palm forward and say “stay,” while slowly moving away from him. If he moves out of the sit or down position, come back toward him and start over.
Offer a treat and/or praise when he will remain in a stay position even if you only move two feet away from him. Once he stays, increase the length of time you keep him in stay, then use the come command. Reward with lavish praise and treats.
You will eventually be able to work up to a stay command where you can move out of eyesight of your dog and he will wait for the come command.
Praising your Puppy’s Behavior
When training your dog, it crucial to reward good behavior when it happens. If there is a lag between when the good behavior is exhibited and the treat or praise, your dog may not know what he is getting a treat for. Look for healthy treats as you will be feeding small treats frequently when in training mode.
Your dog wants to please you and also wants to have a job—training these commands will give him the opportunity to work and win your approval.
Robbi Hess, award-winning author, is multi-petual: She shares her home with two Devon Rex kittens, three adult rescue cats, a mini poodle, a Goldendoodle, three lizards and two ferrets. When not caring for her pets, she is an editor, speaker, time management and productivity guru, content creator, social media manager and blogger. She writes at All Words Matter, My Divas Dish, and is the story editor and chief cat herder at Positively Woof.