7 Things to Teach Your New Puppy

How to Train a New Puppy—7 Skills to Teach First

Bringing a new puppy home is a very exciting thing. But with that excitement comes a whole host of new responsibilities that you might not be prepared for.

You will undoubtedly have lots of questions about how to train your puppy properly so that he becomes a well-adjusted member of your family (even if it's just you and him).

In this article, I hope to answer many of those questions for you and help you get started with your best foot (and your puppy's best paw) forward.

When you get a new puppy, there is a lot that you'll want and need to teach him, but you don't throw too much on him all at once. Remember that your new puppy is now away from his mother and littermates for the first time, and that's a big change for him.

You've got to allow him to adjust to the new environment and become familiar with the human world and the rules of being a domesticated dog.

A strong relationship with you is essential for your new puppy, so you should prioritize building your bond with him in the first few weeks.

It takes months for a puppy to learn how to behave in the human world—and the first year is critical for training, so make sure you can dedicate the time necessary to bonding with and teaching your dog.

Regardless of breed, your puppy's focus will not be at laser intensity, and you will have to be extra patient when training new skills and commands, but with patience and persistence, you can do it!

Some tips for bonding with your new puppy:

  • Playtime with your dog accelerates your bonding. Take every opportunity you can for lighthearted play. Your dog will certainly appreciate it, and it will build the kind of loyalty and love you need to have for proper training and a well-mannered dog.

  • You'll want to find a toy that your dog really loves, and that may mean trying out a bunch of different toys until you find the perfect one.

  • Once you find the toy that your dog loves playing with above all others, reserve that toy for playtime between the two of you and don't allow access to it at any other time—this will place a high value on the toy and will enable you to use it as a special reward.

  • When you play with his special toy, make it interesting for your dog. Instead of simply throwing the toy to him and expecting him to do something with it, keep it in your hand and make your dog chase it around you. Go high. Go low. Go side-to-side. Let him grab and tug on it. Play keep away. Keep it interesting!

7 Things to Teach Your New Puppy

Before you get started training any skill, you will want to have a supply of high-value food treats to reward successful performance.

I recommend some real chicken or turkey—the same stuff you eat. Tear it up into small pieces about the size of a dime or penny, have a container of it nearby, and keep some in your free hand.

The great thing about this training is that all of these things can—and should be trained starting in your living room. A quiet place with few distractions is best when you first get started with training your new puppy.

Teach Your Puppy His Name

One of the very first things you'll want to teach your puppy is his name, so he understands that when you say his name, it means that you want his attention.

To train your puppy to start to recognize his name, sit on the floor with him and start by making a sound like a kissing, clicking, or whistling sound with your mouth to get his attention—then reward him with a treat and an enthusiastic "Yes!" when he looks at you.

Repeat this process a few times and reward him each time he successfully responds to the sound by looking at you.

Next, make the sound followed by his name, reward with a treat, and praise with "Yes!" Repeat this process until you sense that he is really starting to pick up on the desired behavior—looking at you when you say his name.

Then you can start to mix things up a little and try to catch him off guard. Maybe introduce a toy or walking around the room. Try it from different areas in your house throughout the day—just be sure you have treats handy so you can always reward.

Remember, in the early phases of training, you want to reward each time he is successful with the task. You can phase treats out later, but for now, you really want to solidify that he knows his name—this is essential for all future training.

Take opportunities outside of dedicated training sessions to teach your puppy his name, always rewarding with praise and a treat of food or his special toy. The goal is to get him to associate hearing his name with paying attention to you.

Teach Your Puppy to Sit

Teaching your puppy to sit is one of the most important skills you can train as it's a command that you'll use daily and everywhere—you want him to be able to sit on command when asked.

The easiest way to train any dog to sit is to use the luring method. This is where you hold a piece of food in front of his nose and lure him in the direction you want him to go.

So, to lure your puppy to sit, keep the treat very close to his nose and lure him into the position you want, slowly raising the treat right in front or even touching his nose. Raise the treat above his head slowly to him get into the sitting position.

Some dogs pick this up very naturally, and some don't, but either way, go very slowly to guide him into position and reward with a "Yes!" and a treat the instant he sits.

At first, reward the behavior without giving the verbal "Sit." command.

After several successful repetitions, he will begin to anticipate the desired behavior and start sitting more quickly and reliably with the luring motion. At this point, add the verbal "Sit." command while luring him with the treat.

Repeat several more times like this and then start to use only the verbal command to achieve the desired response. Now, this may or may not happen on the first training session, but reward for each small progression, and it won't be long before he's got it.

Remember, keep it fun, keep it exciting, and have patience.

Teach Your Puppy to Lay Down

Teaching your puppy to lay down is just as simple as teaching him to sit using the lure method.

The only difference is this time, you'll make a downward motion while holding the treat right in front of his nose and guide him down to the floor until he lays down.

When his belly touches the floor, give him an excited "Yes!" and reward him with a delicious treat.

You'll want to repeat the above several times and then start to introduce the "Lay down." command as his belly touches the ground.

Just as with training any other skill, this will require several repetitions per training session and many training sessions over the course of weeks, and in varied environments to become a highly-trained skill that you can reliably command your dog to do anywhere at any time.

Teach Your Puppy to "Leave it."

Now, of course, there will be many things you don't want your dog to go after, and this is when the "Leave it." command is invaluable.

Whether it's your shoes, a child's toy, your favorite leather wallet or belt, or trash on the street, you will need a way to command your dog to leave it alone.

The "Leave it." command is a little bit trickier to train because you need to teach your dog restraint while you have an irresistible treat in your hand that your waving in front of his face—which can be quite confusing for him at first—especially if he is used to receiving treats when he successfully completes a task.

To do this, hold a treat in hand and only praise with a "Yes!" and reward the treat when he shows a second of restraint when trying to go after it.

This can be difficult to judge, and it will take a lot of focus on your part. You really need to pay attention to your dog to know when he hesitates for a second. When he does, even for just a second of hesitation, praise and reward him.

This skill will require more patience than any of the other skills you've learned so far, as you really need to be paying very close attention to your dog and only rewarding him only when he truly shows hesitation or restraint going after the treat in your hand.

Once you get the hang of it, keep repeating this process, increasing the duration a half-second at a time—it can feel a little monotonous at times, but your attention and patience will pay off once you see your dog is starting to understand that he only gets the treat when he waits for it.

Once your puppy can consistently show restraint for a few seconds, then you can introduce the command "Leave it." in the exact moment of restraint.

Don't be discouraged if your puppy doesn't make very fast progress with training this skill, as it can take several sessions before you make substantial gains.

Once your dog can reliably obey the "Leave it." command at home, it's time to test him in a more stimulating environment.

Take him for a walk and see if he can obey the command when presented with something you don't want him to go after, such as food scraps or trash on the ground. Make sure you have treats ready to reward him for success.

Teach Your Puppy to Come

Teaching your puppy to come might be the most effortless skill to train of all.

First, show him a treat and give it to him. Then toss a treat a few feet away, allow him to retrieve it, and wait for him to come back to you. Then give him another treat.

Repeat that several times until your dog makes the association that the treats are coming from you and that he might get more if he returns to you. Say "Yes!" the first few times he comes back.

After several repetitions of the above, when he is walking back, you can start to say, "Come," and give him the treat when he arrives back at your feet.

Keep repeating this skill daily for several weeks, and you will soon be able to call your puppy to you very reliably—even without treats!

Teach Your Puppy Loose Leash Walking

Your living room is the perfect place for your puppy to start learning how to walk loosely on the leash.

To train your puppy to walk on a loose leash, with the leash attached to his collar, you're going to simply walk slowly around the room, stopping and changing directions often, and praise him with a "Yes!" and a treat every time he looks up at you while walking.

As long as your dog is looking up at you, he won't be pulling on the leash—which is exactly what you want.

The idea is that your dog should be checking in with you periodically while walking, looking at you from time to time because you're the leader.

Keep in mind, this will be very easy in the distraction-free environment of your living room, and you should train like this for several days or even weeks before introducing new environments.

Once your pup seems to have mastered the living room walk, your front or back yard should be the next progression. This gives you the chance to test his focus in a place where there might be some animals or people walking by or cars on the street, vying for his limited attention.

The outside environment will demand more focus from your dog, but if you have trained for several days inside without distraction and had success, it should not take him long to pick it up.

Potty Train Your Puppy

The key to early puppy potty training is to understand that it's your responsibility—you can't expect your new pup to let you know when he has to go—because he won't. At least, not at first.

The best thing to do is give your puppy ample opportunity to relieve himself in appropriate places—preferably outside.

That means frequent visits outside and rewarding him immediately when he does his business outside. Saying something like, "Good dog potty outside!" and giving a treat works very well. I find that by using that phrase, your dog will begin to associate the words "potty outside" with going potty outside.

After a week or two of training this way, when, when you're inside, you can begin to ask him, "Potty outside?" and if he gets excited, that's your cue to take him out.

In Conclusion:

  • Remember that it takes months of training in many different indoor and outdoor settings before your puppy will truly have a solid grasp of the various skills and commands.

  • You don't need a lot of space to work with a puppy—all of these skills can be trained in your living room!

  • It's all about consistency and persistence and having lots of patience.

  • If you put in the work, you'll reap the reward of a wonderful and well-mannered dog!