Did you recently buy, adopt, or rescue a new puppy? Are you already planning all the fun tricks and obedience commands you want to teach them? Before you do that, we recommend setting your puppy up for success by starting with these 6 essentials to jumpstart training your puppy.
Hand feeding is a great way to teach your puppy to work for their food. It has a variety of benefits, including increasing the value of the food so you can avoid expensive treats, increasing the bond with your puppy, reinforcing calm behavior around children in the home, getting them comfortable outside, and so much more! If you are feeding your puppy 2-3 meals daily as recommended by your Veterinarian, this is a great way to deliver one of those. The easiest way to hand feed is to measure your puppy’s food for one meal into a bowl. Grab a small amount, two or three pieces of kibble, and hold them between your forefingers and and thumb with your palm facing up in a semi-closed position. Hold your hand with the food inside out to your puppy’s nose and very slowly lift it up and over their head. That should encourage your puppy to sit. As soon as their bottom touches the ground, praise them (e.g. “good girl,” “good boy”). Open your hand and offer them the food. Continue to do that until your puppy has finished their meal. If the puppy remains in a seated position, continue to offer them food once they have finished their last mouthful. If the puppy returns to a standing position, repeat the steps to encourage them to sit again and then feed. This is a great foundation for eventually teaching your puppy to sit and also reinforcing sitting over other inappropriate behaviors, such as jumping.
Tired of your puppy chewing on your shoelaces or your new rug, or running off with the kids’ stuffed animals? Introducing appropriate toy play with your puppy can help! It is very important from an early age to teach your puppy what items they are and are not allowed to have or chew on. We recommend items such as Nyla bones, large or extra large Kongs, empty femur bones or cow bones, and deer antlers. All of these toys may seem like a lot to invest in early on, but are safe, do not pose choking-hazards, and will last for years. We recommend your puppy having a selection of 8-12 toys at all times. For at least 10-15 minutes a day, engage with your puppy with these appropriate toys. Whenever you offer the puppy a toy and they begin to bite or chew on the toy, praise them and offer them physical affection with your free hand. Continue to pet and praise your puppy the entire time they are chewing on the toy. If they stop chewing on the toy or drop it, immediately stop petting and praising them. Re-offer the toy or if the puppy picks the toy back up on their own, resume petting and praising them. This will create a positive association with the appropriate toy and encourage them to chew on them over the inappropriate items they are not allowed to have. This will also encourage offering toys as a way to ask for attention over inappropriate behaviors, such as play biting.
Socialization is a critical component early on in your puppy’s life. The key socialization period for any puppy is between 8-12 weeks of age, especially week 9. At minimum, it is recommended that your puppy meets 20 new people and 20 new dogs every week during that time. Depending on the breed of your puppy, it may be recommended that you meet up to 50 new people and 50 new dogs each week. If you received your puppy at week 12 are older, don’t worry! While it may not be the key specialization period, it is still extremely beneficial to socialize your puppy as soon as you get them and to continue to socialize your puppy as they age. You can never have a puppy that’s too friendly! A great way to socialize your puppy includes having friends, family members, or neighbors over to visit your puppy, visiting Petsmart on select days for a puppy daycare and supervised playtime, or going to your favorite local park. Enjoying a day at the park and bringing a picnic is an example of an outing that can be very beneficial especially if every time a person and/or dog walks by on the local walking trail, you give your puppy a treat or small handful of food. They might even reach their socialization goal for the week in one day! Please consult with your Veterinarian in regards to socializing your puppy safely and when it would be best to do so in regards to their vaccination schedule. Certain areas of St. Louis are high-Parvo risk and the health of you and your puppy are our number one priority.
One very easy mistake to make with any puppy is using their name too often without a reward or accidentally associating their name with a punishment. We often say our puppy’s name multiple times throughout the day when talking to them, repeating it a handful of times when giving commands, or even saying it when they are in trouble. Doing these things may water down their name and reduce the likelihood that they attend to it reliably. An easy way to remedy this is to practice name recognition with your puppy. It can also be a fun and easy way to hand feed one of their meals. To practice, have your puppy’s meal measured out and set aside. With a small handful of food, stand a few feet away from your puppy. When they are not looking at you or are distracted by something, say their name. As soon as they look in your direction, praise them. Hold out your hand to the puppy so that they are encouraged to take a couple steps toward you, then feed them. Now move away and practice again when the puppy is not looking at you or have someone else in the home call them. You can continue these steps until the puppy has finished their meal or is no longer hungry. It is crucial when you are practicing this that you only say the puppy’s name one time. The more reliably your puppy responds to you, you can stand farther away from your puppy, step into another room, or practice outside in the backyard. This is a great first step to eventually teaching and practicing coming when called with your puppy in the future.
If your puppy is not fully potty trained or still sometimes chews on things they shouldn’t, then crate training will be important to utilize in the meantime. It is very important whether you work from home or not that your puppy is comfortable in the crate should you ever need to use it. An easy way to get your puppy more comfortable in their kennel and to associate one of their daily meals with it. To do this, lure the puppy inside the kennel with a treat. Present their food in a bowl, a Kong, or pour it directly onto the floor of the kennel. Lock them inside and leave the room. Give your puppy 30 minutes to an hour to finish their meal and/or practice being alone for a short period of time. It is critical that you do not re-enter the room to let them out unless the puppy has been quiet for a few seconds. The first handful of times you practice this, the puppy may whine or cry. Don’t worry! They will get more comfortable the more you practice. Feeding them in the crate will help them get used to this process and be more comfortable in the crate over time. You can also put a few toys in the kennel to give the puppy a few options to keep themselves occupied.
Following is a great exercise to practice early on with your puppy to promote staying with you and discourage wandering or running away. This is especially important for breeds such as Huskies! To practice following, make sure your puppy is wearing a secure collar they cannot slip out of and a long leash (25-50 ft). It is critical that when practicing following outside, you should do so in a safe environment during the day, ideally in a large, fenced-in area so your puppy cannot run away. Bring along your puppy’s favorite treats or one of their daily meals. Begin walking with your puppy without holding the long line. As your puppy walks beside you, praise them and offer them food every few seconds. Also offer them food whenever they give you attention or make eye contact with you. If your puppy gets distracted, change direction while keeping an eye on your puppy. Regardless of how long it takes, as soon as your puppy begins to look for you and makes eye contact, praise them excitedly and feed them for returning to you. If an extended period of time passes or your puppy begins to wander too far, it’s okay to say their name – only once! – or make kissy or coaxing noises to encourage them to look your way. As soon as they do, praise them and pat your legs to guide them towards you. Once they are in front of you, gently grab their collar and feed them. Continue to practice until their meal is finished or your puppy is no longer hungry. This is a great way to physically and mentally stimulate your puppy at the same time!
As exciting as it is to welcome a new puppy into your home, don’t jump too quickly into intensive training! Start with the basics. Hand feeding, toy play, socialization, name recognition, crate training, and following will promote an attentive, polite, friendly, and confident puppy.