Mar 03, 2022

Puppy owners (and lovers) often express their desire to find an easy, safe, and time-efficient way to train their puppies without spending loads of money on trainers and expensive gear.

Luckily, learning how to train a puppy isn't too difficult as long as you understand the tools and techniques that puppies' brains respond best to.

Here are the three top pillars of puppy training success:

  • Consistency
  • Positive Reinforcement
  • Patience

In this guide, we'll take a look at some puppy training basics, best practices, and step-by-step puppy training instructions designed to help your cute new pup make the leap into a well-behaved and socialized member of your family.

Key Things to Know When Training a Puppy

Before you begin training your canine, here are some useful guidelines to keep in mind.

When to Start Training a Puppy

You can begin in-home puppy training at about 7-8 weeks old.

At this age, puppies can learn some basic commands. These commands include sit, stay, down, come, off, leave it, and drop it (or give it). You can also teach your puppy their name by using it each time you begin speaking to them.

In addition, this is a great age to start in-house leash training and socializing puppies to touch. Once they've had all their vaccinations, you can also leash train in public settings, but try to avoid taking them outdoors on walks before then.

Here's a schedule for the other main trainings during your puppy's first few months:

  • 8-10 weeks: begin crate training
  • 10-12 weeks: start teaching them not to bite
  • 12-16 weeks: establish a formal potty training practice

How Long it Takes to Train a Puppy

The time it takes to train your puppy depends on a number of factors, including how much time you dedicate to training, how consistent family members are with the rules, and even your puppy's breed.

For example, some breeds such as Border Collies, Poodles, and Golden Retrievers take to training very well, while others like the Basset Hound, Bullmastiff, and Chow Chow tend to need more work.

Patience is one of the top traits to hold onto throughout the training process because puppies have a lot of new information coming their way, so they sometimes become frustrated or confused because of it, just like a toddler would.

How to Start Training a Puppy

While there are several methods out there to train your puppy, the only scientifically based technique is known as positive reinforcement. This method works best because it ensures that your puppy doesn't associate learning with punishment but instead with positive outcomes.

In this method, first give your puppy a cue, such as sit, stay, come, or down, and then immediately give them a reward when they listen. Favorite rewards include puppy training treats and puppy toys—coupled with lavish amounts of praise, of course!

You will also want to keep training sessions to no more than 5-10 minutes each, or else your puppy will lose focus, stop retaining information, and possibly become frustrated and non-compliant the next time you try to begin a session. Try to fit in two or three of these shorter sessions per day.

Let's take a look at seven more quick tips and tricks to help you cut your puppy's training learning curve.

7 Tips for Puppy Training at Home and Helpful Home Hacks

Here are seven ways to DIY your puppy's training from the experts.

1.   Get to Know Your Puppy

As it turns out, puppies and dogs are hardwired to emotionally bond with people, and the more you pay attention to their favorite things, the more loyalty you're likely to get back in return.

Bonding with your puppy helps them feel safe and secure and is more likely to make them eager to please you during training. Early on, introduce them to the house and all the people and pets living there. It's also good to schedule a little one-on-one playtime each day.

Getting to know your puppy is also about learning what type of toys and treats they prefer, their favorite places to be petted, and any games they like. Experiment with a variety of healthy puppy training treats and toys so that when it comes time for training, you have your pup's favorite rewards at hand.

2.   Gather Your Training Tools

What does an ideal "training arsenal" look like? Here are our five suggested must-haves:

  • A crate for potty training
  • A variety of puppy training treats in case your puppy gets bored with one type or turns their nose up at certain flavors
  • Puppy training pads
  • Puppy training toys: Kong toys stuffed with a treat are especially well-loved by teething pups, as are Nylabones, chew rings, and small dog chewing ropes.
  • Puppy potty training sprays: There are two types: deterrents to keep pups from going in certain spots and attractants to encourage them to use puppy pads. Try to have one of each type at your home.

3.   Get Everyone in Your House on the Same Puppy Training Page

Will your puppy be allowed on the furniture? Which training cue will be used?

Whatever rules you decide on, make sure the whole family understands them. This helps you stay consistent with your training and cuts down on your puppy's training turnaround time.

It can sometimes be helpful to post the training cues on the refrigerator or other high-traffic spots in your home. Also, it's good to let family members take turns leading the 5-10 minute daily training sessions so that everyone is clear about how to teach each cue, and your puppy becomes socialized with the entire household.

4.   Understanding the 2 Stages of Positive Reinforcement Training

When your puppy is learning a cue, you'll want to give them a reward every single time. This is known as continuous reinforcement.

However, once they've learned the cue, start slowly cutting back on the number of times that you give a reward. This is known as intermittent reinforcement. You might only give them a treat 3 out of 4 times once they've learned "sit," for example, and then eventually move to every other time. This helps you phase out puppy training treats as your pup reaches adulthood.

And remember, no matter how long it has been since your puppy learned a cue, always give them the reward of praise!

5.   Give Your Puppy Plenty of Exercise

Puppies can get over rambunctious and turn a training session into a nipping, jumping, or running away with your shoe session if they've got too much pent-up energy.

That's why it's recommended to give them 5 minutes of play each day for every month of age they are, up to twice a day. This means a one-month-old puppy would get 5 minutes of play per day up to twice a day, a two-month-old 10 minutes up to twice a day, and so on.

6.   Provide Healthy Treats that Feed their Brain

The best puppy training treats combine delicious flavors and textures that your puppy loves with the healthiest ingredients to support their learning journey. For example, it can be good to look for puppy training treats containing DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid that has been shown to support cognition and memory.

Treats containing healthy, nutrient-rich "superfoods" like blueberries and sweet potatoes are ideal.

7.   Learn a Few Basic Puppy Training Hacks

Reward-based training often needs to happen "in the moment" when you have an energetic puppy who is still learning the rules. 

Here are a few hacks for the most common in-home issues new puppy owners face:

  • When your puppy starts biting or nipping you, guide them gently away from your body as you tell them "no," and then immediately put a toy in their mouth that they can chew on instead. Make sure to get really excited and tell them how good they are when you put the toy in their mouth. Kong toys stuffed with a treat are especially useful for this exercise because it keeps them focused on the toy rather than on nipping at you again.
  • When your puppy starts jumping on you or a stranger, give them the "sit" cue and quickly give them a treat when they listen.
  • To teach your puppy to drop it, give them a non-favorite toy. Let them chew on it for a few seconds, then pull out a training treat that they love and put it in front of their nose. Once they drop the toy to eat the treat, hide the toy behind your back, and pull it out excitedly to give it back to them once the treat is finished. This is called a double-reward. Repeat this a few times without a cue, then add in the "drop it" cue just as you're ready to give the treat.

Also, many people will carry a few treats around in their pocket or have them in different rooms of the house during the initial puppy training phases so that they are better prepared for these spur-of-the-moment "life lessons."

Step by Step Puppy Training Guides

How to Potty Train a Puppy

Although puppy potty training shouldn't technically begin until about 12 weeks of age when they can start "holding it," getting them into the routine of going outside prior to this time can give you a jumpstart.

Let your puppy out first thing in the morning, last thing at night, and as soon as you get home from work. Try consistently saying a cue, such as "go potty" when you're outdoors with them. Moreover, dogs are den animals, which is why crate training is so ideal. They don't want to soil their personal space and are therefore more likely to try to "hold it" when in a crate.

Here are seven steps to using a crate to potty train your puppy once they reach age 12 weeks:

  1. Purchase a crate that's just large enough for them to stand up, turn around, and lie back down in. This helps them feel secure and cuts down on the chances that they'll pick a corner to pee in. Adding comforting blankets and fun, engaging toys like a Kong can also help.
  2. Give a puppy training treat as soon as they enter the crate.
  3. Make sure to only put them in the crate for about 10 minutes at first, and only when they're already calm and maybe even a little sleepy. This makes it more likely that they'll view their crate as a secure place. You can also begin by leaving the crate open and throwing a ball or other toy in there for them to fetch, or tossing their treat in there and letting them run back out at will. This helps make their crate a fun, positive place.
  4. Once they're comfortable with the crate, slowly add to the time that they're in there. Listen very closely for any whining or scratching, and watch to see if they've just woken up from a nap. As soon as any of these things happen, take them out of the crate immediately and tell them how good they are! They now need to be taken outside quickly to go potty.
  5. After a few rounds of this, try leaving your home for a short time with your puppy crated. Return after about an hour and let them out of the crate. Take them out to potty, and praise them abundantly.
  6. As puppies grow, you can slowly begin leaving them in the crate for longer periods of time, but remember, even full-grown dogs have trouble holding it for more than 8 or 9 hours a day.
  7. If your puppy has an accident in the crate, you can use an enzymatic cleaner to clean it up, but never punish them for it. Just focus on positive reinforcement.
puppy in a crate

Many crates have sliding partitions that add space as your pup grows. You'll also want to take off all collars and tags before putting your puppy inside them because they may get stuck in the crate grids and become a choking hazard.

While crates are a great tool for puppy potty training, they don't cover all the bases. Puppy's bladders are small, making it inevitable that they'll have accidents. That's where puppy training pads come in. When combined with puppy training sprays, they can be used to help cut down on peeing on your rugs, furniture, and throughout your living spaces.

Here are seven steps to using puppy pads and sprays to potty train your puppy:

  1. Pick a spot where the puppy pad will be placed. Use an "attractant" puppy training spray on the pad so that your puppy is drawn to the area through the pheromone-like aromas that these sprays give off.
  2. Set a timer for taking your puppy to the puppy pad. The general rule of thumb is that puppies can hold their bladder for the number of hours that matches their age in months plus one hour, up to 9 months of age.
  3. Observe if your puppy is sniffing and circling in between trips to the pad, and take them immediately to it if they are.
  4. If you're busy and need to watch your puppy, try hooking a long leash to the collar and tying it to a chair near you so you can keep an eye on them.
  5. Reward your pup with training treats and lots of praise every time they go to the bathroom on the puppy pad.
  6. Move the puppy pad outside with you when you're ready to transition your puppy to only going outdoors, but try to get them to go in the yard or on the grass. Reward them with a treat and a "good dog" whenever they use the pad outdoors or the yard to do their business.
  7. Clean up any accidents that occur outside the designated puppy pad area and then use a "repellant" puppy training spray on the area. This makes it less likely that puppies will want to go around that area again.

The Puppy Training Wrap Up

Patience, consistency, praise, and lots of rewards are the cornerstones of successful puppy training. Remember that it can take several months to successfully train the newest member of your family, but with these tricks of the trade, you're sure to have better long-term results.

Your veterinarian is also a great source for puppy training tips and guidelines, and they can help direct you to useful information that's relevant to your puppy's background, breed, and behaviors. This ensures that you can shape their house manners in such a way that your bundle of energy becomes a well-behaved and loyal canine companion.

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