How to Train a Puppy: The First 8 Things You Need to Do

Take a break from those cute puppy cuddles to make sure your new pooch learns these essential life skills.

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Puppy playing with toy
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Train your puppy to use a crate

Crate training your puppy is an excellent way to help them settle into your home and get them on a schedule. Once your puppy adjusts to its new schedule, he will learn to anticipate bathroom breaks and bedtime, making your life a lot easier. Diana Lipari, who breeds and shows beagles with the American Kennel Club, had these wise words for first time pet owners: “A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that once the dog is six months to a year they can let them roam freely. If they’re home by themselves they may get bored, they want something to do, and that means ripping up your sofa. So it’s always good to train puppies to love their crates. One way to do that is to give them treats every time they go in their crates and feed them from their crates. They’ll learn to love their crates and then you can leave them in the crates when you go out, as long as it’s not a really long time.”

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Puppy eating food
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Train your puppy the bathroom rules

All of the American Kennel Club experts we talked to named house-training as one of the top things to train your puppy once you bring them home. Karen Wagner, a German Shepherd Dog breeder, recommends teaching your puppy “the house rules” as soon as you get her. Be very firm; if your dog doesn’t learn these rules as a puppy, she probably won’t follow them as an adult. Crate training, leash training, and positive reinforcement will go a long way in teaching your puppy to use the bathroom only outside.

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Going on walk with puppy
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Train your puppy to walk on a leash

It may seem obvious, but playful puppies don’t always walk easily on a leash. Practice makes perfect in this case. Training your dog to walk calmly and respectfully on a leash will help you when you socialize them and housebreak them. “If you can’t control your dog on a leash, then you’re not going to go very far,” says Theresa Viesto, a Labrador retriever breeder and handle.

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Little of puppies on deck
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Train your puppy how to socialize

Viesto recommends socializing your puppy as soon as they’re old enough. “Drag them around to pet stores, parks, anywhere dogs are allowed,” she told us. Socializing your puppy when he is young will build his confidence, make him friendlier toward strangers and other dogs, and help him learn to remain calm and respectful outside of your house.

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High fives with puppy
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Train your puppy how to sit

Teaching a puppy to sit or lay down may look like a fun trick, but it is actually a very valuable skill. Use the command “sit” to prevent your puppy from jumping on visitors, be respectful during meal times, and as a gateway to teach other useful skills such as “stay” and “come.” Once your adorable puppy grows into a 90-pound dog, you’ll be glad you have this command down.

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Cute puppy
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Train your puppy to not bite

Puppies like to nip a lot while their teeny-tiny canines grow in. But sometimes, they don’t realize just how hard their little bites can be. It’s important to teach them not to bite you or others while they’re still young. If your pet nips you too hard, say, “Ow!” in a loud, high-pitched voice similar to a puppy yelp. This will warn them that they bit too hard and tell them to back off. Give your doggie a treat or say, “Good boy/girl,” when they listen. Another clever alternative is to ignore them. Turning around and tucking your hands in your armpits acts as a calming signal, which is “a minor form of attention withdrawal,” Kathy Santos, a dog-training expert told the American Kennel Club. Never yell or physically punish your puppy because your furry friend will just interpret it as another form of attention, even if it’s negative.

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Train your puppy how to be home alone

A pup’s first time alone can be extremely stressful because dogs are naturally social creatures. Canine independence is a good goal to keep in mind when learning how to train your puppy. It’s best to start teaching your dog how to be independent while you’re still in the house by placing them in a crate or exercise pen. Turn it into a happy, relaxing environment with toys and food to keep them preoccupied and satiated while you’re gone. Once your puppy is in, close the door quietly and walk out of the room. After a minute or two, return with a yummy treat or words of praise. Repeat the process and gradually increase the time you’re away from your dog. If he or she continues to remain quiet and calm, reward them. Each time you return, make sure you don’t coddle them too much because that will only make them miss you more when you leave. After a few days, you and your pup should be built up to a fairly long period of time apart so that you can go off to work in peace without your dog whimpering too much.

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Dog with chew toy
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Train your puppy to not chew the furniture

Nothing is worse than coming home to find a pillow torn up or your shoes chewed to pieces.  Much like nipping, a teething pup also tends to chew anything and everything to relieve their sore gums. This is the optimal time for you to encourage “appropriate chewing” by letting your dog know which things they can and can’t chew. Give them toys that they can pick up and carry around in their mouth like a ball or rubber KONG toy. “I prefer Nylabones, Greenies, and dental chewsticks since they encourage appropriate chewing while combating dental disease,” writes veterinarian Kristy Conn for Don’t toss them an old shoe or sock to gnaw on or else they’ll think those are okay to put in their mouths. This step should hopefully curb your pup’s bad chewing habits. If you catch your dog with an off-limits item in their mouth, direct them towards their chew toy. Then pat your pup’s head and praise them for chewing the right correct thing.

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Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest

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