At what age should I train my puppy?

Traditionally, formal training doesn’t begin until about 6 months of age. However, veterinarian Debra Horwitz says, “The dog is learning from every experience and delaying training means missed opportunities for the dog to learn how you would like him to behave.” Waiting to train means that you may have to work hard to change habits that dogs picked up in puppyhood.

So if you don’t want to wait until your puppy is six months old, when should you start training? According to training expert Paisley Lunchick, you can begin training your puppy as soon as you bring it home! Puppies are ready to begin learning simple commands at around 8 weeks old. 

puppy playing with a ball

There are a few things you should keep in mind as you start training your puppy. When you are first beginning, make sure training sessions are very short, as your puppy will have a short attention span. You may want to make sure your puppy is in a distraction-free environment, and you want to make sure that you have a highly desirable reward to help keep your puppy engaged in the training. Introduce one skill at a time, and if your puppy is having a hard time learning a new skill, make sure to end your training on a skill that your puppy knows how to do. Make this time a fun time for you and your puppy, making sure to give a lot of treats and positive affirmations. 

Getting a new puppy is an exciting time. Keep up the training practice, and before long, you and your pup will be training champs!

At what age should I start leash training my puppy?

You don’t need to wait a long time to begin teaching this important skill. You can (and should!) begin leash training with your puppy when they’re very young, even before they’re ready to go on actual walks! Dog trainer Kathy Santo suggests the following steps when starting leash training with your puppy:

  1. Introduce your puppy to their collar and leash. Let your dog wear their collar and leash in a familiar, supervised space, and use this time to play with and reward your dog so that they learn to associate collar time with fun and treats.
  2. Introduce a cue: Pick a noise or a word to use that will tell your puppy that a treat is coming. Use it consistently so that your dog knows to expect a treat when they hear the cue. 
  3. Make your puppy come to you. Having your puppy wear their leash and collar, use the cue you’ve established with your pup, and when they come to you for their reward, back up a few steps and have them follow you. 
  4. Practice inside. Now that your pup knows how to come to you, practice walking short distances in a distraction-free room. You should expect for your puppy to need an adjustment period as it's getting used to the feel and sight of the leash around him.

Once you’ve practiced these steps (and when the puppy’s vet has given the OK), you are ready to take the training outside! Make sure to have a lot of treats and get ready to offer a lot of praise and positive reinforcement to your pup as they learn how to navigate through all the distractions of walking in the outside world. Before long, your dog will be confident and happy on a leash, and you’ll be on your way to making many happy memories together!

At what age can I begin to house train my puppy?

No one likes coming home to a puddle on the living room floor, so most dog owners aim to have their puppies house trained as soon as possible. If you try to start house training a puppy too early, however, you can run into a lot of issues — and potentially even traumatize your dog. 

Just like humans, it takes a lot of experience and growth to be able to control the bladder and bowels, so you shouldn’t expect a very young dog to know that outside is the place to do their business. Aim to start slow, achieve results in stages, and focus on reinforcing good behaviors rather than punishing for messes after the fact (which will likely just confuse your puppy).

While it is possible to begin house training as young as 8 weeks, it’s generally harder to implant the rules on the puppy until closer to 12-16 weeks. If you have a desire to avoid accidents as much as possible, you’ll need to utilize confinement techniques to ensure the only place the puppy can go is the right place. A crate or enclosure with puppy pads is your best bet here, as they serve multiple functions. Not only will they ensure your dog only goes in their crate or enclosure, but it also establishes an early boundary between dog and human, and it means they won’t be making toys out of any objects they can get their mouths on. Also, puppies are more reluctant to go in an area they call home, so it encourages the puppy to hold it in between bathroom breaks (which should be frequent, by the way).

If you choose not to utilize such strict boundaries, don’t be too surprised when you find messes, and definitely don’t punish your dog. Doing so may just influence them to wait until you’re out of the home to go where they shouldn’t. Instead, once your puppy is old enough to control its bladder, you’ll need to start a daily routine. After their morning feeding, take them outside and wait for them to go to the bathroom. Continue taking them outside for brief periods of time every 30-60 minutes, and give them praise and rewards when they go in the right spot. This will quickly establish the desired pattern of bathroom behavior and keep the accidents to a minimum.

How do you stop a puppy from using the bathroom inside the house?

Dogs have no way of knowing that going to the bathroom in the house is against the rules until you teach them the right way. Housebreaking is a crucial part of a dog’s training if you hope to establish good behaviors and proper potty etiquette from an early age. Following a consistent routine when you begin bathroom training your dog is a good way to improve the odds that they’ll learn quickly. If you find that you’re having a hard time keeping a new dog from making a mess in the house, the following routine may help establish the proper behavior. 

After Waking Up

Take your puppy outside as one of the first things you do in the day. Sleep usually works naturally to turn off bowel and bladder movements, so when your dog wakes up, they likely need to go. Even if they don’t wind up using the bathroom, it lets your puppy know that going outside will happen each and every morning.

30 mins – 1 hr After Feedings

Building your puppy’s bathroom training schedule around their feeding times is a good way to cement the act of going outside at a set time. It also associates the act of eating with going to the bathroom and may alleviate the stress some dogs feel during potty training. 

Throughout the Day

Especially early on in your potty training attempts, you’ll want to take your dog outside several times a day to a specific location where they’re meant to go. Doing this once every hour or two, or more frequently when the puppy has been active, establishes that there is a place the dog has regular access to help decrease the chance that they’ll accidentally go in the house.

Before Leaving The House

If you know you’ll be away from the house for an extended period of time, make sure to take them out to ensure they’re not holding it in for an uncomfortable amount of time.

Keep in mind that any time your puppy goes to the bathroom in the correct spot, they should be rewarded with affection and treats! Once your dog understands that there is a right and wrong place for going to the bathroom, you can dial back on the frequency of bathroom trips outside until you’re confident in their training.

Other Tips

  • When introduced to a home, a puppy may assume that it's ok to go to the bathroom in places where people don't frequent. This can lead to nasty surprises, so keep the puppy confined to a comfortable room, area, or crate when they are not being directly supervised. Never leave the puppy confined like this for more than a few hours, though.
  • If you wish to provide pee pads indoors, do so only when the puppy is confined to a crate or small area of a closed-off room. This makes them more likely to hold it, and it can teach them the place to go is not in a closet or far-off room.
  • If you wish to discourage your puppy from going in their crate, use a divider to shrink the space. Know that puppies who have been confined for long periods are more likely to go in their crate, though.
  • Don't punish puppies for messes. It will only confuse them, and it can lead to anxieties that translate to other unwanted behaviors. Aim to reward them for going outside instead.
  • Clean up any soiled areas completely using an enzyme-based cleaner, like Nature's Miracle, or diluted vinegar. This will eliminate smells that would otherwise encourage the puppy to go in the same spot.
  • Focus on the objective: teaching the puppy it can hold it until the next regular bathroom break. If you keep finding accidents, try to adjust the bathroom schedule, adjust feeding times, or find someone who can let the puppy out in the middle of the day.

What is the best way to crate train my puppy?

You can’t spend every second of every day with your puppy, so you may want to offer your dog a place where they (and your things) can be safe and comfortable until you’re able to come home. This is why many pet owners choose to crate train their puppies.

When crate training your puppy, the first step is to consider what kind of crate you need for your dog. You want one that is the right size and material for your pup. Many crates include adjustable dividers to keep up with the puppy's growth while also discouraging them from going to the bathroom in the crate. Also, make sure to purchase an actual crate, not a travel kennel. Travel kennels aren't safe, sturdy, or comfortable enough to serve as a regular crate.

After you have found your crate, you want to teach your dog that this is their space for relaxing. Only put your pup in their crate when they are quiet and calm, and they’ll begin to associate that behavior with that space. 

Once you’ve introduced your dog to their crate, you’ll want to give them a treat every time they go into it. Giving them treats teaches them to have positive associations with that space. Giving your dog a treat that takes a while to eat gives your dog a chance to spend more time in their crate while also being occupied with something to do. Playing games with the crate is another way to create positive associations with that space. 

As you are training your dog to stay in their crates, it is important to make sure that they aren’t spending too much time in there at once. Your puppy has a small bladder and will still need to be taken outside often. You also don't want them to think they're being punished or left out from the bonding time they desire. Start with leaving your puppy for just a few minutes at a time, and gradually start increasing the time as they become used to it.

Crate training isn’t something that will happen overnight; Anna Flayton, a professional dog trainer, says that completing crate training can take up to six months to do. However, with some time and patience, you can make the crate a safe and comforting place for your dog to be!

How do you teach a puppy not to bite?

When you picture getting a new puppy, you might imagine all the sweet puppy cuddles you’ll get, or the silly things they’ll do, or getting to help your new pup learn about and explore a big, new world. What you may not have expected is the mouthful of sharp baby teeth that accompanies a new dog! Though it’s developmentally appropriate for puppies to bite, it can be annoying and painful! Fortunately, there are many ways you can help your puppy learn not to bite.

By and large, the most effective way to stop your puppy from biting you is to withdraw attention from your dog when they bite, according to the AKC. This teaches them hands and body parts aren't part of playtime. If your puppy bites you while playing with them, that means that playtime is done. Your puppy doesn’t need to be yelled at or physically reprimanded. When you do this, they are still receiving attention from you for their actions, and to them, it can feel like that attention is a reward or a way that you're playing back.

Another way to stop your puppy from biting you is to always have a chew toy available to them. You can offer the chew toy as a way to redirect behavior when you notice your dog beginning to chew on your or on furniture. This will help teach your dog which items in your house are appropriate to chew.

Sometimes puppies may bite because they have an excess of energy. Taking your puppy to a place where they can run around and tire themselves out may help prevent the biting before it even starts! 

You can also make sure to reward your puppy with a treat when you notice them engaging in desired behaviors, like being quiet and calm. When you give your puppy reinforcement for those behaviors, it teaches them how you’d like them to act!

Above all, when you are training your puppy to stop biting, remember to stay patient and calm. Though it may seem like they will bite forever, with a little consistency, your puppy should have their biting tendencies under control!

How can I get my puppy to stop barking?

As much as we love our dogs, we’d all be a bit happier if their voices were a little bit softer. Some dogs can bark so often and so loudly that they become a nuisance to everyone in their vicinity. If you live in close proximity to other people, excessive barking can sometimes cause trouble and sour your reputation as a responsible pet owner. While it’s natural for dogs to bark and there isn’t always a way to totally teach them off of it, there are several things you can do to reduce problem barking in dogs.

A puppy will bark for just about any reason a human might speak. If there’s something interesting, exciting, stressful, or scary to a dog, you can expect them to vocalize it to some extent. If you find that your puppy is barking too much or too loudly, one of the first things you can do is examine what is causing them to act out. Are they barking when they see a dog on the TV? When they see a neighbor walking by outside? When the doorbell rings? If you hope to train your puppy off excessive barking from an early age, becoming familiar with their triggers is a necessary step.

Once you know what causes your puppy to start barking, you can use a variety of training techniques to try to teach them what is and what is not appropriate barking. One of the first things to consider when undertaking this type of training is that a dog often barks in order to get your attention. Some barking can be alleviated by simply ignoring them completely until they stop. Once they stop, immediately showing affection and rewarding them with a treat can reinforce the connection between being quiet and receiving the attention they hoped to receive by causing a ruckus.

In some cases, particularly with some highly energetic breeds or older dogs, it may not be possible to totally train a dog off of inappropriate barking. In these cases, you may need to simply remove them entirely from the environment that brings about their bad behavior. Drawing the blinds, bringing your dog inside, or turning off the TV are some examples of easy ways to remove your dog from the stimulus that brings out their barking.

How can I get my puppy to calm down?

There’s not much more enjoyable in the world than the adorable nature of a puppy bursting with excitement. It can bring us out of a horrible mood, alleviate stressful moments in our families, and leave us crying from laughter. Occasionally, however, that abundance of excited energy can be overwhelming, inappropriate, or just plain frustrating, and you may need to find a way to bring that playfulness down a notch or two. 

puppy sitting in the grass

No one wants to punish a puppy for simply being excited and happy, but when you’re trying to put a baby to sleep, finish up a video call with the boss, or just get a few chores around the house finished, you may need a solution for the seemingly endless supply of hyperactivity many puppies embody. Here are some common techniques for managing that excitement:

  1. Don’t reward a puppy’s problematic excitement with attention and affection. When an owner responds positively to a dog’s behavior, they will learn to repeat those behaviors. Know that negative attention, such as yelling or going into the room to stop them, can also be seen as a reward. Aim to redirect the behavior and praise them when they are quiet and calm.
  2. Learn your puppy’s triggers. Knowing what environments and stimuli get your dog wound up can help you avoid exciting situations when you need peace and quiet. 
  3. Exercise your dog. By giving your puppy ample playtime at the right moment, you can potentially tire them out, giving you the time you need while they sleep it off. 
  4. Exhibit calm behavior. Dogs take a lot of cues from their owners. If you have a tendency to get riled up at the TV, talk excitedly on the phone, or raise your voice, it may help your dog calm down if you learn to control any outbursts you may be responsible for. 
  5. Aim to positively reinforce calm behavior. Scolding a puppy or intervening in a situation is a form of attention, which to a puppy can feel like a reward. Instead, aim to be as calm as possible in situations where the puppy is overexcited. Try to withhold any sort of attention beyond occasional firm-but-calm reinforcement of the desired behavior. As soon as the puppy gets the idea and calms down, immediately give them mild praise or affection to establish that attention will resume once they're mellow.
  6. Make sure your puppy gets ample and regular sleep. Just like babies, puppies need a lot of sleep. Though it may seem counterintuitive, ensuring your young dog gets scheduled sleep time can help with problematic behaviors relating to excess energy. 

These are just some of the things you can try with a puppy that just doesn’t know when to quit. If you try these ideas and still have a restless pup on your hands, it may be worth investing in some puppy training classes to see if a professional has any advice to suit your particular case. 

How do I train my puppy to sleep at night?

Just like they need the training to learn commands and become housebroken, puppies will benefit from some training to sleep through the night, especially at a very young age.

When you get a new puppy, you may find that your puppy becomes restless at night. According to certified dog trainer Cathy Madson, this could be due to the fact that your puppy isn’t used to sleeping without its littermates, is feeling anxiety about its new surroundings, or because their bladders aren’t big enough to hold it all night! Though a few sleepless nights may be inevitable when having a young puppy, you can use the following tips to ensure your nights go as smoothly as possible.

- In the evening, you’ll want to give your puppy several opportunities to get some energy out. You can take them on a walk or play around in the backyard. Not only is this exercise important for your dog’s physical health, but it will also help them to use the restroom before bed. You could also purchase some food puzzles or games for them to play with, which will help tire them out before bed.

- You want to develop a routine for your new puppy that you follow every day. This helps your dog know when to expect to eat, when to use the restroom, and when to sleep. You may also have a specific bedtime routine that you stick to every night. That may consist of restricting food a few hours before bed, playtime, cuddles, and one last bathroom break. 

- Though it may feel endless when you’re in the thick of it, many puppies are able to sleep through the night by the time they’re 16 weeks old. With patience, love, and solid routines, your puppy may hit that milestone even sooner!

When can I train my puppy around other dogs?

Socialization for animals is just as important as with people. Most dog owners are excited by the idea of their furry best friend getting along well with other pets and humans and look forward to getting started on socializing their dogs as soon as possible.

If you’re hoping to get started with socialization training, you don’t want to do it as soon as your pup opens its eyes. Instead, wait until you’re able to get your dog all its needed vaccinations before introducing them to other dogs. After about 6-8 weeks, your puppy should be getting its DA2P shot. Once all doses are squared away, you can feel comfortable introducing your dog to other known dogs. Puppy classes or hanging out with a well-known friend’s dog are great first steps.

After your puppy hits their 13th week, you should ensure they’re given a rabies vaccine. It’s at this point that they can be introduced to unfamiliar dogs and really get their social lives off to a good start. It’s still smart to keep interactions limited to avoid overwhelming your puppy, but one of the biggest threats to a dog’s safety when it comes to playing with new pups is dangerous infections. As long as your dog is up to date on their rabies vaccine and DA2P vaccine and booster, the biggest threats should be significantly mitigated. 

No one wants to be responsible for a poorly-trained dog that snarls, snaps, and bites at anyone they’re not familiar with. Socializing your puppy early is a great way to bring up a happy and friendly dog with a wide circle of friends. Take things slowly, and keep a leash handy. Remember that a bad experience at an early age can lead to anxiety in social situations or fear of certain dogs. No matter what happens, try to remain calm in all situations to signal to your puppy that a small incident isn't a huge deal.

Start them off slow with other puppies and smaller dogs, and in no time at all your puppy will be running with the pack at the local dog park. Just be sure your dog stays up to date on their vaccinations all throughout their life to keep them healthy and protected from dangerous illnesses.

How can I train my puppy to calm down around other dogs?

In some ways, getting overly excited around other dogs is a natural behavior, but it is also a form of learned behavior that becomes a habit over time. The key is to re-teach the puppy how to behave in order to form a new habit of responding more calmly.

Start with positive reinforcement with a familiar dog in a semi-public setting, such as a sidewalk outside your home. The "helper" will preferably be a matured dog known for being well-behaved on its leash who is owned by a close friend or family member. With both dogs leashed and at a significant distance, teach the puppy to "sit" when it sees the other dog. Wait for the puppy to be calm, and then reward them with praise and/or treats. Move a few steps closer, and repeat. When the dogs are just close enough to begin to physically interact, remain calm, and wait. If the puppy begins to get overly excited, gently get the puppy to move back a few steps, have them sit, wait for them to calm down, and only resume once they have mellowed. If they can remain calm, allow interactions to continue. If they get too excited, have the other dog walk away with the puppy sitting. Then, walk the puppy away until they're no longer concerned about the other dog. These training sessions should be repeated with a familiar dog several times a week over the course of a few months.

On regular leashed walks where a strange dog is approaching, try to repeat this sort of process. Make the puppy sit and wait off the main path when you see another dog approaching. If you get the sense the puppy will remain too excited to interact with a strange dog, keep it at a close distance and wait until the other dog passes before resuming walking. If the other owner is not opposed to a quick meet and greet, allow the puppy to say "hello" if they will be calm, and keep the interaction brief before moving on. 

You should remain calm during this process, and reward the puppy when they can calmly interact or can ignore the other dog entirely. Overall, try to teach the puppy that, when leashed, interactions will be limited to sniffs and maybe some light physical touching, but then the walk will resume. If the puppy has difficulty during these interactions, gravitate towards teaching them that leash time is not the time to greet other dogs, but if they are calm they can occasionally meet a stranger.

Off-leash interactions are important for the puppy to learn social skills and get used to seeing other dogs, rather than it being a special event. Again, start with familiar dogs in a familiar, controlled setting before taking them to the dog park to practice with strangers. Supervised puppy daycare is an excellent place to start socialization, and it can be accompanied by regular puppy training to instill desired behavior reinforcement.

What questions should I ask my puppy trainer?

What are your certifications or credentials?

Every puppy trainer needs some training! Having certifications places accountability on the trainer and ensures they have up-to-date techniques. Your puppy trainer doesn't have to be highly decorated, but they should have at least passed some sort of course or verified in some way that they have professional-grade skills.

What training philosophies do you use?

There are many different types of puppy training, and individual trainer approaches can sometimes vary at the same school. You want to learn how the trainer intends to influence the puppy's behavior and also what the end goal is. You want to avoid outdated training techniques, such as "domination" training, so that your puppy can not only exhibit desired behaviors but also be self-assured and happy as they mature.

Do you use punishment-based negative reinforcement?

Generations ago, puppy training was centered around punishing undesired behaviors. The belief was that the puppy would want to avoid punishment, so they wouldn't perform certain behaviors. Since then, we've learned this type of negative reinforcement doesn't really work. Yelling, hitting the puppy, or other aggressive tactics are likely to confuse them since they won't necessarily connect their behavior with the punishment. The puppy may become fearful or aggressive, and they may "hide" bad behaviors rather than stop them altogether.

Redirection (encouraging alternative behaviors) and withholding wanted attention in response to undesired behaviors are the more widely accepted means of puppy training these days. Talk to your puppy trainer to see if they are comfortable with these notions and what types of negative reinforcement they might use if any.

How long and how often should my puppy attend training?

The recommended training is usually based on the puppy and the goals of the owner. However, different puppy training facilities will recommend training on a specific schedule. They may even suggest that results will not be seen if this schedule isn't held to. You want to know what the trainer's expectations are for how long and how often they should see your puppy.

How do you reward positive reinforcement?

Food treats are a great motivator, but they are rarely the only means of positive reinforcement among professional trainers. Your puppy trainer will likely have their own method for when and how to reward your puppy, based on current practices. If you are concerned about overfeeding your puppy or relying too much on food-based motivation, speak to the trainer to learn how this may affect their techniques.

Do you offer owner education?

Owners can learn to think like a trainer in order to improve results and achieve more consistency. Trainers should be able to provide feedback to owners to enable them to continue training in the home and to teach how to best reinforce the desired behaviors.

Do you use any special equipment?

Clickers, special collars, and other sorts of devices can help with training. However, some owners may not want to use these devices, or they may be unprepared for their use. Owners may feel uncomfortable at the idea of pronged collars, for example, so they will want to learn if their puppy trainer uses these devices and why they might recommend them. Owners also need to know if they are expected to purchase their own equipment for reinforcement and training to continue in the home.

What kind of materials do you provide for continuing training at home?

Some puppy trainers provide a limited amount of feedback when the owner picks up their puppy, whereas others may provide plentiful take-home materials. Pamphlets, typed-up instructions, videos, or just verbal feedback can all be helpful for pointing owners towards techniques that can continue training and reinforcement at home. Ask this question to learn how extensive this type of after-class support will be, and what it may consist of.

Will I need to follow up on my puppy's training?

Periodic training every few months to few years is almost always recommended, especially for young puppies. However, individual trainers may recommend follow-up training for specific reasons. You will want to learn whether they expect follow-up training sessions, why they might recommend them, and when you can bring your dog back if you want to achieve the best results.

How do you handle an aggressive or fearful puppy?

The overwhelming majority of times, aggression and fear in puppies is a learned behavior. An experience taught the puppy that a "fight" or "flight" response is best when dealing with certain situations. The triggers for these responses must be understood, and the puppy can then re-learn how to respond to triggering situations with new, calmer techniques. Then, training can continue alongside this reinforcement and exposure training.

Your trainer may have their own specific approach for "difficult" puppies, but the overall goal should be to nurture the puppy's confidence and teach them that calmness and restraint will be rewarded.

Do you work with all breeds and puppy types?

Most puppy trainers will take on nearly all pupils, but some may have their limits. Learn what these limits are, and decide if you are comfortable with them before agreeing to enroll in puppy training. In some instances, the trainer's preferences will sound justified, but in other cases, the owner may decide that the trainer's beliefs don't fit their own expectations, and they will need to find a trainer who can.