It’s puppy season! That most wonderful time of year when you bring home that little bundle of love and fluff and joy and silliness … and pee and needle-sharp teeth and loud opinions. Hmm, now what?
Raising a puppy is a lot of work. You know training is important when they’re little, but you’re also busy with work, school, family. What to focus on first? This checklist offers a road map.
We’ll go into details about each of the training topics below in future posts, but an overview is a good place to start. Use this checklist to make sure you’re covering everything that’s important. Prioritize items at the top of the list and note developmental windows that close while your puppy is still young. If time is at a premium, you can train the others later at your convenience. Post this on your refrigerator to remind you of the basics when you’re harried.
Puppy Training Checklist
- Socialization – Teach your puppy to be relaxed and happy around people and new sights, sounds, smells, textures, and animals. Some socialization to people must happen by 12 weeks. Most socialization to the rest of the world must happen by 16 weeks.
- Confinement – Use crates, x-pens, tethers to support housebreaking, manners, and safety. If the puppy’s doing something wrong, confinement can probably prevent it!
- Housebreaking – Teach your puppy where to potty with confinement, rewards, and supervision. Remember: You MUST reward pottying in the right place for successful house training. Go out WITH your pup and a tasty treat in your pocket. Praise and treat the second he’s done peeing or pooping.
Mouthing and Nipping (teaching bite inhibition) – First (his first month home), teach your pup to have a soft, gentle mouth by giving him an appropriate chew to redirect from skin, clothing, etc. End play when his mouth’s too rough. Later (after a month or two at home), end play any time his teeth touch human skin or clothes. Use tug and hand feeding to teach mouth manners.
- Handling – Teach your pup to relax when you pick him up, hold him, handle mouth, feet, tail, ears, collar, and rear end. Only release him when he’s calm, NOT struggling
- Crate Training – Teach your puppy to enter his crate when asked and to happily stay in his crate. Feed meals in the crate. Give chews in the crate
- Chewing – Give your puppy good chews and rotate them so there is always a “new” toy to engage her. Use confinement to keep her from chewing furniture and possessions. Redirect her to good chews when she chews the wrong things.
- “Trade” (teach your puppy to share) – If your puppy steals something, don’t chase him. Call him over and give a tasty treat instead. Preventatively, teach him to “trade up” from something boring to something great.
- Jumping – Reward “four on the floor.” Don’t talk to, pet, scold, push away, etc., when the dog jumps as the attention just reinforces jumping. Disengage completely. Train “sit.” Reward for sitting to greet.
- Prevent separation anxiety and demand vocalizing – Make partings and reunions mellow and matter-of-fact. Make sure your pup spends at least half an hour several days a week being ignored while people are around and half an hour several times a week being left home alone.
Parting Tip: Keep a Puppy Training Journal
Keeping a journal on your puppy’s training can be super helpful, especially if you are busy, sleep-deprived, a first-time puppy owner, or have several people in the household. Put the journal somewhere that everyone can jot a quick note. Note the time the puppy ate and drank, peed and pooped, and where. Note what your pup was doing just before he peeds or pooped, especially if it was in the house. This will help you figure out his “toileting imminent” signals.
Note anything your pup loves so you can use this again as a reward. Note if he seems afraid of anything so you can train him to love it next time you have a chance. If you’ve started training “sit” or “down” or “touch,” write down the cue you’re using for each behavior so you’ll remember next time whether the cue for “lie down on the ground” was “lay down” or “lie down” or “down” or “chill out.” And so you’re not using “down” to mean “lie down” while your son is saying “down” to mean “get down off me!”
You’ll be amazed when you look back on entries just a few weeks later, how far your pup has come!