Maybe you got a new puppy over the holidays or have been planning your little furry friend’s arrival for some time. Either way, a new puppy is a big commitment, and you’ll have several new adventures added to your daily routine as you adjust to the little ball of energy that now shares your home.
Your first priority is probably going to be potty training. Housebreaking a puppy is a process, and you’ll value the results for the sake of your home and your own peace of mind. But it’s not the only training your puppy will need.
Here are the 5 most important commands to teach your puppy as soon as possible:
Your puppy needs to know to return to you when called. Whether the command is “come” or another sound or word, this is going to be your most vital command should your pup ever get into trouble or separated from you. This is a good way to prevent puppies from running off when outside and keep them out of trouble in off-leash situations like dog parks.
Recall training is a multi-step process. Start with rewarding your puppy every time you say your chosen command word (for the sake of this article, we will refer to it as “come”). This reward could be a treat, their favorite toy, or even extra affection. Choose the reward that most motivates your puppy. At this early stage, your puppy doesn’t need to respond to the command, but rather get used to hearing it and associating it with a treat.
From there you will begin putting distance between you and your puppy. Use your command word and rewards repeatedly until the dog is reliably coming when called. Progressively increase the distance between you and the puppy until you can call them from any distance with a prompt response. You may think once you’ve done this and they come from any point in your home that you’ve successfully completed this training, but now you just need to repeat the process in a new environment like your backyard or preferred dog park.
Sit and stay are often trained together, and are important, but “stay” is the more valuable of the two in terms of safety for your puppy. If your dog will reliably sit/stay on command, even in the presence of something interesting or exciting like another dog or wild animal, you know they will be safely by your side in the event of a dangerous situation.
Teach your dog to stay in a similar manner to how you taught your dog to recall on command. Reward your puppy for doing what you want (sitting), even though you haven’t given a command. Reinforce the position by giving more treats the longer they sit. From there, you’ll challenge your puppy with longer times, new distractions, distances, and movements until they can sit and stay without moving until you give their release command.
Puppies will explore the world with their mouths just as much as their eyes and noses. This can create a dangerous situation if your puppy gets hold of something they shouldn’t. While you have likely puppy-proofed your house to keep dangerous or valuable items out of your pup’s reach, other places won’t be so secure. So, teach them to drop whatever is in their mouth on command to ensure their safety.
Training your puppy to “drop it” is easier than it seems:
- Teach your puppy the command word, “drop” for example, with their preferred reward, food, or toys.
- Get your puppy’s attention with the command word and treats.
- Once your puppy follows the treat with their gaze, introduce a toy.
- Use the treat or another toy as a distraction that encourages your puppy to drop the toy in their mouth and say “drop” as they do, so there’s a connection between the word and the action.
- Eventually, you will shift the treat from being a distraction to being a reward for dropping the toy on command.
Puppies are prone to mischief and will often follow their nose into trouble. Whether you’re calling them off food they shouldn’t have, or simply something they shouldn’t be near, the “leave it” command is invaluable for puppy safety.
As with the other training processes listed above, you’re going to start the training with positive association and treats. Slowly remove access to the treat and only reward your dog once they stop going after the food. Escalate the process until you can leave the treat in the open without your dog making a move to get it.
Have you even been walking your dog and encountered another pet owner with their own dog? Friendly or not, you want to give the other dog space and ensure your dog’s energy is relaxed to prevent any potentially violent interactions. This is not only important to keep your dog safe, but a dog that is leash trained will be less likely to start an altercation with another pet in the first place.
Regardless of whether your dog is on a leash, “heel” is an important command for them to master, because it ensures they stay by your side no matter what is happening around you. When in a crowd or public space, knowing your dog will remain by your side and not explore their surroundings will give you peace of mind and allow you to know where they are at all times.
Take time to find a neutral space to train your puppy on a leash and be prepared for repetitive motions until they begin to understand your expectations. You’ll also need to keep them engaged in the activity with their focus on you, so they can react to the different phases of leash training and easily understand your expectations.
Training your dog isn’t a one-and-done situation. You’ll need to reinforce the training as they get older to ensure you have a well-behaved dog. Use this time to bond with your puppy and create a relationship where training is fun for both of you. A well-trained dog is not only safer, but also a delight for others to be around, so reinforce these safety basics with tricks and other behavior training for a well-rounded pet.
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