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A beginners guide to puppy training

Dog training tips from an expert.

Puppies are a lot of fun — they're snuggly, playful and sometimes a little rambunctious. And at the end of the day, after hours of making sure they're staying out of trouble and most likely cleaning up accidents — it can be tough to muster up the energy to work on training. 

But, training a puppy is essential in establishing lifelong, good behaviors. 

“Training can help puppies understand how to behave around other dogs and people, which is important for their development. In addition, training can give puppies a sense of structure and routine, which can help reduce stress and anxiety,” Julia Jenkins of Pet Dog Training Today says. 

What if we told you that there are simple ways to begin training at home (even without the help of a trainer)? We spoke with Jenkins, a professional dog trainer, to share simple ways to teach your pup excellent behavior. 

When to start training a puppy

“Puppies are learning the whole time they’re awake, so I recommend starting training as soon as you bring your puppy home,” Jenkins explains. “Puppies of this age are just starting to explore their surroundings and learn about their place in their new household and the world. They're old enough to start learning basic commands but young enough that they haven't had time to develop bad habits.”

Not all dogs respond to training the same, but Jenkins says some pups may benefit from a training schedule. Creating a training schedule may take patience and diligence, but she shares some tips to make it easier: 

  • Set aside time every day to train your pup (consistency is key!). 
  • Give praise and rewards, like treats, to encourage your dog.
  • Keep the sessions short (under 10 minutes), as your pet may get tired after taking on too much.

When you’re training your puppy — whether you’re on a schedule or not — there are some things you should never do, Jenkins shares. First, never punish your pup (this includes scolding, hitting, forcing them into positions or any emotional or physical punishment) as this can scare them and discourage them from training. 

Don’t give up on training your pup, either. “Training takes time, patience and consistency, but it's important to stick with it. If you're having trouble, reach out to a professional trainer for help,” Jenkins adds. 

RELATED: New puppy checklist — everything you need to know about bringing your dog home

How to crate train a puppy

Crate training is a great place to start after bringing your pup home. Jenkins shares some of the main reasons you should get your dog used to their crate: 

  • Crates can be a safe place for your pup (especially if you have guests over or there are loud noises).
  • It prevents dogs from getting into trouble if you can’t monitor them.
  • Crates make it easier to travel with pups. According to Jenkins, some holiday rentals won’t allow dogs unless they’re crate trained.
  • If you ever need to visit the vet’s office for an emergency, your pup’s familiarity with their crate will help the process much easier (and they likely won’t be anxious about getting in their crate). 

You should start crate training your pup as soon as you bring them home, Dr. Aliya McCullough, Fetch’s on-staff veterinarian, says. Here are some of her tips to get you started:

  • Have your pup stay in their crate during nap time and bedtime so they can get used to it. 
  • Gradually increase the amount of time your dog spends in the crate.
  • Give your puppy lots of praise and reward them with a treat while they’re in the crate.
  • Let them have their favorite (safe!) bone or chew toy while in the crate.

How to house train a puppy

Teaching your pup how and where to use the bathroom properly is super important. “By teaching your puppy where and when to relieve themselves, you can help them avoid accidents in the house. You will also make life easier for yourself, as you won't have to constantly clean up after your pup.” 

Puppies need to go to the bathroom a lot, Jenkins says. Usually, once every hour and after they wake up from a nap, drink water or eat food, post-playtime and before bed. Maintain a regular potty-break schedule, which will help them get used to going to the bathroom outside and avoid opportunities to go inside. 

It’s also a good idea to give them praise and positive reinforcement when they practice good bathroom habits, Jenkins adds.

How to leash train a puppy

Leash training is essential, as it keeps your pup safe and allows you to bring them on more adventures. Starting out by training your dog in an environment with little distractions (like your house) will help them succeed. Jenkins shares some other helpful tips to set your dog up for leashed success: 

  • Choose which side you’d like your pup to walk on and hold their leash in the other hand. You'll be holding treats in your hand closest to your dog to help guide their actions. 
  • Keep their leash loose (Jenkins says it should be in the shape of a smile!). 
  • Take one step and reward your pup. Gradually increase the number of steps and reward them each time (giving them treats on the move).

How to train a puppy not to bite

“Puppies are like toddlers without hands. They're exploring the world around them the only way they can, which is through their mouths,” Jenkins explains. However, this behavior becomes less cute the older your puppy gets, so it’s important to train them to stop biting

Give your pup plenty of chew toys, which will help redirect them from biting people to an acceptable item. Try to anticipate when your pup seems mouthy (usually when they’re stimulated or excited) and have a chew toy on hand. 

How long does it take to train a puppy?

All puppies are unique and respond differently to training methods. However, some puppies with a training schedule (that includes positive reinforcement!) can reflect acceptable behavior within a couple of months, Jenkins shares. Regardless of how long training your puppy takes, it’s definitely worth the patience and time. 

“A strong bond of trust and companionship can form between owner and pet,” Jenkins adds. “So, even though it may take some time and patience, remember that training your puppy will ultimately lead to a lifetime of happiness.”

Training your pup is one of the first milestones of your life together, and these tips will help to make the process go a little smoother. If your pup isn’t grasping your training methods, consider reaching out to a dog trainer (but Jenkins warns against any that use negative reinforcement techniques). 

“Puppies who are well-trained are typically happier and more confident, and they’re less likely to develop behavior problems later in life,” Jenkins says. “For all of these reasons, it is clear that investing in training for your puppy can have lasting benefits.”

The Dig, Fetch's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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