Bringing a new puppy home is exciting. It’s also kind of like bringing home a wild animal.
A puppy is still learning about the world around them and how to interact with humans and other animals. They are literally born having no clue.
It’s your job to teach them manners and the appropriate way to interact with people, other dogs, different sights and sounds, and all of the other general things they will encounter in life.
While you can’t expect too much from your puppy the first week or so as they are learning to trust you and adjust to your new home, there are some important, but easy, things you should start teaching them right away.
Things to Start Teaching Your Puppy As Soon As They Come Home
Make Sure Your Puppy Knows Their Name
This may sound silly but there are many reasons to practice the name game with your puppy.
You may have changed your puppy’s name when you brought them home so they might not be used to the new one.
They are not used to listening to your tone of voice so even though they know your name, they might not be used to listening to you say it.
It’s important that you’re sure your puppy knows their name. Every other training command, and pleasant cohabitation, depends on it.
You can start getting their attention by using their name and giving them a treat the second they turn their head toward you or away from whatever they are occupied with at the time.
Then you can progress to not giving them the treat until they fully look at you.
Some things that can help with this practice is beginning the exercise when you are standing right next to them and then eventually saying their name from further away.
Train Your Puppy Not to Bite
Puppies like to bite, a lot. It’s the first way they know to communicate with the world – by using their mouth and teeth.
Their teeth may seem small but you will soon learn after a few nips at your fingers that they are quite sharp and can hurt.
While they may see biting as a fun game, it’s important to teach your puppy that using the full force of their teeth to bite is most certainly not fun or acceptable behavior.
They need to learn that they can still play, and explore with their mouths, but learn to do so gently and in control.
A way to do this is to train them to use bite inhibition. This teaches them to play with their mouths/teeth but to control the amount of strength/force they use.
Other ways you can discourage them from biting or teach them not to bite:
- Try to redirect their attention with a treat or a toy when they are attempting to bite human skin
- Provide them with interesting and appropriate toys that allow them to bite and use their mouths, so they have an outlet for their natural puppy curiosity
- Reward your puppy with a treat for releasing their bite on their own, this way they learn that good things happen once they stop their bad biting behavior.
Expose Your Puppy to Different Sights, Smells, and Surfaces
Some trainers call this “socialization”. It’s basically getting your puppy used to the different sounds and textures they may encounter in the world.
You can carry them outside to hear different sights, sounds and smells.
Before my puppy Summit had all of her shots, I carried her in a sling bag on the bus, around the neighborhood, around the noisy garbage truck, and to dog friendly restaurants.
I also put the vacuum in the corner of the living room for her to check out. Eventually, I started pushing it around without turning it on and then I tired turning it on for very short bursts.
Another really important thing people often overlook is walking on different surfaces. You don’t want to end up with a dog that refuses to walk on metal or freaks out every time they step on a wood floor.
Lay out things like a towel, a plank of wood (if you don’t have wood floors in your house that you can practice on), a metal cooking sheet, a plastic or metal grate, etc, and let your puppy sniff them.
Reward your puppy with a treat any time they are showing interest in the object or surface and especially if they touch it with their paw or step on it. Eventually, lure them to walk on the surface with a treat.
This is also a good time to prepare your puppy for nail trims by regularly touching, and lightly squeezing, their feet and toes.
It also helps to show them the nail clippers or dremel while doing this or at least setting them nearby where they can be seen.
Train Your Puppy to Be Comfortable in a Dog Crate
Unless the place where your puppy came from already worked with them, it’s unlikely that you will be able to shut your puppy in a crate and leave them alone from day one.
However, it’s important that you start crate training your puppy and getting them comfortable with their crate space.
There are many times in a dog’s life when they may need to be confined to a crate – at the vet’s office, when recovering from injury or surgery, in natural disaster or emergency situations – and you don’t want them to freak out.
The stress of freaking out can make your dog physically sick, they can injure themselves, or they may not be able to complete their crate rest and fully recover from their surgery or injury.
You can start getting your puppy used to being confined by feeding them meals inside of the crate. You can either do this by placing their bowl inside or feeding them by hand while they sit in the crate.
The next step would be walking away (but always leave the door open at first) while they are eating their meal or are occupies by a stuffed treat toy in the crate.
Once they are ok with that, you can try briefly shutting the door while you are sitting there, and immediately opening it back up, to see if they notice.
Next, start shutting the door to the crate and walking away for a minute. Eventually, you should be able to stay away with the door closed for longer.
Get Your Puppy Used to Wearing a Harness, Collar, or a Jacket
First, you’ll need to get your puppy used to the item you want to put on by letting them sniff it and giving them treats when they are near and/or look at it.
This tutorial is for anyone out there that deals with a running dog every time they bring out the harness (or whatever it is you want to put on them).
The best way is to put your hand, with treats in it, through the hole where their head goes. Let them eat the treats (slowly, not all at once) while holding the item still and pulling your hand back through the opening.
The idea is to get them to put their head through it themselves. If your dog doesn’t, resist the urge to pop it over their head and try again later.
Once your dog is putting their head through it, you can fasten the closures.
Leave it on for a minute and then take it off. If they freeze, try to get them to walk around in it by luring them with a treat or toy.
Eventually, you can extend the duration they are wearing their items until they no longer seem to notice and become comfortable in it.
Advancing Training to the Next Level
Once your puppy starts to get those first things down, you can start to teach them more advanced commands.
I highly suggest you start taking puppy classes right away (enroll your puppy before they even come home with you so you know they can start immediately).
These training commands are a little more advanced for both your puppy and you (because you need to ensure you are effectively communicating with them) but they are some of the first things your puppy will start to learn in class.
Teach Your Puppy to Come to You
Once your puppy recognizes their name, you can start to teach them to come.
When they pop their head up in response, say the word ‘come’ and show them another treat in your hand. When they come for the treat, touch them and acknowledge their behavior.
This way they are learning that coming to you is a positive behavior and this will help when you start to take them out more to explore the world around them.
Note: Different dog trainers may have different theories and techniques for teaching this but the video above is a great start.
Teach Your Puppy to Sit
Teaching your puppy is usually as simple as having them stand, holding a treat in front of them, and then slowly raising it above their head. Most puppies will naturally plop their butt down to reach the treat.
Once they are doing that pretty reliably, you can add the command “sit” when they are doing it and reward them as soon as their but is firmly on the ground.
Once your puppy has the sit command down, you can reinforce this command by asking them to sit at various points throughout the day like before you set their bowl down, before you pet them, or before you throw their favorite toy.
Introduce Your Puppy to Walking on a Leash
You’ll want to get your puppy used to the leash and having it attached to their harness or collar.
These are the basic steps to get your puppy used to walking on leash:
- Let your dog sniff the leash (on the ground and holding it) and give them treats for positive reactions or acting like it’s no big deal.
- Once they are used to seeing the leash, you can hold a treat in your hand and let them sniff it (the treat), while touching the leash clip to the harness hook (don’t attach it yet). Try activating the clip behind their head so it makes clicking noise and giving your dog a treat immediately following the clicking noise.
- Next, try clipping the leash onto the harness while your puppy is eating the treat in your hand. Once they eat the treat, unclip the leash.
- Progress to clipping the leash on and leaving it on
- Hold the other end of the leash and follow your puppy around or supervise them while they drag the leash around the house. This way they will get used to the weight of it, it touching them, and something following them around.
It will feel weird to your puppy to have something hanging off them and creating a pulling sensation on their back.
I got my puppy used to walking with some back pressure by letting her wander around the house dragging the leash (supervised in case the leash caught on something) and practicing walking her back and forth in the house.
Your puppy may not want to walk at all with the leash and harness on. Dealing with this is a whole other step and one best addressed in-person in a puppy training class so the trainer can help determine exactly why your puppy is resisting.
However, I’ve had success with leaving my dog standing there “frozen”, walking a few feet away, and trying to lure them over to me with a fun toy. This got my puppy used to moving around with a leash and harness on.
The next step is taking your puppy outside to walk.
The two challenges you are most likely to encounter at this stage are the “freezing” or your puppy pulling hard on the leash.
For the freezing, you can try the luring technique above.
I’ve had to do this and literally lure my puppy every few feet to get her around the block. Eventually, I had to do it less and less and she learned that walking is a good thing.
For pulling, watch this video below.
I know the luring trick I just talked about may seem in conflict with this video but, to me, the difference is that, for pulling, the addition of backwards pressure makes the situation different.”