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A Puppy Training Guide to Help You Start Off on the Right Paw

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There’s no point sugarcoating it: Puppies are a lot of work. But they’re so worth it. If you’re about to welcome a new puppy into your family, this puppy training guide is a great place to start learning about the initial training process while they’re at a young age.

Puppies have short attention spans, so remember to keep training sessions to a minimum — 5-10 minutes at a time. Your adorable new puppy is going to make mistakes, and so will you. But that’s okay! You’re in this together. Puppy training can be a long and sometimes stressful process that continues even after your puppy becomes an adult dog.

Setting yourself and your new puppy up for success starts with patience and the positive reinforcement technique. Read on to learn all about how to use positive reinforcement — the best method for crate training, obedience training, and house training your new pup.

What Is Positive Reinforcement Training?

Puppy training guide: A puppy lies in the sand with a ball

The American Kennel Club describes positive reinforcement in very relatable terms:

“Positive reinforcement is the process of giving a dog (or person!) a reward to encourage the behavior you want, like getting a paycheck for going to work. The idea is not to bribe the behavior but to train it using something your dog values.”

This practice is used by the majority of professional dog trainers because using this method while dog training is proven to be more efficient than the use of force or punishment. A dog who is punished for their behavior doesn’t understand what’s going on and may learn to fear their owner. More importantly, punishment does not help your puppy learn the proper way to behave the next time they find themselves in the situation they’re being punished for.

On why puppy owners shouldn’t use punishment during training sessions,  veterinary professionals at VCA Hospitals explain that puppy training “should focus on teaching the pet the desirable response, rather than punishing what is undesirable. If you see your pet engaging in an unwanted behavior, distraction (perhaps with a loud noise, hand clapping, or a ‘no’) and redirection to a more appropriate behavior is the best intervention.”

This is where positive reinforcement comes in. If you offer your pup a reward (that can be a treat, praise, or play) when they display a behavior you like, that action or behavior will most likely be repeated.

Reward-based training gives them that little hit of dopamine (also known as the “feel-good hormone”) and serotonin (also known as the “happy chemical“), and they want more. In order to get more of that natural happy feeling, your dog will repeat that good behavior you rewarded them for.

For example, when housebreaking and potty training, it’s important to reward your dog with praise or treats when they potty outside, and only when they potty outside. If they have an accident inside, they’re not going to be rewarded. Your puppy will eventually learn that going inside is not going to get them anywhere because they have not been given a reward.

Positive reinforcement is essential to any dog training program you implement in order to correct behavior problems and teach your new family member the house rules.

Training Tips and Getting Started With the “Sit” Command

Puppy training guide: A puppy wears a harness and lies in the grass

Though you should also consult your vet or dog trainer for a comprehensive dog training plan, this puppy training guide is a great place to start.

Before you and your family members get into teaching your new dog on some basic commands, find out what kind of puppy treat or dog food motivates them the most. If any old kibble or a favorite toy works, that’s great. For dogs who need a little extra motivation, a high-value, smelly treat is best. Think boiled chicken, dried liver treats, or even a calming treat to keep all that puppy energy at bay so they can focus on learning — the stinkier the treat, the better.

When training a dog, especially for the first time, pick a quiet environment where there are minimal distractions (remember puppies have very short attention spans). Once you’ve found a good spot and have your treats ready, it’s time to get started.

The “sit” command is one of the easiest ones for puppies to learn and can be taught in one of two ways: capturing or luring.

The concept of capturing is where you wait for the desired behavior to just happen naturally. It won’t happen instantly. This requires a lot of patience as your dog can’t read your mind and immediately know that you’re waiting for them to sit. You have to literally “capture” the moment.

Wait for your dog to sit on their own. Once they sit, say “yes,” and give them a treat. Take a step back to encourage them to get up, then wait for them to sit again. Give them another treat the second they sit and say “yes.”

After a couple repetitions of this, add the verbal command “sit” as they are starting to sit down. This is how they learn to associate the word with the action.

The luring method is what it sounds like: It involves using the treat as a lure. Putting the treat in front of your puppy’s nose, slowly lift the food and, with your hand, draw a straight line above their head back toward their neck. Let your puppy follow the treat with their snout. As you move the treat up, the dog will instinctually start to sit as they lift their head to nibble at the treat.

Once their butt touches the floor in a sit stance, give them a treat. Repeat this a couple more times before doing it without a treat in your hand for them to follow. When they follow your empty hand into a sit, reward them with the treat.

Once they get the hang of it you can start to implement the verbal command “sit” by saying it as you do the hand motion.

Luring and capturing can be applied to other commands like “down,” and “come,” or anything else you want to teach. To use capturing, simply wait for the desired behavior as described for teaching “sit.” Or lure your dog into the desired action by holding a treat to its nose and slowing moving it around to get them into the position you want.

Worried About Training on Your Own?

This puppy training guide is a simple introduction to training your puppy. If things aren’t working out as you hope when you’re training your new puppy on your own, consider investing in a group training class. You will learn some great hands-on training methods in a group environment led by a professional dog trainer.

All of the other dog owners in class need the assistance from the professional trainer just like you do, so you won’t be alone. Having a dog trainer there to guide you when you get stuck or have a question is invaluable, but as they will tell you, consistency is key. You will need to take what you learned in the classroom and practice at home every day.

In a group class, your dog also gets the added benefit of puppy socialization. A group puppy training class is the perfect opportunity for your pup to get the early socialization they need. Puppy socialization is just as important as puppy training during their learning process.

Training Your Puppy to Put Their Best Paw Forward

Puppy training guide: A puppy rolls in the grass with toilet paper

Remember that puppy training takes time, patience, and positivity. You’ve got this! Utilizing positive reinforcement during the step-by-step training process can help both you and your pet succeed in the long run.

Once you and your new pup have gained some solid footing, life is going to be smooth sailing for the both of you. Training is not just for the puppy stage of your dog’s life. Keep it up throughout their lives to ensure good behavior, provide mental stimulation, and keep up a healthy lifestyle.