Early training for puppies

Although raising a puppy can be fun, too often the puppy is allowed to become unruly or unwanted behaviors are mistakenly reinforced.  The importance of socialization, obedience training and teaching of good manners for puppies cannot be overstated.  Early training is a necessity.


Socialization is the process during which the puppy develops relationships with other living beings in its environment.  The experiences it has during the first four months of life will dramatically influence its adult personality.  To prevent asocial behavior, such as fear and biting, it is very important for a puppy to have frequent positive experiences with everyone it meets during the early months.  Be certain to avoid physical punishment and situations that make your puppy anxious.  Ease your puppy into new situations gradually and give her plenty of rewards for calm responses. Puppies that receive insufficient socialization to people, other animals, and new environments during their first four months may develop irreversible fears, leading to timidity and aggression.

It is important for every puppy to meet as many new people as possible, in a wide variety of situations.  To facilitate introductions, encourage each person who meets the puppy to give her a small, chewy treat.  This will teach the pup to look forward to meeting people and discourage hand shyness, since the puppy will learn to associate new friends and an outstretched hand with something positive.  Once the puppy has learned to sit on command, have each new friend ask it to sit before getting the reward.  This teaches the puppy a proper sitting greeting, and will make the puppy less likely to jump up on people.  Be certain that a wide variety of people from different age groups, different races and both sexes have the opportunity to meet the puppy and give her rewards during the first few formative months.  Puppies do not generalize well, so liking an eight-year-old child is not the same as enjoying a two-year-old toddler.  Have your puppy meet all ages of people.

Puppy Obedience

It is highly recommended that all puppies go through a puppy “kindergarten” class beginning at around eight weeks of age.  Puppy training classes incorporate learning activities in short fun lessons.  They learn the basic commands such as sit, stay, come, and down.  It is a good place to socialize the pup as they learn skills such as behaving around strange people, strange dogs and going for car rides.  The instructors can also coach you on problem behaviors such as jumping up on people, barking, biting and chewing.  In this handout we have listed several good training schools in this area that provide these classes.  Be sure to frequent classes that promote positive reinforcement and motivational training rather than punishment.  Avoid choke collars and pinch collars as these are now considered outmoded training tools and rely too much on punishment to get your point across.  We recommend the Gentle leader head halter or a plain buckle collar, clicker training, and food rewards to help make learning fun and meaningful.  Above all, avoid training methods that involve physical discipline, such as swatting your pup or any type of hitting, kicking or yelling.

Teaching Good Manners

It is critical that a puppy learns good manners and accepts handling.  Many times, the owner relinquishes the right to this control inadvertently.  Signs of unacceptable behavior in puppies, such as growling, barking at people, guarding food or possessions, mounting people or resisting handling, should be addressed immediately.  Once established, these behaviors are difficult to reverse. 

Teach the puppy to relinquish items so that they can safely be taken away.  Praise the pup for non-aggression, give a food treat and return the items.  Do this periodically with toys and the food dish.  If the puppy growls, the item is not returned to it for at least five minutes.  This process is repeated until the pup no longer reacts aggressively.  Children in the family should practice this procedure under supervision, before the puppy becomes large enough to harm the child.

Engage the puppy in active play routinely.  Teach the pup to fetch and return objects.  Encourage the puppy to play with tug toys to channel excess energy.  Use food rewards for appropriate behaviors whenever training.  For example, before giving a treat, be sure the pup will perform a proper behavior such as sit. Do not allow the dog to solicit or demand attention by whining, barking, nudging or jumping up.

Teach your puppy to accept being held still.  Sit on the floor and place your puppy between your legs facing away from you.  Run one hand along your puppy’s back and tuck his/her bottom gently underneath to get the pup into the sitting position.  Hold your hands on the shoulders and loop your thumbs under the collar if needed to control wiggling.  Your puppy should stay sitting and only be released when calm and quiet. Start out by only holding this position long enough for your puppy to relax then release and it’s time for an immediate reward! Praise your puppy, play with a toy and/or give a treat. As the puppy begins to calmly accept this position you can gradually increase the amount of time you hold before releasing.  Do not use any commands during this exercise.  You may praise softly and quietly before you release the puppy.

Frequent clipping of the toenails will accustom the pup to having its feet handled.  Again, use food treats to reward good behavior like staying still and not biting.  Other helpful procedures include: grasping the puppy’s tail and moving it in different directions, opening the puppy’s mouth, manipulating the ears, applying a collar, and leading the puppy by holding the collar.  Although each of these activities lasts only a few seconds, they help the puppy become accustomed to its owner’s control.

Early Problem Behaviors

Nipping/Biting: Puppies bite in play.  This is a normal behavior and it is when the puppy learns how much jaw pressure is necessary to create pain.  Many owners endure bites by a pup’s needle-sharp deciduous teeth because “he’s just a puppy”, but this is not recommended or necessary.  When a puppy bites a littermate a yelp is elicited, play ceases, and the biting stops.  In effect, the littermate has said, “When you bite that hard, it hurts.”  Thus, a puppy can be discouraged from biting people by diverting its attention or stopping play.  If your puppy does not learn bite inhibition while young, it may be a potential “time bomb” and some stressful situation in the future may lead to a severe bite.

Chewing: This is absolutely a normal, healthy and important dog behavior.  Do not try to eliminate it.  Chewing should be directed to appropriate chew toys.  Dogs do not understand the concept of “valuable”; a wooden chair is a chew toy until proven otherwise.  Restrict your puppy’s access to anything you do not want chewed on until it is well trained.  We recommend Kong toys, rawhides, fuzzy stuffed toys, tennis balls or any of the thousands of safe chew toys currently marketed at your local pet store.  Your puppy should be supervised when chewing or playing with toys.  The Kong toy is one of the very few toys a puppy can be safely left alone with.

Housetraining: Puppies have small bladders and need to eliminate frequently. It is unacceptable and inhumane to crate your puppy for prolonged periods of time without bathroom breaks, exercise breaks and access to food and water.  If you must leave your puppy for more than two or three hours, set up a space that is large enough to have the crate (with the door open) and water dish at one end and a potty area at the other end.  

Use techniques based on a prevention of house-soiling and positive reinforcement, rather than punishment such as hitting the dog, throwing things at it, throwing it outside, or rubbing its nose in its errors.  These punishment techniques increase the likelihood of fear-induced aggression and have never been shown to be more effective than more humane and positive training. Please read the housetraining brochure that we have provided for all the details on training this very important behavior.

Separation anxiety prevention: Teach your puppy to stay alone without being fearful.  Begin by leaving the puppy alone in a room for a very short time.  Gradually increase the time and distance from you.  Begin to practice departures.  Leave for only very short periods of time.  If the puppy is not anxious, slowly increase the lengths of the departures.  Increase the duration of the absences randomly, so the puppy does not anticipate the return.  Keep departures and arrivals low key.  These procedures will teach the puppy to stay quietly in a crate, kennel or fenced yard.  Such skills are essential when the puppy cannot be supervised.  You should always leave behind a favorite, safe chew toy for the puppy to play with while you are gone (stuffed Kong toys are especially preferred).  

Crate acceptance: Teach your puppy that going to the crate is rewarding.  Place food treats in it periodically, allow your puppy to chew on its favorite toy only when in the crate and never use the crate for punishment.  Be sure the crate is moved to where people are in the house so that the puppy is not isolated from its family.  Only shut the door on the crate after the puppy has shown interest in and acceptance of the crate.  Try not to go too fast with this training as you do not want to create an aversion or fear of the crate.

Browse our Lending Library for a selection of books on puppy training, or contact one of the following organizations for dog training services. We only recommend training facilities that promote positive reinforcement and motivational training. Many of these facilities offer a wide variety of training opportunities beyond basic obedience skills.

Twin City Obedience Training Center – Minneapolis
Phone: 612-379-1332

Humane Society – Golden Valley & Coon Rapids

On the Run Canine Center – Ham Lake
Phone: 793-208-5025

Augusta Dog Training – in-home training
Phone: 952-914-0292

PetSmart – various locations

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