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When to Start Teaching Puppy Commands: The Puppy Training Plan

Puppy starts learning commands

When Should You Start Teaching Your Puppy Obedience Commands?

Wait Until Eight Weeks or Older to Bring Your Puppy Home
Some of the most important lessons your puppy will learn are taught to them by their litter mates during their seventh week of life.  They are learning important social skills, including bite inhibition, dominance and submission as well as social rank. Litter mates will quickly let each other know when they are taking things too far or playing too roughly. Soft tempered puppies learn coping skills for dealing with dominant dogs. This can be a life saving skill for a puppy entering a home with an established, dominant dog already in residence. Only after they are 8 weeks old, are ready to leave the den and begin a new journey of bonding and learning the manners that will make them your indispensible, faithful companions.

Your First Day Home With Your Puppy
Prior to bringing your puppy home, your breeder will probably have already begun teaching them some basic commands, such as "here" or "come" at feeding time in addition to the ubiquitous "No!" As soon as you bring your puppy home, he is ready to begin learning basic obedience commands, but wait until day two to start your basic obedience training. Being on his or her own for the first time is an overwhelming life change. Give your puppy time to explore his new surroundings and time to rest from the mental and emotional challenges of the first day.

Keep in mind that for very young puppies, eight weeks to six months, there will be a special training schedule (which we discuss below) that you should adhere to when you start to teach your puppy new commands.

teaching your puppy the command, down.
Border Collie Puppy Learning the Down Command

Your Puppy's First Night Home - Time to Start Crate Training

We highly recommend crate training your puppy, and the first evening home is the best time to begin. Crate training not only protects your valuables when you are unable to pay attention to the puppy's activities, it also provides a safe harbor for your companion once he is acclimated to the crate.

Additionally, many competitive obedience trainers crate their dogs for 20-30 minutes following each training session. This gives the puppy or dog a chance to think about and review the lessons of the day. These timeouts to reflect on the day's lesson greatly accelerate the training process. (to learn more about quick and painless crate training click here.)

How To Begin Teaching Basic Commands to Young Puppies

These simple rules, consistently applied, will have your puppy well trained with minimal time invested. Overdoing the training, by working him more than two sessions a day, can create nervousness in puppies. One session a day is enough to quickly progress through the training schedule. Keep in mind, they are babies, and the training should always be fun. Take care to stop before the dog becomes bored, and you become frustrated.

  • Set aside 10-15 minutes a day for training every day.
  • New skills should be taught in a quiet place with few to no distractions.
  • Be consistent in your commands and markers (clicker or word markers such as "yes" or "good" are used to mark the correct behavior as soon as it is offered by the puppy).
  • Use soft, bite-sized treats for rewards. Large, hard to chew treats distract the puppy and slow down the lesson.
  • Once your puppy has acquired several skills, mix them up within the new skills training to prevent boredom, reinforce previous lessons and allow the puppy to feel successful throughout each training session.
  • Always end on a positive note where the dog has performed a new or older command correctly.
  • Celebrate the end of the lesson with a phrase like "Free Dog," and play for a few minutes - tug or retrieve.
  • Give your puppy 10-15 minutes crate time to think about the lesson immediately after training followed by playtime.
When to Start training Puppies

Puppy Teething Phase and Training

At approximately 13 weeks of age, your puppy will begin cutting its adult teeth.  During this phase your puppy may become restless and irritable; gums will be inflamed and the puppy may at time be feverish. If it seems your puppy has turned into a gremlin, don't lose hope!  

Keep in mind that teething time is not a good time to work on any advanced training lessons.  Both you and your puppy are likely to become frustrated. To learn more about soothing your puppy's teething phase click here.

Use this time to reinforce the lessons you have already learned, and to begin lots of socialization exercises. Take your puppy with you on outings whenever possible.  Headed to Home Depot? Their landscape department is pet friendly, and so are many of the customers. Puppy manners classes are a good idea at this time for socializing with other young dog breeds.

Consider Enrolling in the AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy Program

You may want to enroll your puppy in the new AKC S.T.A.R. (Socialization, Training, Activity, Responsibility) puppy training program. This is a certification that lays the groundwork for the AKC CGC title (Canine Good Citizen). 

Owners learn their responsibilities, as well as recommend exercise levels and activities for their breed. Puppies learn to be handled by strangers, groomed, walked calmly on lead in a straight line as well as with other puppies as distractions.  Puppies are socialized and tested and even learnt to give up their favorite toy on command.

The S.T.A.R. Program as well as the CGC certification can be especially important for breeds that have reputations as being aggressive or bully breeds.  Pit bull owners as well as owners of breeds like the Rottweiler may find that this certification can allay some of their new acquaintances fears of their breed, and in the case of a bite incident (whether accidental or provoked) these certifications may prove useful in dog court. You will be recognized as a responsible dog owner, and your dog will have demonstrated good canine socialization skills.

Keep in mind with your new puppy, that you will only get out of your puppy what you put into him. Training that allows your puppy to know his boundaries will make for a long life of companionship and unconditional love!

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