How and When to Start Puppy Training at Home
You’ve just brought home a new puppy! You’re picturing for them a long, happy life filled with love. There’s no reason you can’t give them that. You’ll just need consistent puppy training so they will stay safe and fit in with your family.
With a puppy, you have the advantage of working with almost a blank slate. You can teach how you expect them to behave early in their lives, and you can influence their early physical and mental development. They will not have to unlearn bad habits. Your training will become the dog’s normal way to behave because they will not have learned any other way.
One thing you may have working against you, though, is the cuteness! Let’s face it; puppies are cute. It’s their little faces, that feeble attempt at a howl that doesn’t quite come out right, the running around with items that don’t belong to them.
You must be brave. What’s cute when they’re a puppy isn’t cute at all when they’re a 165-pound adult. You don’t want to chase down and tackle the dog to get that wedding gift from your grandmother out of their mouth. Don’t let them do anything as a puppy that you don’t want them to do as an adult. They should start learning as soon as they are mentally capable.
Let’s look at a puppy’s development and what training they can handle. Are you wondering at what age puppy training can start at home? The age they are when you first bring them home.
0 to 7 Weeks
Training by Mom
This is when the puppy needs to be with their mother and littermates. Mom is the first trainer, teaching basic dog behavior, language, and manners. They learn socialization through play with their siblings. Puppies taken away too soon are likely to develop behavior problems, such as aggression, trouble housetraining, and separation anxiety.
Bonding with You
After seven weeks, the puppy is mentally capable of interacting and bonding with human dog parents. Their brain is fully developed neurologically, and it is safe to leave the mother. In fact, if they remain longer with her, it will become more and more difficult to bond with and accept training from humans once they do leave.
What they learn from people this early in life makes an incredibly lasting impression. Training now sets a foundation for what to expect from the human family when they’re older.
7 to 12 Weeks
What a puppy learns at this stage will be retained for life. Your puppy needs a lot of interaction with other dogs and people. Dogs are naturally social, and lack of interaction leads to fear, anxiety, and even aggression later on. The puppy should be exposed to different types of people and situations as much as possible—children, adults, males and females, people of varying sizes. The dog can learn to meet new people calmly. You can introduce your puppy to riding in the car and visiting new places.
It’s also important to give your dog opportunities to meet and socialize with other dogs. Meeting friends’ dogs, the crew at the dog park, and others at obedience training can all be positive experiences for your dog and build confidence.
At this stage, you can begin teaching your dog simple commands like “Sit,” “Stay,” and “Leave it.” And if your puppy has started following you around the house, encourage it! That will make it easier to teach the come command.
Your puppy will be physically ready for housetraining between three and four months. For successful training, we recommend using a crate for confinement (dogs will not soil their dens) and a consistent puppy training schedule for feeding and exercise. For detailed housetraining instructions, see our book, Dog Training for Dummies, by Jack and Wendy Volhard.
Some other essential things for your puppy to learn at this stage include:
- Recognizing their name
- Getting used to wearing a training collar and other gear
- Learning to accept grooming activities
Fear Imprint Period
This is also a time where anything frightening leaves a particularly lasting impression. Whenever possible, be on the lookout for anything potentially frightening and protect your dog from it. If possible, distract them from something frightening with a toy or treat or associate the frightening thing with something positive to gradually reduce and eliminate the fear response. Make sure your training emphasizes rewarding good behavior rather than punishing the bad.
Beyond 12 Weeks
At this point, your adolescent dog realizes that there is a world beyond your house. They may be more inclined to wander and explore, and they may not be quite so willing to listen to you. This is the time to keep them on a leash or in a confined area until you’ve trained them to come when called.
Call them a few times throughout the day and have a treat for them after they answer and come to you. Don’t chase them if you need to retrieve them from their wanderings. Instead, call them, get them to chase you, or act like you found something interesting to them. If you approach them, remain calm and take hold of their collar.
This is also the chewing phase. Put important and valuable things out of reach and have chew toys readily available. You can’t stop the need to chew, but you can control what they get their teeth on. You may need to crate them when you’re gone for short periods.
4 Months to 2 Years
Adolescence will hit your dog sometime within this time frame (earlier for smaller dogs, later for large breeds). Congratulations, you now have a hormonal teenager. Your dog may start trying to dominate other dogs, stop listening to you, and become difficult to handle. It’s time to step up the training and provide reminders that you are in charge. Teaching some puppy training basic commands such as “Come,” “Down,” “Heel,” “Leave It,” “Place,” “Sit,” “Stay,” and “Stand” will keep you in control.
A Parting Reminder
Puppyhood is a great time to get your dog. You have opportunities to deeply imprint good socialization and behavior habits. Most puppies have a vast capacity to learn quickly, and as you take over from their mother the responsibility of training, you will develop a strong bond with your new family member.
Learn how to train your puppy well, and you will give them skills that will keep them safe, healthy, and happy!