When Should You Start Training Your Puppy? The Age For Best Results
Bringing a new puppy into your home is always an exciting event. But it can also be quite stressful, especially if it’s your first puppy ever. No matter how prepared you think you are, new questions just keep on popping up. One of those questions is the issue of training.
Today, we’ll go over the basics of puppy training for new pet parents starting with the most basic question: when to start training your puppy.
When to Start Puppy Training: The Complete Answer
So at what age should you start training your puppy? The answer is simple: as soon as possible. Puppies usually get separated from their mothers and moved into their permanent homes at around 8 weeks of age, and this is as good a time as any to start with training.
At 8 weeks of age, your new puppy might appear very tiny and silly. How can you expect this tiny fluff ball to understand rules and respect your commands? Well, it turns out, you can, in a way. At this stage of development, puppies are learning about the world around them. With your help, they can learn how to behave in the right way.
Tips for Early Puppy Training
So, we’ve established it’s best to start with training as soon as a puppy enters your home. But how exactly does one do that? These are some basic tips for starting a training routine with your new pup:
Set Realistic Expectations
Yes, it’s never too early to start training your puppy, but try not to expect too much. A two-month-old puppy can learn a lot, but not all puppies learn at the same pace. Some are more focused than others; some are more stubborn than others; some puppies tend to be hyperactive and others are calmer.
The most important thing on your side is to stay consistent. Keep repeating the same cues and reinforcements, no matter how frustrating it might get. Arm yourself with patience and take it slow.
Use Positive Reinforcement
There are multiple schools of thought when it comes to dog training, but positive reinforcement training is the most widely accepted and the most humane option (and it’s backed by science) (2).
While we do recommend you read up more on the basics of puppy training, this is the gist of it: use rewards to encourage the behaviour you want to see from your puppy. No, you don’t need to assert dominance and you don’t need to yell at your puppy or use harsh punishment methods.
Related: Clicker Training In 5 Easy Steps.
At times, it might feel very difficult to stick to positive reinforcement but keep at it. Punishing your pup can backfire and lead to a grown dog full of fear and anxiety. Getting your puppy used to positive reinforcement training while they are young can prove quite beneficial later in life:
“Be super generous with rewards with a young puppy because, as the puppy matures, environmental distractions will become more interesting, and it’s helpful for the puppy to have a strong history of finding you rewarding.” - Stephanie Colman for Whole Dog Journal (3)
Keep The Training Sessions Short & Sweet
Young dogs are like small children: they have short attention spans and they get tired easily. This is why it’s important to keep the training sessions short with young puppies.
When you set out to teach a basic cue to your pup, like “sit”, for example, choose a time when your puppy is well rested and in a good mood. Try to practice for only 5 minutes at a time at first. Having short training sessions frequently is always more effective than one long training session.
Expose Your Puppy to Different Environments
Exploring different environments is very interesting for puppies. It also makes them distracted. It’s quite common for young pups to appear perfectly trained while at home, and seemingly forget everything as soon as you take them to the park.
That’s why it’s important to start exposing your puppy to different environments as soon as possible. You might want to wait with meeting other dogs until your puppy has had all the necessary shots, but it’s not too early for them to meet the world. Exposure to different surroundings like your yard, the street, or the park will help your puppy feel more comfortable in the world later. By training your puppy in different environments, you are helping make them confident in new situations.
What Should Puppy Training Include?
One thing that new pet parents often ask is - what is the first thing you should teach your puppy? Well, there is no magic answer to this question.
We’d like to encourage you not to make a checklist of things your puppy needs to learn and start trying to teach them one by one. Rather, think about the different parts of training a puppy needs to go through and try to work on them slowly, but consistently.
In short, these are the basic things puppy training must include (in no particular order, they are all important)
Basic cues are always a good place to start. Every dog needs to know how to respond to basic commands like “come”, “sit”, “down”, “leave it”, or “stay”. As soon as your new puppy arrives, you can start with a short training session to try and teach those cues - using lots of treats, of course.
Potty Training & House Training
The best time to start teaching a puppy about the rules of their new home is as soon as they arrive. This makes much more sense than letting puppies do whatever they want while they are young and trying to correct the behaviour later.
Related: Best Dog Grass Toilets.
Gently start showing your puppy around the house and showing which things are allowed and which are not (like climbing on the bed, for example). Try to show the puppy where the appropriate area to go potty is. They might not get it immediately, but starting early is always good.
Early socialisation is incredibly important for the life of a puppy. You don’t have to do anything special, just try to expose your pup to as many different surroundings, people, and animals (once they have the necessary shots) as possible. This will help the puppy build confidence and the ability to adapt to different situations.
Crate training is not a must, but many dog behaviourists and experienced pet parents recommend it. If you’re going to crate train your puppy, you might as well start immediately. What you’ll want to do is gently introduce your pup to the crate, without trying to force anything.
Your pup might not be ready for outdoor walks just yet, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start leash training. After all, that’s a necessary skill for any dog. To give your pup an early start on the leash training, simply start by letting them wear a collar or a harness for a couple of minutes each day. Then, you can gradually increase the time and start slowly introducing the lead.
Is It Ever Too Late to Start Training a Puppy?
It’s never too late to start training a dog. The old adage “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is simply not true. However, this doesn’t mean that you should wait to start training your puppy.
Related: Best Dog Training Books.
Starting the training while the dog is young has a myriad of benefits. When you start early, you are teaching proper behaviour right from the beginning, rather than trying to correct nasty habits.
However, if that’s not an option - don’t be discouraged. Older puppies, and even adult dogs, can be trained, but the process can be much more difficult.
- Loos, S. July 30, 2020. “How to Start Training Your Puppy”. PetMD. Retrieved June 6, 2022. https://www.petmd.com/dog/training/when-start-training-puppy
- Gibeault, S. June 16, 2021. “Positive Reinforcement Dog Training: The Science Behind Operant Conditioning”. AKC. Retrieved June 6, 2021. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/operant-conditioning-the-science-behind-positive-reinforcement-dog-training/
- Coleman, S. March 20, 2020. “Give Your Puppy a Smart Start”. Whole Dog Journal. Retrieved June 6, 2022. https://www.whole-dog-journal.com/training/give-your-puppy-a-smart-start/