9 Most Important Cues to Teach Your Puppy ASAP
Awwwww Puppies!!! Bringing a puppy home is always an exciting adventure!
There are a few things that you should begin teaching your puppy as soon as possible!
Years ago, many trainers didn’t recommend obedience training for puppies until they are over 6 months old.
Why would anyone wait that long for obedience training?
Because many of these trainers used compulsive methods!
And, yanking, yelling at or otherwise correcting a puppy that is under 6 months old is not recommended.
I say skip the compulsion all together!
You may begin training puppies pretty much as soon as their eyes open, if you are doing it with positive reinforcement.
So there is no harm in training your puppy right away (though, I don’t recommend getting puppies until after they are 8 weeks old, they need to learn from their mother and their littermates!)
And, here are a few training cues that you can get started with right away, to get your puppy started off on the right paw!
#1 – Clicker Game
The very first thing I teach my new puppy is the clicker game.
I load the clicker by clicking and rewarding with a yummy piece of food.
The clicker should be the backbone of your training and it will be a great bridge for your communication.
Clickers are also very easy to condition when you begin with young puppies!
#2 – Name Recognition
Your puppy doesn’t know what name you have picked for him, so you need to positively condition it so he can learn and have good feelings when he hears his name.
I begin by saying my puppy’s name and giving him a reward.
My female dog’s name is “Fury” so whenever I say Fury, I either give or toss her a treat.
She doesn’t necessarily have to come racing over to me (like the recall or come command) but I certainly want her to take notice and I won’t mind if she comes to me.
By tossing a treat it allows her to stay wherever she is and by handing her a treat it encourages her to be with me.
I carry a treat pouch and reward my new puppy often; because there are many things for my new puppy to learn.
#3- Leash & Collar Acceptance
Many puppies come to their owners having never worn a leash or a collar (good breeders will already have conditioned this).
I, of course, start with a collar lightly placed on my puppy’s neck.
I don’t want it to be too tight, but I also don’t want it so loose that a back foot could get stuck in it or it would fall off or get stuck on something else.
If the puppy is uncomfortable, I reward with a treat and click each time I put the collar on his neck.
The same principle hold true for getting him used to his leash.
Don’t put it on him and drag him around… that isn’t a fun way to learn about a leash.
Instead put his leash on and let him drag it about the house, but make sure that you keep an eye on him so that he doesn’t get caught on anything!
#4 – Come
I think this is the MOST IMPORTANT cue in any puppy training program.
Your dog can heel flawlessly and do back somersaults, but if he doesn’t come when called, his life may get cut short.
It is imperative that this cue or command has positive connotations.
If you punish your dog when he comes or you do negative things to him for coming to you, you will undermine this command and ruin your dog’s training.
So make it FUN!
Call your dog to COME and run backwards.
Click and reward as he chases you.
Have a family member drag your puppy away from you (yes, make it a bit dramatic) then call your dog’s name and tell him to come.
He should tear away from the other person and come running full force to you!
Always praise him when you call him and make it sound like you are having a party.
Praise him and encourage him on the way.
As he is coming, you can add more fun by running away from him; this adds excitement!
Always, always, always make this cue fun and rewarding.
His life may depend on it some day!
#5 – Crate Games
I begin crate training the day my new puppies come home.
I also have several crates.
I keep one in my bedroom next to my bed so that I can hear my puppy stir at night and get him outside.
And, I keep one in my living room or somewhere that is central to living my life where my puppy can be crated while I am at home and while I leave.
I sometimes even have a crate in a more secluded area like the basement or the garage where I can put a puppy that is screaming or throwing a fit and allow him to have his temper tantrum.
After all, even if you do all the right things, temper tantrums and crate squealing is going to happen.
The important thing is that you play crate games.
And you make sure to work on your crate training while you are home during the day.
If you only crate your puppy when you leave and at night, he is going to struggle with the crate.
If however, you crate him for 5 minutes here and 20 minutes there while you are home and doing other life things he learns to accept the crate more easily because he may only be in there for a short time.
Otherwise he knows he will be in there for hours, and that his quiet behavior won’t help him to escape.
Instead teach him to be quiet and release him for good behavior when you are home.
#6 – Sit
Sit is probably the first real command or cue most people teach their puppies.
It is easily lured with a treat above the puppy’s nose to encourage his rump to hit the floor.
Click and reward when his butt goes down.
I also like to use my puppy’s food dish and only set the bowl down if he can sit and wait patiently.
This is a great thing to teach a new puppy.
Impulse control is critical for a well behaved puppy!
#7 – Down
I also like to encourage my puppies to lie down.
I actually prefer this behavior to almost any other behavior.
My dogs and puppies are taught that if they really want something, they should lie down.
I can lure this behavior by taking a treat, getting my puppy to sit and then lowering the treat in between his legs, a little bit in toward his body and then a little bit outward until his elbows hit the ground.
However, the greater way to teach this behavior is to capture it.
Rewarding a behavior that is already happening is a stronger way to train. And, let’s face it, all dogs lay down, eventually.
If you reward your dog or your puppy for choosing to lay down (instead of him waiting for you to lure the behavior) he will choose to lay down often!
And, in my opinion, laying down is a fabulous choice behavior.
If in doubt, lay down! There is so little naughty you can choose when you are in a “down” 😉
#8 – Leave It
Ohhhhh, the “leave it” command!
This one, too, is a life saver.
I personally don’t want to grab someone’s used underwear or sock out of my dog’s mouth while we are one a walk.
I also don’t want him to snatch up Tylenol or cold medication if it hits the ground.
Leave It, literally will save your dog’s life.
It is also a game of some impulse control.
And, it is critical for puppies to learn to control their impulses if they don’t they are literally like spoiled children who learn to reward themselves!
My dog needs to learn to leave things, even if he wants them.
#9 – Watch Me
If I reward my dog for looking at me it takes away the option for a lot of naughty behavior that I don’t ever want to start.
It also rewards my dog for looking to me before he engages in any behavior.
It makes me, “the apple of his eye” and places him in or around “heel position”.
You see, you can’t walk with me and give me eye contact if you are too far in front of or too far behind me.
So, by default it teaches him to not pull on lead and to stay close to your body.
Is it easy to teach a dog to heel along side you with eye contact and focus?
But, it is soooooooo worth it!
The truth is, that your puppy is a pliable piece of art when he comes home.
What you choose to reward from the behaviors that he offers you, will shape his future.
And, if you don’t work with him and reward him… he will find his own ways to reward himself which is often behaviors that are less than choice.
Either way, your dog will learn what feels best and what he should do behaviorally; it is much better if you are shaping those behaviors that he chooses!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.