These Are the Skills You Should Aim to Teach Your Dog During Their First Year of Life
Adopting a new pet is an exciting event for everyone in the family, but every puppy will need to be trained—as a new parent, you'll be responsible for everything from potty training to teaching your pup how to sit and stay. "Specifically for puppies, as soon as they're able to open their eyes and waddle around, pet parents can begin potty training," says Jodie Havens, CPDT-KSA, PetSmart's training expert. "It takes some puppies longer than others to master, so it's important to be consistent, use positive reinforcement, and be patient with your pet."
This all starts with your home environment. "For young puppies, the training focus should really be less on learning commands and more on ensuring that you are providing an environment that will lay the groundwork for proper socialization, good manners, and clear communication and boundaries," says Dr. Annie Valuska, Ph.D., senior feeding behavior expert at Purina. "The more people, places, and things a puppy is (safely) exposed to between eight and 16 weeks, the better! Puppies who learn that the world is a fun place—and that their human family is a safe base from which to explore it—tend to be easier to train as adults."
Every puppy is going to learn at a different pace. Some puppies will catch on to training faster than others, and it's okay if your puppy takes a longer time to grasp behaviors; these milestones are guidelines, not a strict set of rules. "If you've been working on training a behavior and it's just not sticking, take a step back: Can you break the behavior down into simpler steps? Are you communicating what you want clearly and consistently? Are you using the right reward or reinforcer?" says Dr. Valuska.
Seven to Eight Weeks Old
"Most puppies can learn basic training cues at this age and can even begin learning to walk on a leash," says Havens. "Pet parents can practice walking around the home and backyard until their pups have had their vaccinations."
Three to 12 Weeks Old
"It's important to socialize your pet when they're more accepting of new things, are fearless and willing to investigate their surroundings, and learn to form attachments to humans and other dogs," says Havens. "At this point in time, pet parents may also prefer to crate train their pet by rewarding them when they are in the crate or even near it. They can also feed meals in the crate, and generally make the create a fun and safe place."
And by eight weeks, puppies should learn not to bite inappropriately. Don't play hand games with them in which your hand is a prey target, and always have appropriate chew toys available, as well. "Plan your pup's exercise around times of high-energy and be sure to provide mentally challenging activities for you pup to stay occupied to prevent biting," she adds.
Six Months Old
"In general, by six months of age, puppies should play nicely with other dogs and people (which means understanding what 'no biting" means), be well on their way to house training, come when called, and wait politely before meals, play time, et cetera," says Dr. Valuska. "Even if they don't formally know 'come' or 'sit,' it's important that they're starting to work on their manners." Be patient with your pup if he or she doesn't learn as quickly as you'd like. Your goal should be to build trust with your puppy and then training will happen as you continue to work with your dog.
Six Months to One Year Old
By the time your puppy reaches the one-year mark, you should have built that trust and begin seeing the results of your training efforts. "Your solid foundation should pay off, and you can further hone some basic obedience, such as loose leash walking, 'sit,' 'down,' 'stay,' 'drop it,' and 'leave it,'" Dr. Valuska says. "Much like how starting your puppy off with great nutrition promotes growth into a healthy, strong adult, taking steps now to teach your puppy what is expected of them and what they can expect from the world around them sets them on the path toward maturing into a confident, happy, well-mannered dog!"