Updated: Dec 28, 2022
When Can I start Training my Puppy?
The short answer to the question is: as soon as you bring them home! While we want to keep training very simple at first an 8 week old puppy is absolutely capable of learning basic behaviors and manners right away. In fact I typically start teaching a puppy within minutes of bringing them to the home. The sooner you begin training the sooner you can start taking advantage of the incredible bond that teaching your puppy can bring.
Puppies can learn very quickly but also grow bored or distracted just as quickly - so keep those first training sessions really short. No more than 5 minutes and always end while the pup is still having fun. Keep it positive and playful!
What do I teach my Puppy First?
While there is no definitive right answer for this I do have a personal preference based on my own experiences: Touch or "targeting". I like to begin by teaching the puppy to bop my hand with their nose on cue.
There are a few reasons I love to go with this one first:
It reinforces the puppy coming close to me
It helps the puppy get used to having their face touched
It is easy to teach and lets the puppy start training with an "easy win"
It is a simple teaching process that shows the puppy what training looks like
Puppies LOVE IT!
If you are looking for other ideas for early behaviors to teach your puppy check out my 12 Basic Behaviors for a good foundation.
How do I Teach my Puppy?
There are lots of ways to teach puppies in a fun and positive manner but I will go over a basic method for teaching the Touch behavior right now for you. This method uses a technique called "Luring". You will just need your puppy and a few small smelly treats. This is best started in a low distraction environment.
Place a treat in an open hand between your fingers and hold it down close for your puppy to get
When your puppy is "Lured" to your hand and you feel their mouth trying to get the treat say "yes!" and let go of their reward
Repeat a few times
When they seem to get the pattern try the same hand motion but without a treat in it. If they touch your hand with their nose say "yes!" and give them a treat. If they do not just go back to Step 1.
Repeat a few times, if they aren't getting it just go back a step.
When they are consistently responding to the hand sign we can add a Cue. Start saying "Touch" right before putting your hand down but continue otherwise as before.
Once they are responding to the Cue start practicing this in more distracting environments.
Keep the sessions very short. It's ok if you don't get all the way through this process in the first one.
Robin Wong is a certified dog trainer, a graduate of the Victoria Stilwell Academy, and the father of a Boerboel / Ridgeback mix named Nana. He founded Holy Sit to provide premium positive dog training in London Ont.