It’s exciting to welcome a young dog into your life, but you’re probably wondering about when to start training your puppy and the right order to introduce new experiences and skills. We’ve worked with Petplan’s animal behaviourist Nick Jones, to devise a puppy training timeline for your new pet.
Effective puppy training is all about positive reinforcement - rewarding the behaviour you want with food, play, praise and affection, and ignoring any undesirable behaviour. Punishing a puppy tends to be counterproductive and can damage the dog-owner bond. So keep your commands calm and clear, set consistent behaviour boundaries, and make sure everyone in your household does the same.
The first 8 weeks: Early foundations
For the first eight weeks of life, your puppy needs to stay with their mother and littermates. This gives a dog the best possible start, with plenty of nutritious milk and guidance from mum, as well as key socialisation time with their littermates.
Find out from your puppy’s breeder or rescue centre what sort of training your new pet has had during these early weeks, so you understand the foundation you’re building on and any gaps that need filling. What routine is your puppy used to? Have they had plenty of human contact and handling? Have they experienced travelling in the car and physical examinations by the vet?
8 to 10 weeks: The basics
When you first bring your new puppy home, have a few days when you can give them plenty of attention and focus on their needs. Handle them frequently, introduce them to the family and help them get to know their new home.
‘Start as you mean to continue,’ advises Petplan behaviourist Nick Jones. ‘I place an emphasis on appropriate behaviour as soon as a dog enters my home. It’s not training as such at this stage, but more introducing the puppy to the household and installing the basics.’
Those basics include toilet training your puppy, good mealtime manners and sleep habits, and basic commands such as ‘sit’, ‘stay’ and ‘down’. This is also the time to familiarise your new puppy with their lead and collar, start crate training (if you’re using one), and get them accustomed to household noises like the vacuum cleaner and hairdryer.
‘From 8 to 14 weeks is the key socialisation period, when the brain is maturing. That’s when you want to be making lots of positive introductions to people, animals and situations,’ says Nick. ’Even at eight weeks old, a dog is pretty sharp. They’re motivated by food and praise, and will do pretty much anything for you.’
Puppies need a lot of sleep – as much as 20 hours a day at eight weeks old. Don’t attempt to start training a puppy new skills when they’re tired or hungry, and try not to overwhelm or overstimulate them.
10 to 12 weeks: The outside world
By 10 weeks old, your puppy should have a consistent routine and rules at home. These might include not jumping up, not biting when playing, and always sleeping in their bed or crate. Get them used to spending some time alone too, starting with a few minutes and building up to an hour or more.
Although your unvaccinated puppy is too young to go to the park or woods, you can introduce them to new experiences in the safety of your garden or other people’s homes, as long as there’s no other unvaccinated dogs around. Try going out in the wind or rain, or meeting a child or cat for the first time.
This is also the time to get your puppy more used to walking on the lead and bring in additional commands such as ‘heel’ and ‘fetch’.
12 to 16 weeks: Puppy training classes
By 12 weeks old, your puppy should have had a full course of vaccinations, so you can start venturing out together. Introduce them to a wide range of different environments and experiences: public transport and parks; shopping streets and the seaside. If you regularly need to take your dog into a strange environment like a bus or a lift, start while they’re young.
Once your puppy is fully vaccinated and you have the go-ahead from your vet, you can also join a puppy training class. These are not only helpful to build on training, they can also be great opportunities for socilisation with other dogs and people. Good classes can be extremely popular, so it’s worth booking early.
At around three to four months, your puppy’s adult teeth will be coming through. Don’t tolerate biting during play even when they’re experiencing teething discomfort.
16 weeks plus: Advanced training
Age four to six months is when to start training a puppy with some more advanced skills. You could try teaching them to retrieve an object and drop it on demand, or begin dog agility training with tunnels and hurdles.
‘Every dog is an individual and their capabilities and behaviours vary massively depending on their age, breed and background,’ says Nick. ’If you’re struggling with any aspect of dog training, reach out for professional help. Behaviourists like me are likely to have seen most puppy behaviours and we’re used to dealing with the more difficult situations.’
Let us know what training goal you’re working towards with your puppy, by using #PethoodStories on social media.