New Beginnings

3 Things to Teach a New Puppy

Getting a new puppy? How exciting!  When I ask people what goals they have with their puppy, most respond with a list of obedience behaviours. I view puppy training as an opportunity to prevent future issues and to lay the foundation for our relationship. 

A brown doberman puppy standing in a cardboard box looking at the camera.

When you first bring your puppy home, house training will rank at the top of the list as will simply letting puppy settle in and get to know everyone in the house and get comfortable in his new environment with his new routines.

Very soon, you can begin some more focused training and these are 3 of the things I recommend putting high on your list of skills to work on with your puppy.

Settle – teach your puppy to busy themselves. 

A puppy relaxing his bed inside a metal exercise pen.Begin when puppy has toileted and is sleepy. Put puppy in a confinement area like a pen or behind a baby gate and give them several treat dispensing toys, chew items and water. Use a cue like “I’m busy”, then remove yourself from the confinement area. 

Sit just outside the area and gradually build up the distance you can move away.  Next, begin going in and out of sight for just seconds at a time. After only a few seconds of confinement to start, give a cue like “All done” and let them out for a potty break and some time with you.  Once puppy seems comfortable with you at a distance and out of sight, you can gradually increase the time for each. 

If they cry or fuss, you must return to them and start again. Don’t let them “cry it out”.  This is the beginning of your relationship with your dog. They need to know you provide safety and comfort and are there for them. If they aren’t yet able to handle you being out of sight, work more slowly and gradually.  

Give them a few more toys to work on, wait for them to get engaged and then give your “I’m busy” cue and move a few steps away but still within sight. Come back while they’re still engaged with their toys to check in, give another toy and move away again.  Let them out with your “all done” cue after a very brief time in confinement. Spend as much time as it takes to help them get past that first in sight and out of sight hurdle with very brief seconds of alone time.

If you have a more confident puppy and they’re happily working on their toys while you’re out of sight, you can begin to up the time away minutes at a time.  However, ensure you include lots of random brief alone time, too, so the training doesn’t always feel like it’s always getting harder and they’re always left alone longer.

Trade – teach your puppy to give things up happily.

Dogs to not understand “ownership”.  Anything your puppy picks up becomes theirs. Do not simply take things away.  Trade for anything your puppy has that you need back, and puppy gets to determine the trade value!  Add to that handful of treats until your puppy happily drops what they have. This is a critical transaction that sets your puppy up for prevention of future resource guarding issues. 

A brown doberman puppy lying on a mat outside chewing on a toy.The most important point: the puppy gets to determine the trade value!  

If you offer a piece of roast beef and puppy won’t drop your shoe, add more pieces of roast beef to the pile until he happily drops the shoe and you can easily pick it up.  Don’t try the quick snatch and then toss the treat far away - it won’t work twice and your puppy may very well begin running away when you approach.  This is the opposite of what we need to achiever.  We want puppies to happily anticipate people approaching and an opportunity to get a treat not a reason to feel the need to defend their possessions.

Some exercises to work on at meal times

You can break your puppy’s meal portion into several smaller amounts and use that to bolster your resource guarding prevention.  Here is a video of puppy Jack eating from a slow feeder bowl while his caregiver is periodically approaching and adding more food to his feeder before it gets empty.  What hungry growing puppy wouldn’t want more and more food being delivered?!

Here’s another video with puppy Jack getting a raw bone for the first time.  While he is working on the bone, his caretaker is approaching and tossing very yummy bits of roast chicken and cheese to him while he works on the bone.  You can see that he can very quickly come off the bone to eat the extra treats and even look up to see if more is coming when his name is called.  This exercise continues to build on the concept that the approach of people means good things are coming.

Recall – come when you’re called.

In the initial stages of training, work in environments with no extra distractions like in your living room.  Have your puppy on leash if you there’s any chance they will wander off.

Begin with puppy right in front of you, give your cue and immediately feed puppy a treat.  I like to use a unique sounding cue – a different word or a whistle that will catch their attention.  Next, take a step away, give your cue and feed puppy several treats when they move toward you. Be extraordinarily generous with your treats. Repeat 10 times then cue “All done”, and toss a treat a few steps away to end the session. Do this a few times throughout the day, in the house, without distractions.  To support your recall, praise and treat your puppy anytime they show up beside you without being called.  This will build and shape the behaviour of regularly checking in as well as coming when called.  Do this throughout the day at home.

Keep training sessions under a minute and do a few repetitions a day. Be proactive - when you’re not training, set your puppy up for success by managing their environment.  Don’t have your puppy off leash in a new environment or one that isn’t safely contained until they’re really good at their recall.

Here are a couple of fun exercises to use to practice recalls with your puppy:

In the video below, we are simply practicing tossing a treat away and then cueing our recall and rewarding with lots and lots of treats for only a few steps away! Work in a contained area at first so you can easily ensure success.

Next Steps

Think about all the things you want to do with your puppy throughout their lifetime.  Have a family meeting and make a list!

Direct your training efforts toward what they need to learn to live their best life with you. Everyone’s list will be different. 

Check in with me for a puppy class and continue reading my blog for more puppy articles!