Puppy on leash

The best way to ensure that your puppy develops into a well-balanced adult dog is by teaching him some basic behaviors when he's young. But how do you know where to start and when to introduce a new behavior or command? When it comes to puppy training, it can be easy to get confused and overwhelmed.

Fortunately, Vetstreet is here to help. We've compiled a guide to the essential behaviors you need to teach during your puppy's first year, in chronological order. All of these behaviors can be taught during the main socialization period of 8 to 12 weeks when your puppy first comes home. But with the limited focus of a new puppy and the limited time of a new puppy parent, it’s helpful to focus on the essentials first and gradually add in new behaviors as your puppy grows.

8 to 12 Weeks

Teach him to be social. The most crucial element for ensuring a well-adjusted dog is to properly socialize your puppy during these early weeks. During this time, your puppy learns confidence and resiliency through exposure to new sights, sounds and sensations and through his interactions with the outside world. Introduce your puppy to new people and experiences during this time, but hold off on introductions to other dogs until your puppy has had the proper vaccinations and time to build up his immune system. Your veterinarian is the best person to tell you when your puppy is ready for social interactions with other dogs.

Teach him to like being touched. The more each part of your puppy's body is handled, especially sensitive areas like the ears, mouth and paws, the more comfortable he will become with being touched. It’s also important to practice handling and holding your dog so that he will learn to tolerate being lifted and restrained. This will make visits to the veterinarian and groomer easier for everyone, and your dog will be more likely to cooperate for nail trims, toothbrushing and ear cleanings.

Teach him to like his crate. Training your puppy to use a crate will make house-training much easier. Crates are also excellent tools for keeping your puppy from chewing inappropriate items and can help him learn to relax when he is separated from people. 

Teach him to spend time alone. Puppies need a lot of supervision, but they also need to learn to spend time alone. From an early age, give your puppy short periods of time alone in a crate or gated area to teach him to be comfortable and well behaved when people aren’t around.

Teach him his name. Before you can teach your dog to follow commands, he needs to recognize that you're talking to him. Teaching your puppy his name is important for getting his attention when you want to ask him to do something, such as sitting or coming to you.

Teach him to sit. Learning to sit will help your puppy stay calm in stressful or exciting situations. Teach your dog to sit when he meets new people during his socialization sessions and put a stop to jumping up before it ever starts.

Teach him to walk on a loose leash. Puppies aren't born knowing how to walk politely on a leash. Teach your puppy that pulling on the leash never lets him move forward and you’ll have a dog who walks peacefully at your side. 

Teach him to like the vet. Find a veterinarian who is invested in having a “fear-free practice,” one that focuses on lowering your pet's stress level while he's in the office. When your puppy goes in for immunizations, make positive rewards, such as bits of lean deli meat, part of the visit. If possible, take your puppy to the vet's office every so often just for a social visit — and a treat!

Teach him to share. Dogs naturally are inclined to guard cherished items, such as chew toys or food bowls, from potential threats, including people. To counter this instinct, teach your dog that when you come near his food bowl or take chews away from him, he will always get a better treat in return.

Teach him to play nicely. Puppy class is an essential place for socialization with other dogs; canines learn to understand the body language of other dogs and how to play properly with them. You can also organize play dates with other friendly puppies or playful adult dogs in safe areas, taking care to avoid high-traffic areas like the dog park

Teach him to come when called. Teach your puppy to come when asked. This is the behavior pet owners have the most difficult time with, but it's a potentially lifesaving command, meaning it’s essential to get it right from the beginning. 

Teach him to chew the right things. Rather than punishing your dog for chewing on the wrong items, such as furniture, teach him what items he should chew instead. And then provide him with appropriate chew toys, both around the house and in his crate.

13 to 16 Weeks

Teach him not to bite. Bite inhibition training can start when your puppy first comes home but is especially important during this time frame when the puppy shows more rambunctious play. Teaching bite inhibition in puppyhood is believed to be associated with less severe injury should a bite ever occur.

Teach him to target. In addition to teaching your puppy verbal commands, teach him to follow a target. You can use targeting to move your dog on and off furniture, to get him in and out of the car and even to politely greet new people. 

Teach him to drop it. Your puppy will pick up all sorts of things in his first year. Teaching your dog to let go of items in his mouth is very handy when he picks up something he shouldn’t have, whether it be a child’s toy or a chicken bone.

Teach him to like the bath. Teach your dog that baths and being groomed are not life-threatening events but can mean rewards during and after, which will mean less of a struggle to keep him in the bath or close by while being groomed. 

16 Weeks to 1 Year

Teach him to lie down. Training your pet to lie down on a specific area, such as a mat, can help him relax. It is also helpful for getting him to greet politely at the door, not bark at the doorbell and not beg at the table.

Teach him to stay. Stay is a foundation behavior for helping your dog remain in place when needed. It can be an important safety precaution and also teaches a dog to exhibit impulse control.

Teach him to leave it. You've taught your puppy to drop it, but now go further and teach him not to pick things up in the first place. The leave it command teaches a dog to walk away from potentially dangerous items, whether it be a pill that’s accidentally dropped or a half-eaten candy bar on the sidewalk.