Puppy Training Tips

By: Jennifer Posern, LVT

El Paso, TX

Published October 2014

You and your new puppy are finally home. You have a new collar and leash, a cute tag, abundant puppy food, a soft bed and chew toys. Your bundle of fur is sleeping off his first exam and the vaccines that you got him at your veterinarian. Now what?

You really get to know your new best friend—and he may surprise you.

The unprepared puppy owner finds that their initial dreams of snuggling, long walks and adorable tricks quickly dissolve into the reality of accidents in the house, teeth marks everywhere and some not-so-cute tricks. So let’s talk about what to expect.

A favorite saying goes, “It is what it is, but it will become what you make it.” I don’t know who said it, and chances are they weren’t talking about puppies, but it is the best summation I have ever heard of what it’s like to get a new puppy.

Puppies “are what they are,” in that there are some challenges that can be expected when bringing one into your family. They use the bathroom when (and where!) they want to, chew whatever looks tasty, cry when they’re upset and sleep wherever they run out of energy. Fortunately those behaviors can be changed with proper training and realistic expectations. Let’s address some common problems and fixes.

Problem: Accidents in the house

Training Tip: Set up for success and allow time for growth

Your puppy will likely need to go to the bathroom after every meal and every time he wakes up. To be forewarned is to be forearmed, so keep a close eye on him and do your best to get him to where you want him to eliminate at the appropriate time. You will not succeed every time, but every time you do should be a big deal. Every time your puppy goes where you want, you should reward the behavior and show the puppy that he did a good job. There should be a happy dance, cheers of “What a good puppy!” and a reward (treat or playtime). If you catch him in the act in an inappropriate place, start with a stern “No!” and then carry him to where he should be eliminating. If he finishes the job where he should, reward! If you find the evidence but don’t catch him in the act, give no reaction; your puppy will not associate punishment with the act. This method of training takes time and commitment on your part but will produce good results.

Problem: Chewing

Training Tip: Time, change and redirection

All puppies chew to relieve discomfort as they lose baby teeth and grow adult ones, just like human babies. In most cases, time will see them outgrow the need to chew constantly. Once their adult teeth are in, they are happy with an occasional chew toy. Others may need to chew as an outlet for energy. Discourage destructive chewing by first making some changes in your environment. Remove temptation (e.g., put the shoes in the closet), and make appropriate alternatives available (e.g., safe chew toys in every room). Finally, redirect your puppy’s behavior if you catch him chewing. Use a stern “No!” and then take away whatever you don’t want him chewing on. Replace it with an appropriate chew toy, and praise him if he uses it.

Problem: Crying when left alone or kenneled

Training Tip: Consistency

Many owners are determined to kennel or crate-train their puppies until that first night when the crying and howling begins. This is a key moment; by the end of that first night, either your puppy will have realized the crate is not so bad or he will have trained you to get out of bed and come see him when he cries. It will be hard to listen to the pitiful sounds but only respond when your puppy gets quiet—that’s the time for a reward or a potty trip outside.

Problem: Nipping at fingers

Training Tip: Don’t start or redirect

We’ve established that all puppies chew, and sometimes there are few things more adorable than a tiny little ball of fur gnawing on your fingers. Unfortunately it’s only cute for about a week; then it’s a nippy little monster with needles for teeth! Ideally, any time your puppy’s teeth touch your skin, he should instantly receive a stern “No!” If he persists, either leave him alone (depriving him of attention as a result of touching your skin with teeth) or redirect his chewing by offering an appropriate chew toy. It’s a hard habit to break once it starts but a fairly easy one to avoid beginning as long as you are prepared.

These are the most common issues that new puppy owners face, but this is by no means an exhaustive list. Communicate with your veterinarian and veterinary staff about the issues you’re facing with your new puppy and the training you plan to implement. In addition to behavior tricks, they may be able to direct you to other resources like training books and puppy-training classes in your community. They have seen everything and thus have a wealth of experience and knowledge that will make life with your new friend better in every way.