Puppy Training: Sooner Rather than Later

Puppies are capable of learning basic obedience cues at a surprisingly young age – even before most leave their litters for their forever homes.  By the time they land – at 8-9 weeks of age – they are already scoping out their new environments.  They are ready to learn! 

Puppy training extends well beyond housetraining.  Installing a preference for outdoor elimination sits at the top of most new puppy parents’ training goals.  A proactive program is the most effective approach for a reliable end result.  (No bells or barking at the door.)

While puppies explore the world with their mouths, there is no reason owners must suffer damaged personal belongings.  Set up for success by managing the space your puppy has access to and incorporate appropriate ways to provide environmental enrichment and to channel puppy’s need to chew.  These preferences last a lifetime, avoiding damaged belongings AND potential injury to your dog.

Impulse Control and Bite Inhibition

Teaching your puppy a handful of basic obedience cues helps reduce impulsivity and molds a reactive puppy into a thinking dog.  The most useful cue to this end is “wait”.  Puppies who learn to wait for what they want exhibit calm behaviors and develop a higher tolerance for frustration. 

Puppies learn bite inhibition from their mothers and littermates.  When a puppy fails to “modify his mouth”, he is clearly and unceremoniously “told” by his canine family.  The more excited a puppy becomes, the more excessively he uses his mouth.  When playing with your puppy, game rules help to teach bite inhibition.  Arousal level escalates during play, but interruptions via obedience cues regulate it.  Part of the game should include relinquishing the toy as asked.  “Trade” the puppy a small treat for the toy to help him learn there is no threat to releasing a valuable object from his mouth.  Puppies who grab a treat or toy from your hand should be reminded to “take it gently”.  She only obtains the treat or toy when she complies and softens her mouth. 

Acceptance of Handling and Confinement

For many puppies, handling can trigger an escalation in arousal level.  The result is lots of squirming and nipping.  Certain body parts are more likely to produce this response:  head/neck area, feet, and the back end/tail area.  A program of de-sensitization can help develop a puppy’s tolerance for potentially unwelcome touching.  Start with only a few seconds and build up the handling time.  Pair handling the puppy with her favorite treats and increase the time only when you observe a relaxed demeanor. 

Teaching your puppy to accept space confinement is useful throughout his lifetime.  Potty training, installing chewing preferences, and learning to lie down and chill out are difficult when the puppy is not confined.  Most puppies grow into dogs who love their crate space.  The broader significance in accepting confinement is your maturing puppy’s acceptance of human boundaries and leadership.  Physical space is a high value resource to dogs.  Confinement communicates clearly that you control your puppy’s access to physical space.  It’s a big message.


All animals must adjust to the world at large, and puppies are no exception.  Often we assign human qualities and abilities to our dogs that aren’t actually present, because they are dogs and we are humans.  People are baffled when the puppy stops abruptly in the middle of their street and doesn’t want to continue walking.  We have habituated to stimuli, which are novel and, at times, scary to the puppy.  He wasn’t born with the mental equipment to unpack new environments and situations as we humans do.  Patience is the order of the day.  Gradual and positive exposure is the most effective and humane way to socialize and help your puppy habituate to his world


Copyright © Kimberly B. Mandel   CPDT-KA, 2017 all rights reserved

Kimberly Mandel Canine Behavior and Training LLC