Never mind about puppy training stages — the picture-perfect puppy is all snuggles, wet kisses, and puppy breath, right? Sure!
You’ve probably already realized that your “perfect” puppy also comes with nipping, barking, peeing on the carpet, and knocking over your neighbor’s toddler!
That’s why it’s important to learn potential puppy training stages right away. In the natural canine world, mama dogs teach their pups everything they need to know about their world, survival, and living together happily in various stages of development.
Now that’s your job!
Puppies need training. It doesn’t matter how old, what breed, or how big your pup will get. Chances are, your dog will encounter the public, so don’t be that person with the worst-behaved dog in the vet waiting room!
You should start right away, so take a look at our ages and stages in puppy training guidelines below.
We’ve designed a series of basic puppy training stages that follow the natural development of canine behaviors.
Ages and Stages in Puppy Training
Puppy training should start very early – as early as 8 weeks old! If you wait until your dog is older, perhaps as much as 6 months, you might regret it.
“By 6 months of age, almost all behavior problems are already in place,” says Dr. Carmen Battaglia. Dr. Battaglia has studied the effects of early socialization and development in puppies.
In his article entitled “Early Puppy Training,” he says, “All dogs can benefit from obedience training as early as seven weeks and when the puppy enters its new home.”
Use Positive Puppy Training Methods
Training your puppy might seem like a big job, but it can be a lot of fun, too. Puppy training should be positive for both of you – in fact, we only recommend positive training techniques.
In the past it was traditional for trainers to use punishment or dominance to establish a “respect hierarchy for the pack.” But recent research is in favor of a style of training called “positive reinforcement.”
Don’t let the big words fool you – positive reinforcement is simply rewarding your dog for doing something you like, and ignoring the behaviors you consider “bad” or unwanted.
Rewards can include food, special treats, praise and petting, playing with a favorite toy, etc.
Today, we’ll be walking you through the basics of positive reinforcement training with your puppy.
Since puppies and their brains grow so quickly, we’re breaking down the best topics to train your puppy during various stages of their growth.
8 Week Old Puppy Training Stages
You’ll probably bring your new puppy home when he’s between 8 and 10 weeks old, after he’s completely weaned from his mama.
This is a critical time in puppy learning stages, so let’s start with some 8 week old puppy training concepts.
From here on out, everything your puppy will learn about “right and wrong” and “how to be a good pupper” will come from you, your family and friends, your home environment, and the routine you establish. 8 week old puppy training is focused on learning how and where to sleep, play and potty.
Start Practicing a Daily Routine
Puppies adjust to living with new humans much better when they’re on a strict routine. Yours could look something like this:
- Wake up – go to designated potty area for relief
- 5 minutes of playful romping
- Potty break
- Play on his own while mama gets ready for work/school
- Final morning potty break
- Into the crate while mama goes to work/school
- Mama comes home for lunch – go outside for potty break
- 5 minutes of playing outside, then back inside
- Mama’s home from work/school – you guessed it – POTTY BREAK!
- Playtime and training
- Plays on his own in his play area while mama relaxes nearby
- Potty break
- Potty Training
Noticing an emphasis on potty training? Here are a few tips to get you started in the right direction:
- Stick to a strict routine like the one above.
- The first two days, set a timer to take puppy out to the designated potty spot every 2 hours, and reward any relief in the right spot with praise and play.
- Always offer a potty break after your pup wakes up (even from a short nap), eats, drinks, has a heavy bout of playtime or comes out of the crate.
- By 10 weeks, following a good routine, it’s reasonable to think your puppy can “hold it” for about 3-4 hours during the day or 5-6 hours overnight. Yes, that means if you work a typical 8-10 hour shift, you’ll need to come home or have a pet sitter pop by around lunchtime for a potty break. It also means your pup will probably still be whining around 2-3 am for a potty break too.
- If you need more detailed help with potty training or have any issues, see trainer Pippa Mattinson’s How to Potty Train A Puppy
Many people are proponents of crate training for dogs. It will make your overall life as a pet parent much easier, knowing that you have the option to secure your pooch in certain situations.
It also helps to know that she is calm and happy to have her own quiet place to relax, nap, and play with a few puzzle toys, rather than whining, barking, or destroying everything (including the crate itself) because she thinks she’s being punished or held back from the fun.
Introducing your 8-10 week old puppy to her new crate is as simple as making it a game.
You can find full instructions on crate training here but here are a few pointers to get you started:
- Start with a new toy and a few treats staged inside the crate with the door propped open. Bring your puppy over to her new crate with an established favorite toy. Toss the toy into the crate with the others.
- Let your puppy wander in and out of the crate on her own to explore. Keep the door open.
- Over the next day or two, occasionally toss treats into the crate to encourage your pup to continue finding surprises there.
- Once she is going inside on her own, you can start closing the door before giving her a treat. Then open the door back up and start the game over.
- Repeat this version of the game for a few sessions, then add whatever cue you’d like, such as, “Go to bed,” or, “Go to your crate.” You can also start leaving the door shut for 20-30 seconds before giving her the treat and releasing her. Then start leaving the room and coming back to reward and release.
- By the end of her 10th week, your puppy should be comfortable going into her crate when you gesture/cue. She will likely still whine or bark after 5-10 minutes of being alone in the crate, but with continued training and maturity, this will fade out.
Your dog won’t know his name until you really teach it to him! Teaching your dog his name is actually about teaching your dog to look at you when you say his name. This is one of the more fun training games for 8-10 week old puppies!
To play the Name Game, all you do is say your puppy’s name and wait. Nothing more. When he looks at you (or more realistically, comes bounding toward you) say, “Good boy!” and give him a treat. Wait silently for him to walk away, and repeat.
What if your dog doesn’t look at you when you say his name? Then make a different noise or movement to get his attention. A high-pitched whistle or kissy sound typically gets a pup’s ears to perk.
So say his name, make the second noise, then reward. He’ll begin to associate the name with the game, so it won’t take long to skip the secondary noise.
You can also squat down to pup’s eye level instead.
What if your puppy doesn’t leave once you’ve given him the first treat? How do you start the game over? Simply stand up and ignore him. Turn your back and stand still. Look off into the distance. Wait in silence for him to get bored and start sniffing the ground for more treats. Then start the game again.
Puppy Training Stages at 10 – 12 weeks
We can move on to other puppy training phases now that the initial two potentially challenging weeks of adjusting to life with a new dog are passed. Here are some things to teach your dog aged 10 to 12 weeks.
There will be no biting!
Puppy play around 10-12 weeks is highly mouthy — it’s a natural method for dogs to learn about their environment and play. In two approaches, begin educating your puppy not to bite your hands and ankles during play.
First, prevent the problem by interrupting your puppy’s biting activity and transferring his focus to something more appropriate to chew on. Be still and stand up. Then, take a few moments to think and then give your puppy a chew toy.
Second, teach your puppy not to bite when he or she is being held. If your puppy begins to bite at your hands, practice calm handling and pull your hands away.
Introduce the leash.
Begin your leash training with a simple exercise.
Perform this activity in a fenced-in area, such as your backyard or an apartment courtyard. Attach the leash on your dog and let it drag on the ground for a few minutes. She’ll inspect it, potentially chewing on it or picking it up and carrying it around in her mouth.
Begin walking slowly in circles around your space, inviting your puppy to join you. If she won’t walk with you more than a few steps because she’s distracted by the leash, give her a treat or two while you’re walking to divert her attention away from the leash.
Your dog should be able to stroll about the yard with the leash dragging behind her, ignored, after a few sessions of this introduction.
You can use this “technique” to prevent undesired jumping once you’ve taught your puppy to sit on command. Isn’t it true that your puppy climbs up on your legs when he sees you return home? This can be dangerous if you have children, but it’s also inconvenient to be scratched or lose your balance while carrying groceries, for example.
So, if your puppy jumps to see you, teach him to greet you by sitting.
In a calm atmosphere, practice. Ignore your bouncing dog as you enter the room and offer the “sit” command.
Drop down to his eye level and lavish him with praise and patting as he sits.
If he starts jumping again, stand up and repeat.
You can eventually stop using the “sit” command, and the puppy will jump once or twice, understand you’re ignoring him, and sit to attract your attention.
Your puppy can’t be jumping if he’s sitting to meet you.
Puppy Training Stages at 3-4 Months
Once your puppy reaches the age of 3-4 months, there are some more training games to introduce, as well as techniques to improve the ones you already have. A four-month-old puppy’s training focuses on being courteous and safe in public.
Continue to train your dog to walk on a leash.
It’s crucial to teach your dog to walk calmly beside you when leashed in public, but it’s also especially challenging. To be honest, it’s just difficult since you’ll need to train properly multiple times per week with your dog’s distraction levels gradually increasing.
Here are some pointers on how to teach a four-month-old dog to walk on a leash:
- Continue where you left off with the leash introduction – in the backyard, with no distractions. This time, though, wrap the leash’s end around your wrist.
- Carry a few goodies with you (or one of these convenient treat pouches). Take a tour around your yard, stopping every few feet to give your dog a reward. Place the treat beside your thigh at your side. The objective is to communicate the message that “being right here next to mama as she walks means I get treats!” Otherwise, ignore your dog altogether. If he pulls away and approaches the end of the leash, simply stop walking until you have enough slack in the line to continue.
- Slowly increase the incentive intervals to every 10 steps, then every 20, and so forth. The verbal cue “heel” is sometimes used to teach the dog to slow down or walk gently on command (if, say, they get distracted or excited).
- Your leash training should result in a puppy who ignores the leash, walks near to you, and looks up to you for feedback by 3-4 months. All of this takes place in low-distraction places such as your yard. We’ll start by leaving the yard and gradually add distractions.
It’s critical to begin training your dog to come to you as soon as possible. This is referred to as “recall training,” and it can be done in a variety of ways.
Choose a reliable cue – most circumstances where you need to summon your dog to you require a verbal cue such as “Here” or “Come.”
While you’re moving away, have someone hold your dog and give out your cue when he’s released.
To get your dog to come back, use the command “Chase.” Running away from your dog will activate his prey drive, causing him to pursue you.
Instead of standing motionless and waiting for your dog to come, start praising as soon as he starts racing toward you.
When training recall, give lots of praise and play chase, tug, or fetch as a reward.
Moving Through all the Stages of Puppy Training
Consider the most critical habits your young puppy needs to acclimate to in order for you both to be happy and healthy as you progress through the various puppy training stages.
Begin by teaching him about his new home and routine, as well as how to be gentle with others and where to go pee.
Then progress to safety training, including as crate training, leash training, and coming when called. Everything after that is a continuation of these training fundamentals, with distractions and practice in a variety of locations.
Remember to keep your training sessions brief and enjoyable for both of you!
“Early Puppy Training” CL Battaglia. Breeding Better Dogs.
Periods of early development and the effects of stimulation and social experiences in the canine. CL Battaglia. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 2009.
Early neurological stimulation. CL Battaglia – 2007
“Evidence for Positive Reinforcement Training” Pippa Mattinson The Happy Puppy Site.
Don’t Shoot the Dog: The New Art of Teaching & Training. Karen Pryor. 2006.