5 Things to Teach Your 8-Week-Old Puppy in 5 Minutes a Day
You’ve waited weeks (maybe even months) and it’s finally here.
Your new puppy.
All fluffy and squirmy and sweet. Your tiny bundle of rowdy, joyful… teeth.
What were you thinking?
Having a puppy is a complex experience made up of very high highs and pretty low lows. Moments of “What is she chewing on NOW?” and “Not AGAIN!” intermixed with “Isn’t she the sweetest baby ever?” and “He is SO smart!”
While we’re going through the motions of puppy raising, puppies are learning every moment they’re awake, whether we are teaching them or not. I don’t know about you, but I definitely want my puppies learning good habits and not practicing bad ones.
The bad news is, that takes some extra effort when you’re already sleep deprived from raising an 8-week-old puppy. The good news is, it doesn’t take much effort to see BIG results! And, BONUS, those results will last a lifetime!
Beginning your puppy’s training at 8 weeks is one of the best things you could do for him or her. It sets your puppy and you up for immense success in the future and will shape your relationship with your puppy for the rest of his/her life.
There are 5 skills I think every puppy should learn as soon as possible. They will help your puppy stay out of trouble and they should help you keep your sanity. Here I will go through these 5 skills and how to teach them to your puppy in just 5 minutes a day.
You will need a few things before you get started.
- You will need small but tasty treats. Remember that your puppy’s stomach is small and will fill up fast, so keep the treats really tiny and the smellier, the better. Here is a link to some of my favorites.
- You’ll need a timer. You can use your phone, watch, microwave, or an old-fashioned egg timer. Just make sure you use a timer. It’s important.
- You will need a toy or a bone. This needs to be something that your puppy likes enough that s/he will hold on to but cannot chew pieces off.
That’s it. You have everything you need to train your puppy. Let’s get started.
Sit — Put your rear end on the floor
Purpose: Useful when you want your puppy to stay in one place or want him/her to stop jumping up. Also useful for teaching self-control.
- With a few treats in one hand, approach your puppy. Hold out your treat hand so that your puppy can smell that you have treats.
- While holding your hand low enough that your puppy does not jump up, lift your treat hand over your puppy’s head and toward his/her back.
- As his/her nose goes up, his/her rear end should lower to the floor. When it does and s/he is sitting, say “Yes!” and give him/her the treat.
- Hold the treat lower if your puppy jumps up instead of following it with his/her head. If your puppy backs up to follow the treat instead of sitting, try holding his/her collar by the front with your other hand as you move your treat hand back over his/her head. When s/he sits, say “Yes!” and give him/her the treat.
- Take a step or two away from your puppy to “reset” the exercise by encouraging your puppy to stand up and repeat. Practice for no more than 3 minutes.
Come — Come to me and let me catch you.
Purpose: Useful any time you need your dog to come to you from a distance.
- With a few treats in one hand and standing close to your puppy, say your puppy’s name and “come!” in a happy voice.
- Immediately take a few steps backward while leaning over toward your puppy and luring him/her with the treats.
- As s/he follows you, use praise to encourage him/her such as “Good girl/boy!”
- After about 3 steps, stop, grab your puppy’s collar — this is very important for two reasons:
- To get your puppy used to having you get ahold of him/her after calling. This prevents “drive bys” where your puppy “comes” to you but doesn’t stop and runs past you.
- To help your puppy form a positive association with having his/her collar grabbed.
5. Once you have your puppy’s collar in your free hand (the hand that’s not holding treats), give your puppy a treat or two. Feel free to continue praising your puppy for coming when you called. Pairing praise with treats only serves to increase the value of your praise for your puppy!
6. As your puppy gets better at this game, you can increase the number of steps you take away from him/her. If s/he gets distracted or fails to come when you call, either reduce the distance between you or take a break and try again later.
7. Repeat this game for no more than 5 minutes at a time. Puppies get tired quickly and don’t like a lot of repetition.
Leave it — Move your nose away or keep your nose away from that.
Purpose: Useful any time you don’t want your puppy to pick something up in his/her mouth, such as trash, medication, laundry, rocks, a dead bird, etc. Very useful for teaching self-control.
- Begin with one treat in each hand. With your puppy in front of you, hold one hand behind your back and close the other hand around a treat and hold it out to your puppy to sniff. As s/he does, s/he will probably sniff, lick, nibble, and paw at your hand to try to get you to open your hand. Do NOT open your hand.
- Wait and watch closely until your puppy stops touching your hand. The instant s/he does, say “Yes!” and give him/her the treat from the hand behind your back.
Timing is crucial. You want to mark the moment when your puppy decides to move away from your closed hand with a “Yes!” and reward him/her with a treat from your other hand. Think of marking the behavior like taking a picture of the behavior that you want. You say “Yes!” at the moment you would take the picture: when your puppy isn’t touching your closed hand.
3. Repeat this process up to two more times before taking a break. This skill requires a lot of concentration and involves a lot of frustration for your puppy in the beginning, so don’t overdo it. Celebrate successes and end on a good note every time!
Trade Me — Give me what you have in your mouth in exchange for what I am offering you
Purpose: Useful to prevent resource guarding. The beginning of teaching “Drop It”, this teaches your puppy that it is worth it to give you what s/he has in his/her mouth.
- Begin with a toy or bone/chew that your puppy loves and a handful of treats.
- Offer your puppy the toy/bone/chew and encourage him/her to play with it while you KEEP AHOLD of one end. Do NOT let go of the toy!
- After playing for a few seconds, use your other hand to offer a treat by holding it in front of your puppy’s nose. Do not force your puppy’s mouth open. Do not let go of the toy. Do not give him/her the treat UNLESS s/he lets go of the toy.
- When s/he lets go of the toy to get the treat, give him/her the treat with one hand and quickly put the toy behind your back with the other so s/he cannot immediately get it back.
- As soon as s/he is done with the treat, bring the toy back out and begin to play again. Repeat the process a few times but do not practice for longer than 5 minutes.
- If your puppy becomes more interested in the treats than in the toy, try to find a better balance between the toy and a treat by experimenting with different treats or using two toys instead of one toy and treats. As long as your puppy is trading happily one for the other, you are winning!
This is not an obedience skill, but it is a life skill that is crucial for your puppy to learn early in life. Prevents self-guarding behavior, makes trips to the vet and groomer MUCH easier for everyone.
- Have several treats nearby but not in your hands. If your puppy is small enough and already tolerates being held well, place him/her in your lap. If s/he isn’t calm and comfortable in laps yet (or is too big for laps), that’s ok. Start out sitting on the floor with your puppy close by.
- Touch your puppy’s ears. Lift them up, look inside, pull gently on the pinna (the exterior of the ear) to get a good look inside the ear canal. As you’re doing this, offer quiet praise. Give your puppy a treat as you finish up with each ear.
If looking inside the ear is too much for your puppy to tolerate calmly, just pet his/her ear and lift it slightly, then give him/her a treat. The point of this exercise is not to do as much handling as possible, it is to teach your puppy that staying calm during handling gets rewarded.
3. Repeat the process as you touch your puppy’s feet, mouth, look in his/her eyes, move his/her legs, and pull gently on his/her tail. Giving treats frequently and keeping your praise calm and quiet.
4. If, at any point, your puppy starts to become annoyed, rowdy, or nippy, gently restrain him/her until there is a pause in the unwanted behavior, say “Yes!” to mark the pause, then release him/her. Take a potty break and try again later.
5. Practice handling your puppy multiple times every day but for no more than 5 minutes at a time.
Notice that in most of these skills, I do not mention using a spoken word to tell your puppy what to do. This is deliberate. I have had the best success while training dogs in silence.
By keeping myself quiet and still, I remove as many distractions as possible for the puppy and enhance his/her learning environment. Believe me, I understand it is NOT easy, especially when it’s a darling little puppy that just wants to play!
But that’s the point. A puppy is its own greatest source of distraction sometimes. It needs all the help I can give it and it certainly doesn’t need me adding distractions. Your puppy is the same.
If you can force yourself to be quiet and still, give your puppy the space to think and learn without extra noise and distraction, you and your puppy will reap the benefits for years to come!
Getting a new puppy is an adventure, exciting and sometimes overwhelming. Those first few weeks can seem to last forever and also pass in the blink of an eye.
For your puppy, those first few weeks with you are the beginning of everything. It’s up to you to make them count.
By spending just a few focused minutes a day with your puppy, you can begin to teach him/her the foundations of the skills that will make your life together the dream you’ve imagined.
Practice one or two skills a day, set your timer, and watch your puppy learn and progress. You will be amazed at how quickly your puppy will master the skills you teach.
In 5 minutes a day, with some practice and fun, you’ll soon have a puppy that will happily cooperate with you. You’ll be ready for the next step in your puppy’s obedience program, and your friends and family will marvel at what a brilliant puppy you have.
And, of course, your proud response will be, “I know.”
If you like these tips and want to stay in the loop, join my email list! Thanks for reading and happy training! ~Erin