What Should I Teach My Puppy First?

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What should you teach your puppy first?
What should you teach your puppy first?

Question: What should I teach my puppy first?

Over 10 years ago I asked myself this question before I brought home my first puppy, Linus.  The only real experience I had raising/training a puppy at that point was working with my roommates two puppies, Stinky (Doberman Pinscher mix) and Pepper (Australian Shepherd mix).

I had seen what I liked about those two pups and what I didn’t like.  They were sweet dogs, but didn’t know a lick of obedience nor were they potty trained even though they lived in the house.  The carpet was ruined.  The patio cover posts were gnawed down to the size of toothpicks.  If you weren’t careful they’d snag your slice of pizza off the coffee table…but they were sweet dogs…

Fast forward 8 years to the months leading up to adopting my first pup, Linus.  I made a conscious decision that Linus would be a well trained dog.  I purchased several books on puppy training, had my veterinarian lined up, and I even had a professional dog trainer I planned to use for our puppy kindergarten and obedience classes.

What Should I Teach My Puppy First?

After my early experiences with puppies I was determined that my first puppy would be well-behaved, well-mannered puppy.  I vividly recall my puppy training goals at the time.  My puppy was going to learn:

  1. Potty Training – Growing up none of our family dogs were indoor dogs.  I wanted an indoor dog and in order to have an indoor dog I would have to potty train said dog.  Linus was my first puppy and surprisingly also the easiest of all my puppies to potty train.  Somewhere between 12-14 weeks old he totally got the potty training thing and hasn’t had an accident since (minus the couple times he had diarrhea)
  2. Crate Training – Not as easily mastered as potty training, but it was on my short list of things to accomplish with my first puppy.  The first few weeks Linus cried, yelped, howled in his crate.  I slept on the floor with him in his crate for several night and eventually he got it.  While I don’t crate Linus anymore I do still find him sleeping in Raven or Archer’s crate throughout the day.
  3. Basic Obedience – At the time I didn’t know exactly what basic skills I was going to teach Linus, but my list was very similar to the list of commands I teach my guide dog puppies: Sit, Down, Heel, Stay, and Come were on the top of my list.
  4. House Manners – No table scraps, no counter surfing, no jumping up on guests, and stay off the furniture.

Those were the big 4!  Guess what?  Linus was a brilliant puppy!  He learned all 4 skills in short order.  The only problems is I didn’t anticipate other behavior problems or secondary skills to teach him.

What Should I Teach My Puppy Second?

It’s not really what you should teach your puppy second, but instead an addendum to my original list.  Yes, I had a good start, but there’s more to raising and training a puppy then the big 4 from our list above.

Since Linus I’ve raised 10+ foster puppies, 4 guide dog puppies, and 2 service dog puppies.  That’s not to mention the countless number of guide and service dog puppies we’ve puppy sat over the years.

What does this all mean?  I now have oodles of experience raising and training puppies!  So in addition to the big 4 from the above list here are 3 other uber important skills and behaviors you should teach your puppy:

  1. Socialization – this should be on the list above with the big 4, but I hate to say it even though I knew socialization was important I did not have it on my list 10+ years ago.  It’s very important to introduce your puppy to new people, places, and things at an early age, but be aware not to over expose him.
  2. Door Manners – During his puppy years I never worked with Linus on door manners.  Today he enjoy barking every time he hears the door bell ring.  I’ve been working on keeping my dogs calm when people come over to the house (actually it’s mainly Raven and Linus).
  3. Multiple Surfaces – I learned through guide dogs that you should teach your puppy to walk on and potty on multiple surfaces.  A 9 month old Linus taught me this same lesson when I took him on a camping trip, but that’s a story for another day.

I think that’s about it.  Of course if you’re raising your puppy to be a service dog then you’ll have to add a few more skills and behaviors to the above lists.

What about you guys?  What skills and behaviors do you think are most important to teach your puppy first?  Did I miss anything?  Tell me about your experiences in the comment section below.

what should i teach my puppy first?
what should i teach my puppy first?

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16 Comments

  1. When I got my first Rottweiler he was a 7 1/2 week old male. I have never raised a male before. All my dogs were females. He was just like little boys rough and rowdy. So after I introduced him to my two female dogs we got started on “focus” or pay attention as I figured without that he would have a hard time concentrating on other training. Then we went straight to the recall. Now there is no limits of training. He is SOILD in off leash, killer recall and all the basic commands. I love learning new things to teach him. We are only limited by my knowledge. Or lack of. I believe that dogs can learn ANYTHING that the human knows how too teach them.

    1. We don’t like giving our dogs human food either. Although we do feed them human grade dog food and sometimes spoil them with high end dog treats.

  2. I have an 8 week old Lab mix, I believe he doesn’t have full bladder control because he will pee 3 or 4 times outside then come in and 10min later will pee in the house. The vet says that he is healthy and doesn’t have any bladder issues. He doesn’t do anything else in the house other than pee. Am I missing something?
    Also, I have been trying to work with him on the basic commands, and he just wants to lay down and not pay attention. I have waited until he is playful and he still doesn’t want to pay attention. What should I do?

  3. For us, it was potty training first and also kennel training which have gone great. Then working on basic house manners and sit/stay. The house manners is our biggest challenge right now. Remy likes to jump and paw/grab at you. Really annoying!

    1. If we’re talking about the #1 item on my list? It would have to be potty training. If we’re talking about literally the very first thing I teach my puppy? Thinking back to guide dog pickup the first 3 things we teach our puppies are

      1. Wearing a collar
      2. Wearing a leash
      3. Walking on grass

      1. My Maltese puppy is 4 months old and I just brought him hime. He is completely UNtrained. I have a crate and he whines, barks and chews the crate to the point of exhaustion (MINE). Please tell me how to begin this craziness! I am desperate!

    2. Archer doesn’t usually paw or grab as much, but he likes to pop up and touch things with his nose. It’s our own fault for teaching him “touch” which he’s very good at doing.

  4. In addition to your list I would add “leave it”. I always drop things and I would hate for my dog to eat medication or something dangerous to them off the floor.

    Great list!! I’m sure this will help any puppy raiser or dog owner. Can’t wait to hear about Linus peeing (or not peeing) on other surfaces…the “story for another day”. 🙂

    1. Yes, “Leave It” is an important one to learn. That’s the same example they use at the guide dog school for the importance of “leave it”. If someone who is visually impaired drops medication on the floor it’s imperative that their guide dog knows “leave it”. I’ll have Linus’ peepee story later this week. 🙂

      1. I also would add the ” watch me ” …. It is super important and can be a benefit in all other training and makes it go smoother.

  5. My golden retriever is 7 months old and has mastered much of what you mentioned. The one thing I am having trouble with is teaching her not to bite or nip me. My right arm has many black and blues bi have tried the spray bottle with water, then water and white vinegar and recently water and half Listerine. Nothing really stopping the behavior.

    1. We’ve had several Golden Retriever puppies come through our house and in general they’ve all been mouthy dogs. Our favorite technique for discouraging biting and nipping is redirection. Basically, when our pups bite or nip at our hands/arms we redirect their behavior from our hands/arms to one of their toys. Also, another good tip is to have lots of different textured toys and chews. In our experience puppies will usually get bored playing with the same toy. Here’s an article we wrote that might help you with your dogs biting behavior: https://puppyintraining.com/the-ultimate-guide-how-to-stop-a-puppy-from-biting-and-nipping/

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