Puppy Training 101: Essential Skills for Your New Best Friend

Key Points

  • Error-free potty habits are a critical skill to teach your puppy.

  • Teach your dog polite behaviors on cue with praise and rewards.

  • Train appropriate behavior from the beginning rather than correcting.

Are you welcoming a new best friend into your home? As thrilling as this is, there are some practical considerations to remember. Puppies need food, and eating results in waste. Until they learn otherwise, young four-legged family members are apt to use the floor of your home as their personal dumping ground (pun intended).

And what about all those other cool commands you've seen dogs executing in film and TV? Some pups seem so well-behaved and intelligent, doing tricks and responding to cues from their owners.

What does this mean for you? Your pup needs training. They need to know where they belong in your family. Established pet waste cleanup and removal entity PetButler advises, "When a dog's role is clearly defined in the 'pack' and social order is established, it's reassuring and permits them to relax, gain confidence, and focus."

Puppy training can be tedious and time-consuming, but it's worth it. Not only is puppy boot camp good for you and your home, it's also good for your pup.

Get ready to learn some easy-to-follow essential dog skills to get your puppy off to a great start.

Crate Training

Error-free potty habits are the first skill you want to teach. Using a crate helps you in this critical first step of housetraining. The first few days of potty training are labor intensive, but following these guidelines guarantees success.

While your puppy is awake, control their access to your home by always keeping them attached to you on a leash. Take your puppy to their designated potty area every time they finish eating, wake from sleeping, after playtime, or every two hours.

Puppy sleeping in crate

When your puppy produces, make a huge fuss. Immediately reward them with the highest value treat your puppy loves (chicken, anyone?) each and every time your puppy successfully eliminates in their designated potty area.

There are times when you're unable to have your puppy attached to you, and that's when a crate is indispensable. Teach your puppy that being inside a crate is a good experience.

Toss some of your puppy's favorite treats in the crate while the door is closed and your puppy is outside the crate. Let your puppy want to get inside. Open the crate, let your puppy gobble the tasty treats, and exit. Play this game a few seconds at a time throughout the day.

Progress to allowing your puppy to enter their crate; close the door for a few seconds while raining treats down from outside of the crate while the puppy is inside. Build up to leaving the door closed while the puppy is inside for slightly longer periods. Eventually, you'll progress to leaving the room for a few moments, then several seconds, then a few minutes. Work up slowly until your puppy is comfortable being in the crate alone.

Stuffable toys — such as a KONG — that you can fill with your puppy's food are great to reinforce crate training. Whenever you plan to leave your puppy in the crate for any amount of time, toss a toy stuffed with your puppy's food in the crate so they stay occupied.

Puppy and owner

Feeding your puppy daily meals this way is an excellent idea while crate training. Always leave enjoyable and safe chew toys with your pup while they're inside their crate. A puppy can control their bladder for one hour every month of age, so be sure to let your pup have regular access to the designated potty area.

Once your puppy's crate training is underway, it's time to move on to teaching the fun stuff!

Come Cue

A reliable recall ensures your dog returns to you when called and prevents many dangerous situations. Establishing a reliable recall means consistently rewarding your pup every time they come to you, whether you have called your pup or not. You teach the strongest recall behavior by reserving your come cue for only when you have your puppy's highest-value reward on hand.

Be prepared with your puppy's favorite game, toy, or treat every time before you give the come cue. Anytime your puppy comes to you on their own, make a big fuss, offer praise and play, and a tasty treat or toy if you have them available.

Sit Cue

The sit cue is one of the easiest and most fun to teach, promoting polite behavior and impulse control.

Training puppy to sit

Calming Dog Ad

To get your dog to sit in various situations, keep a small, out-of-reach bowl or treat pouch on hand filled with tasty treats your dog loves. Whenever your puppy sits on their own (dogs already know how!) and anytime you “catch” your dog offering the sit behavior, pop a treat directly to them.

It will amaze you how fast your puppy becomes addicted to sitting for you. As you consistently reward sitting, your puppy should begin to sit in various places. After just a few days of these mini-training sessions, your pup should even be sitting with distractions around them.

Down Cue

Just like with the sit cue, you reinforce the down cue by rewarding your puppy when they're lying down and giving them a favorite treat directly between their paws so they can eat it while still lying down. Soon your puppy will settle quietly, anticipating a tasty treat.

Once you've established and reinforced a behavior, adding a verbal cue is easy. While your puppy is lying down, give them a tasty treat while saying, "Down!" Within several repetitions, your puppy will offer these reinforced behaviors on cue.

Stay Cue

To teach the stay cue, start with your dog in sit or down position while on a leash, give your stay cue, then after a moment (less than one second) release your pup with their release word such as "break!" and immediately reward with praise, play, or a treat (or all three!).

Work up to one second, then a few seconds, to several seconds. Slowly increase the amount of time you ask your pup to stay before releasing them. The stay cue takes time and patience and enhances self-control and safety in various situations.

Drop It

Teaching the drop it cue is helpful when playing fetch and ensures safety if your dog picks up something they should not have in their mouth.

Puppy chewing leash

Teach the drop it command by giving your dog a toy they love to chew or carry in their mouth. Then while the toy is still in their mouth, wave a higher-value treat, such as tasty chicken, in front of your pup. As soon as the dog drops their treasure to eat the chicken, take the toy, let your pup quickly swallow the small bite of chicken, then immediately give the toy back to your dog to continue playing.

Gradually increase the time you keep the toy to a few moments, a second, several seconds, and so on. Your dog quickly learns that when you give the drop it cue, they'll want to spit out the toy as quickly as possible to get a tasty tidbit.

Once you've established the drop it cue, you can fade the food treat.

Loose-Leash Walking

Going for a walk with your dog is probably the daily highlight for both of you — especially when your dog walks politely on a leash.

Teaching loose-leash walking takes patience at first but is well worth the effort for a lifetime of enjoyable walks together. Begin in a quiet area with as few distractions as possible, put the leash on to go for a walk, and if your pup pulls or puts pressure on the leash, just stop, stand still, and wait. It may seem like a long time, but be patient. Within several seconds your pup should sit all on their own.

Puppy on loose leash

Avoid giving the sit cue. Instead, wait for the puppy to sit on their own. As soon as they sit, say "Let's go!" and continue walking. If your pup hits the end of the leash again or pulls, every time, consistently repeat waiting for your pup to sit and only then continue on your walk. Soon your pup will be walking calmly, and you'll both enjoy your walks.

Leave It

Teaching your dog to do something is always better than teaching them not to do a behavior. With the leave it command, it's best to teach your dog "Get it!" instead since there are just too many things in the wide world that a puppy can get in their mouth that they should not.

It would be impossible to go through life telling your dog to leave it for every single item they should not have in their mouth. Instead, teach your dog "Get it!" by playing games where you toss your puppy toys and treats and let them have the rewards. Using your puppy's daily meals is a great way to teach "Get it!"


Train your puppy the off command by teaching where it is appropriate for their body to be to promote polite behavior and respect for boundaries.

When your puppy meets someone new, have the person completely ignore your puppy until they sit on their own (which they'll eventually do because you have been reinforcing sitting consistently!). Have the new person reward and play with your puppy only when all four paws are on the floor.


Like the leave it command, the off command is better taught by teaching your puppy where they can be and reinforcing them for sitting, settling quietly, or keeping all four paws on the floor to avoid off-limits surfaces and when greeting new people.

Teach the Essentials

Teaching your puppy essential dog skills is challenging but has considerable rewards in the long run.

Suppose you want the added benefit of structured help from a professional or are running into more complicated behavioral issues. In that case, seeking the help of a certified dog trainer is a great resource.

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