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The Beginner's Guide To Dog Training

16 min read

Updated - Jun 21st, 2022

While dogs are naturally smart and social, they still need help learning the ropes of life with their human! Whether it’s learning to sleep in their crate or getting the hang of potty training, dog training is key to your pup’s long-term health and happiness. 

Dog training may seem daunting, especially if you are a first-time pet parent, but if you take it slow and make it fun, it can be an enjoyable process that helps strengthen your bond.

Whether you’re bringing home a new puppy or want to teach an older dog new tricks (news flash – you can!) we’re here to help. In this guide, we’re breaking down different types of dog training, why they’re important, and how you can get started.

Why is dog training important?

Just like us, dogs need regular mealtimes, bathroom breaks, lots of playtime, and a good night’s sleep! Teaching them when, where, and how to do these daily activities gives their life structure and helps them establish good behaviors – which helps keeps them and you happy.

Not only is training crucial for your pup’s happiness, but also their health and safety. For example, crate training can help reduce destructive behaviors that come with separation anxiety, and proper leash and recall training can help your dog stay safe when you’re walking in busy or unfamiliar areas. 

Dog training can save your dog’s life. Many dogs are relinquished to shelters because of behavioral problems associated with inadequate socialization or training.”

– Dr. Sarah Wooten, DVM

Dog training also provides the mental stimulation your dog needs to build confidence in different social situations. Socialization is important for all dogs as it helps them feel at ease around other dogs and humans, so they can live full, happy lives and have as much fun as possible!

When should dog training begin?

If you’re welcoming a new puppy into your fur family, there is so much to cross off your new puppy checklist, however it’s important to start training as soon as you can.  Even young puppies can learn basic behaviors! Ideally, you want to start training them around 6-8 weeks old, so they can learn good habits while they’re young. When it comes to socializing with other dogs, it’s best to wait until they have all of their puppy vaccines, but there’s plenty of positive work you can do before then. Not sure how to get started? Check out these puppy training tips to jumpstart the process. 

If you’re planning on training an adult or senior dog, there’s no better time to start than now. You can teach an older dog new tricks – you just need patience, consistency, and lots of their favorite treats. If you’ve recently adopted your dog, you may even be able to continue the training schedule they started at their shelter or foster home. 

The importance of a daily dog training routine

Routine is the name of the training game. Establishing a strong, reliable routine early on will make training your dog easier in the long run. Allocating consistent time for feeding, potty training, playtime, obedience training, and sleep will make things easier on you both and build good habits your pup will remember for life. Not sure where to begin? Try this customizable puppy training schedule.

What dog training supplies do I need?

Here are some useful supplies that will help you gear up for your training journey:

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House training or potty training

When your dog is young, puppy potty training (or house training) is a key skill to teach. It’s important that your dog knows when and where it’s appropriate to go to the bathroom so you can maintain a clean and sanitary space whether you’re at home or on the go. 

How to potty train your dog

Here are the basic steps to potty training your dog: 

  1. Establish a potty area and familiarize your puppy with it.
  2. Establish a potty time routine by taking your puppy out:
    • First thing in the morning
    • At night before going to bed
    • After a long play session
    • First thing after time in their crate
    • First thing after a nap
    • After each meal
  3. Use a cue word and say it every time your dog is eliminating e.g. ‘go potty’
  4. Take frequent outdoor potty breaks and move them to the potty area if they seem like they need to go. Dogs usually start sniffing around and/or circling right before they are going to go – this is your cue to take them outside!
  5. Use positive reinforcement for good behavior – reward them right after they go successfully with a praise party! A handful of tiny treats and lots of petting will do.
  6. Use special high value potty treats only for potty training – a.k.a. stinky treats! Think bits of cheese, shredded deli meat or hot dogs, liver training treats, etc.
  7. Never punish your puppy for any accidents. If you catch them in the act, quickly move them outside and praise them when they finish outside. 
  8. Clean up all accidents quickly with an enzymatic cleaner to remove the odor.
  9. Supervise your puppy at all times when they are ‘loose’ inside the house until you are 100% certain they are potty trained. Otherwise, keep them in the crate when you can’t supervise them. 

Potty training FAQs

When should I start potty training a puppy?

You can start taking them outside and rewarding them when they go in the right place right away! Most puppies will be completely potty trained between  12 and 16 weeks, some puppies, especially toy breeds, take longer

What will I need to start potty training?

You’ll need a few tools to help with early potty training, such as: 

For more essential items you may need for your new puppy, check out our ultimate puppy shopping list.

How long does potty training a dog take?

From start to finish, successful potty training timelines will differ for each dog, but your pup should be fully trained by 6 months if not sooner.

dog-in-crate_dog-training

Crate training

Dogs are naturally den animals, and a crate provides a sense of security for them as well as a comfortable place to sleep and rest. Crate training is the process of getting your dog used to spending time in a dog crate and establishing it as their sleeping location. You want your dog to have positive associations with their crate and see it as a safe place to spend time, rather than a punishment. 

Crate training is also important as it allows you to leave your puppy alone safely for lengths of time while preventing any harmful behaviors like destructive chewing. On the flipside, crate training also helps prepare your pup for travels and trips to the vet in their carrier.

How to crate train your dog

Here are the basic steps to crate training your dog: 

  1. Select the right crate for your pup’s size and needs. Should be large enough for your dog to stand and turn around without hitting their head or shoulders. 
  2. Set up the crate space and make it comfortable.
  3. Slowly introduce your dog to the crate by leaving it open, and reward them for going inside or put a treat or chew toy inside the crate.
  4. Once your dog is comfortable in the crate, practice closing the door of the crate for short periods of time.
  5. Work up to longer periods in the crate.
  6. When ready, practice leaving your pup alone overnight or when you leave the house.

For more in-depth info and tips on each of these steps, refer to our complete step-by-step crate training guide

Crate training FAQs

How long does crate training take?

If you’re training a puppy from a young age, crate training will likely only take a few weeks or months. If you’re training an older or rescue dog, it can take much longer, up to a year even. However, some older dogs may surprise you!

When should you stop crate training?

You will know you have successfully crate trained your dog when they:

  • Happily go into the crate to rest without being asked
  • Are content in the crate with the door open and the door closed
  • Can stay in the crate for several hours
  • Don’t react negatively to the crate in any way (whining, howling, aggressive behavior)
  • Do not eliminate in the crate

“You can feed your dog with Kongs in the crate. This helps them associate the crate with meal times and can help them acclimate to it faster.”

– Richard Lovejoy, Professional Dog Trainer

Remember that for some dogs, crate training will always be difficult, and they won’t come around to it. They may even have underlying anxiety issues or compulsive behaviors. It’s totally okay to ask for help from your vet or a professional trainer when needed.

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Leash training

Dog walking is a cornerstone of you and your pup’s day, which makes leash training especially important. Leash training is the process of helping your dog adapt to wearing a collar or harness and walking on a leash. When you call out “Let’s go for a walk!”, ideally you want your dog to be happy and excited to see their leash and be ready for exercise without any pulling, lunging, or anxious antics. 

Proper leash training helps keep you, your dog, and other dogs safe when you’re out and about. In fact, many public locations and dog parks require dogs to be on a leash at all times, so it’s a necessity to master this skill.

How to leash train your dog

Here are the basic steps to leash training your dog: 

  1. Get your dog used to their collar and harness with lots of positive reinforcement. Make sure they are comfortable and that the product fits well.
  2. Start your training indoors with minimal distraction. Stand with your dog on their leash. If your pup makes eye contact with you while they are on leash, give them a treat and praise! 
  3. Walk short distances indoors like down a hallway or across a room. If your dog pulls or tugs, freeze until they make a move to slacken the leash, then reward.
  4. With the basics down, you’re ready to move outside. Choose a quiet spot for your first few outdoor sessions. It’s normal for your dog to be more distracted outdoors, but remember to freeze if they’re pulling and reward them if they maintain slack in the leash. 
  5. Slowly progress to more busy locations with more distractions, continuing to reward correct behavior. 

TIP: Even with the best leash skills, unexpected accidents like bite wounds or broken paws can happen while you’re out and about. With a Pumpkin Pet Insurance plan, you can have peace of mind knowing your dog has help getting the best vet care possible when they’re hurt or sick.

Leash training FAQs

What will I need to start leash training?

Get started on the right paw with these products: 

  • High-quality dog collar
  • High-quality harness or gentle leader
  • High quality four to six-foot leash (retractable leashes are not recommended for leash training)
  • Training treats

When should you start leash training your dog?

You can begin leash training as soon as you bring a new puppy home. The same goes for older dogs – the best time to start is right now! For older dogs, knowledge of their background training with leashes and a little guidance from a dog trainer can help you along.

How long does leash training take?

If starting from scratch with your puppy, it can take 4-6 weeks to leash train them, but that’s if everything goes perfectly (which it rarely will!) Be prepared for it to take longer and remember that dog training is not a linear process – it will be different for every pup. 

dogs-socializing-at-park_dog-training

Socialization

Dog and puppy socialization is an essential part of their training as it helps them interact with other dogs and humans in a safe, fulfilling way. This young phase of their lives is so important as it will affect their confidence and how they relate to other pets and humans in the future. 

Dogs need your help learning how to react to the things in their environment. Positive interactions with other dogs and people will help them be confident and happy in new situations – such as at the dog park, doggy daycare, or in a boarding kennel. Socialization also helps reduce your dog’s anxiety and fear responses by teaching them that new stimuli are not necessarily bad stimuli. 

When should I start puppy socialization?

From your first night with your puppy to their early months of life, you’re introducing them to brand new experiences all the time. Socialization begins right from the start, but that doesn’t mean your pup is ready to follow dog park etiquette or begin dog training classes right away. 

You should start to socialize your puppy at around 7-8 weeks – this is usually when most pet parents bring their puppies home for the first time. Once they are around 3 months, you will have laid the groundwork to build your puppy’s confidence, but it’s important to keep socializing them as they continue to grow.

Note: You will need to get your puppy vaccinated according to your vet’s recommendations before they can socialize with other dogs.

How much socialization does a puppy need?

It is possible to overdo it with socialization when a puppy is young. Overwhelming them with too many new sights, sounds, and people can cause them stress and have the opposite effect of proper socialization. A good rule of thumb is to start slow and incrementally increase socialization time as your puppy grows more confident. 

A good socialization strategy is based upon The Rule of 7 by Pat Schaap. By the time a puppy is seven weeks old they have:

  • Been on 7 different types of surfaces (carpet, concrete, wood, grass, dirt, gravel, etc.)
  • Played with 7 different types of objects
  • Been in 7 different locations (yard, basement, kitchen, veterinary hospital, car, garage, etc.)
  • Met and played with 7 new, diverse people (include children,older adults, tall men, someone walking with a cane or walker, someone in a wheelchair or walker, someone on a bike)
  • Been exposed to 7 challenges (climb on a box, climb off a box, climb or descend steps, splashed in water, go  through a tunnel, climb steps, go down steps, climb over obstacles, etc.)
  • Eaten from 7 different containers
  • Eaten in 7 different locations

Here are some more tips and advice for successful puppy socialization.

TIP: As curious puppies explore their new world, unexpected accidents can happen more often than you might think. In fact, as many as 1 in 3 pets need emergency care each year!1 From sock snack-cidents to parasite infections, Pumpkin Pet Insurance plans can help you give your pup the best accident & illness care with 90% cashback on all covered vet bills.

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Dog obedience training

Obedience training is a helpful and important tool for dog parents as it reinforces good behavior, helps establish a routine, and helps keep your dog (as well as others around them) calm and safe in various situations, especially if your dog is off-leash. For example, a solid ‘stay’ command comes in handy when your dog is about to chase a squirrel off into the woods!

To get started with dog obedience training, you may need:

  • Training treats
  • Training collar
  • Harness
  • Leash
  • Clicker

What are some basic obedience training commands?

‘Sit’ and ‘stay’ are two go-to basic commands that teach your dog both discipline and patience. Once you have these skills down, you can start to add more complex commands like ‘lay down’ and ‘shake’ into the mix. These are just a few of the amazing dog tricks you can teach your pup at home. 

What is clicker training?

Just like using treats to reward a behavior, clicker training is another way to signal to your dog that they have successfully completed a behavior. By using a clicker to make a ‘click’ sound when your dog has done what you’ve asked, they are more likely to figure out precisely what good behavior they’ve done and repeat it. Some dog parents find that using a clicker is more efficient and instant for reinforcing good behaviors than using verbal commands alone.

What are dog training classes and are they worth it?

For help with all the types of dog training we’ve talked about, you may consider using a dog trainer to supplement your at-home routine. This could mean private lessons with a dog trainer, attending group classes or a training school, or a mix of both. This approach can be helpful to give you a tried and true dog training program to assist your at-home efforts. 

Dog or puppy puppy training classes can be a positive experience for your pup as they not only help with training but also provide built-in socialization with other dogs in group classes. It’s also a great way to meet other pup parents and create opportunities for puppy playdates in the future! 

Dog training class FAQs

How do I find the right training classes for me and my dog?

Finding the right fit for your pup will lead to productive training sessions. Here is a brief list of criteria to consider when choosing training classes:

  • Clean and spacious facility with plenty of room for dogs to run around
  • Vaccine requirements for all dogs participating
  • Classes with clear safety protocols
  • Small class sizes that suit your dog’s level of socialization
  • Certified and experienced trainers
  • Positive reinforcement training methods used

How much are dog training classes?

The cost of training classes varies greatly, but the national average according to Home Guide is $50 per class, with the average price range for classes at $30 to $80. Private training classes or custom training services will generally cost more. 

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Dog behavioral problems and how to address them

Even with our best efforts, dogs can develop undesirable behaviors to work through. When puppies are teething, nipping at ankles, toys, and furniture is common as they learn about the world through their mouths! However, if it seems like they’re not growing out of their puppy biting stage, you may want to take a closer look at this serious behavior.

“Puppies will frequently nip as they test boundaries. It is important that if their teeth even so much as graze your skin, that you yell ‘ow!’ and ignore your puppy for a minute. You want them to understand people have sensitive skin and to err on the side of a softer mouth. The other big opportunity to reinforce a soft mouth is through giving them treats. They should only get the treat if they gently take it from your hand. If they try to chomp it, tell them “gentle!” and try to hand it to them again.”

 – Richard Lovejoy, Professional Dog Trainer

Other common behaviors to address might include barking, begging, or jumping up. Some dogs may struggle with only one type of training, like leash reactivity, whereas other dogs on the more extreme end may show signs of aggression, separation anxiety, and even destructive behaviors such as excessive licking or chewing.

If you find that your dog’s unruly behavior persists, a professional dog trainer or veterinary behaviorist’s input is the best course of action. For more serious behavioral issues that can’t be corrected at home, these professionals can show you how to safely and effectively correct dog behavior problems. Remember that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, and each dog should be evaluated on an individual basis. 

“It’s important to get a check-up with your veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical issues that could contribute to bad behavior, such as painful joint diseases or neurological conditions.”

– Dr. Sarah Wooten, DVM

TIP: Any pup could struggle with a common behavioral issue like separation anxiety or aggression at some point in their life. At Pumpkin, we believe coverage for behavioral issues is crucial – that’s why Pumpkin Pet Insurance plans cover eligible consultations, treatment, and Rx meds prescribed to treat behavioral issues.

Remember that every dog is different when it comes to their training needs. Some dog breeds are more eager to train than others, but every dog is trainable with the right approach (and lots of belly rubs!) 

When in doubt, you can always seek advice from your vet and a professional dog trainer to help you and your pup achieve your goals. No matter where you are in your training journey, we hope our guide helps you start off (or pick up) on the right paw!

Happy training from all of us at Pumpkin!

REFERENCES

1. Horch, AJ, “Most Americans own a pet, but not the insurance 1 in 3 faithful companions will need.” cnbc.com, last updated June 2019.

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