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When to Start Training a Puppy

Reviewed for accuracy on January 9, 2019, by Dr. Katie Grzyb, DVM

Training a new puppy involves more than just teaching “sit,” “down,” and “come.” Puppies are constantly processing everything around them as they grow, which means they’re learning lessons whether you think you’re teaching them or not.

This is why you’ll want to be proactive in teaching them the right things early on.

So what are puppies capable of learning and at what age? Is it a waste of time to try to work on manners with an 8-week old puppy? And, at what age do puppies start potty training?

Because every puppy is unique, it’s impossible to determine exact universal benchmarks for learning. However, the following guidelines can help puppy parents prepare their new best friends for training success.

When to Start Potty Training a Puppy

The first lesson most puppy parents want to address is potty training their new puppy. The best time to start is the moment you bring your puppy home.

Know How Frequently Your Puppy Needs to Go

Puppies have limited bladder and bowel control, so they can’t be expected to “hold it” for longer than they’re physically capable.

An easy way to determine a puppy’s approximate “hold time” is reference the dog’s age in months. This number is equal to the number of hours they’re developmentally able to hold it.

For example, an 8-week-old puppy (approximately 2 months) can hold it for roughly 2 hours maximum.

However, this schedule is just a guide; some puppies might be able to go for longer periods, while others might need more frequent trips outside.

Know Your Puppy’s Potty Preferences

Puppies develop a “substrate preference”—from grass to leaves to pavement—by 9 weeks of age.

That means that by the time most pups arrive in their forever homes, they’ll already have an established a preference for where they like to do their business. Determining what they prefer to pee on can help speed up the potty training process or help you transition them to a different substrate (from puppy pads to grass).

How Long Does It Take to Potty Train a Puppy?

Getting a puppy to be fully house-trained depends on your consistency and willingness to set your puppy up for success. You need to be willing to stay consistent and manage your puppy’s environment with tools like baby gates and a crate.

Determining when a puppy is potty trained is less about their age and more about their behavior; a puppy can be considered close to being fully house-trained after a month with zero accidents.

Even still, regressions happen, so don’t assume a puppy is fully house-trained until you have a proven track record of success.

When to Start Crate Training a Puppy

The crate is a helpful tool for both potty training and alone-time training. Because the crate plays a major role in potty training, pet parents should help new pups learn to love their dog crate right away.

The right size crate—introduced gradually—will also help to speed the potty-training process since puppies rarely soil where they sleep.

A crate will also help to keep puppies safe (and out of trouble) when unattended and at night, so it’s critical that they learn to feel comfortable in a crate.

Puppies as young as 8 weeks old can learn to feel at home in their crate with a gradual and positive introduction to it.

Tips for Introducing a Dog Crate to a Puppy

Allow new pups to explore the crate and place treat-stuffed, hard-rubber busy toys inside. Feed meals inside the crate with the door open.

Give your pup a puppy-safe toy (one that he can’t destroy or swallow), and graduate to short periods of time with the crate door shut, but make sure to let your pup out before he begins crying.

The crating duration should mirror a puppy’s month-to-hour “potty hold time” to prevent the puppy from being forced to soil the crate.

However, many pups are capable of slightly longer hold times overnight when asleep. That said, if a sleepy pup wakes in the middle of the night, they probably need a trip outside.

When to Start Puppy Socialization

Puppy socialization is one of the most important parts of puppy training.

In order to grow into confident, well-adjusted adult dogs, puppies need to have a variety of positive experiences with novel people, places, and situations before they reach 16 weeks of age.

The goal of socialization is to help puppies learn how to healthily adapt to whatever life throws at them, both in the home and beyond the front door.

Start Socializing Your Puppy as Early as Possible

A new puppy can begin basic socialization at 8 weeks. However, it’s extremely important to discuss with your veterinarian how to safely socialize your puppy because they’re not fully vaccinated at 8 weeks.

Meetups with well-mannered friends and family in your home will help your puppy learn to love a variety of different types of people.

You can also gradually introduce your puppy to household appliances like the vacuum, blender, and hair dryer by turning them on in a distant room and pairing the noise with treats.

To avoid future handling issues, you can mimic vet and grooming procedures while your puppy is young as well, like pairing ear, paw, mouth, and tail examination with treats.

Puppy Socialization and Vaccine Schedules 

The most important puppy socialization happens out in the real world.

Veterinarians concerned with disease transmission used to advise keeping pups home until the full vaccination series is complete. However, the revised recommendation is to begin socialization classes once the puppy has had a minimum of one round of vaccinations and a deworming a week prior to beginning a puppy training class.

Your veterinarian is your best resource for information on how to keep your puppy safe during socialization exercises.

New pups can also visit friends’ homes and be taken to dog-friendly public spaces.

When to Start Basic Manners Training With a Puppy

It might not seem like an excitable puppy can focus enough to learn simple training behaviors, but most pups can start mastering the basics at as young as 8 weeks old.

The secret to helping new pups with basic training is keeping the lessons short and fun.

Young puppies can’t focus for long periods of time, so doing several 3-5 minute sessions throughout the day can encourage a pup’s focus and responsiveness.

The first thing that most pups master is “sit,” but puppies are capable of learning much more.

They can also grasp foundation behaviors like down, greeting without jumping upcoming when called, and even loose-leash walking in your home and yard.

Since a pup’s level of responsiveness can shift as they get older, there’s no such thing as being “done” with manners training. Working on the foundation of good manners when a puppy is young will help to prevent challenges in the future.

By: Victoria Schade

Featured Image: iStock.com/SanyaSM

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