Behavior and Training, What to Expect With a New Puppy

What to Expect With a New Puppy: Important Skills to Train Your Puppy

Teaching a puppy to sit and roll over. Making sure your puppy comes when called. Learning how to walk on a leash so it’s a pleasant experience for both you and your puppy. These are all certain skills that are important for every puppy and dog to learn, for their own safety and the safety of those around them.

When you get a new puppy, one of the first things you should do is schedule a new puppy vet visit. At your puppy’s first vet visit, both you and your vet will likely have many questions. As Revival’s Director of Veterinary Services and as a practicing veterinarian, I’ve included my recommendations to give you something to think about before your first vet visit or after in cases where you weren’t able to discuss a certain topic with your vet.

Since there are lots of topics to cover with a new puppy, we’ve broken them up into several smaller articles. This particular article will address some important skills to teach your new puppy. You may decide to do this training yourself or enroll in a local puppy training course that teaches these skills.

How Do I Teach My Dog to Emergency Down?

An emergency down is the most life-saving skill you can teach your puppy. In a split second, your well-behaved puppy can race across the road, out of reach. And when you try to call them back, they may race back to you in front of an oncoming speeding semi-truck. You may think it could never happen to you, but that is a risky bet to make. What can you do to keep your puppy safe? Teach an emergency down.

An emergency down is a down, drop your belly to the ground and stay put when the puppy is instructed to from a distance. By giving a command from across the road and having your puppy follow it, you CAN save your puppy’s life.

The two tricks are that the puppy must be able to drop belly down at a distance and the command must be able to be seen and heard from a distance. The verbal command can be whatever you want, but not sound like any other command or other word you commonly use in conversation. The visual cue must be a brisk move of your hand from your side to fully extended arm and hand over your head.

How do you teach it? Start young and work hard. Teach the puppy to lie down, belly on the floor. Then start teaching the puppy to lie down, further and further away. Then keep practicing with the puppy on the other side of a gate so they don’t count on being at your side to follow the command.

Be certain to work on this long and hard as it truly can be life-saving.

Teaching a Puppy To Sit

Teaching sit is something we all take for granted, but believe it or not, puppies aren’t born knowing how to sit. Like all the other skills, we have to teach it.

Starting with the puppy facing you, take a food treat, move it close to the puppy’s nose, and slowly move the treat over his head, keeping it close to the top of the puppy’s head between his ears to prevent jumping up. By doing this, the puppy will raise his head and plop his bottom onto the floor, in a sitting position.

Avoid pushing the puppy’s rear to the floor, forcing him to sit. Research shows that you can get faster sits when the puppy sits voluntarily.

Keep the first few sits very short. Slowly, extend the time the puppy is in a sitting position. Remember puppies have short attention spans and you want to be successful.

How to Teach a Puppy to Lay Down

Teaching down starts with a similar technique to a sit. Once the puppy is sitting, move the treat down toward the floor, between the puppy’s front legs. This will lure the puppy into a down position. Some puppies are “tuckers” and some are “folders”. Either style of down is fine, as long as you get a down.

If this technique doesn’t work, you can sit on the floor with the puppy, with your foot on the wall or furniture, with your calf parallel to the floor. While you are seated, use the food treat to lure the puppy to drop and belly crawl under your leg. Slowly, you can teach the puppy to lie down while you are not on the floor with him. As with sitting, slowly teach the puppy to stay in a down position for longer and longer, and gradually increase the distance between you and him.

How to Teach a Dog to Roll Over/ Omega Roll

An omega roll is a roll over, belly to the sky that is done voluntarily by the dog. It is NOT a forced roll-over. You can jazz it up and make it fun – saying something like “would you rather be married (or fill in the blank) or dead.” Have a great time training this as it is a fun party trick.

Start with a treat and your puppy in a sit, then to a down, allowing his back legs to roll off to his right or left side. Continue moving the treat from the sit, just above his nose, to over the hip, then off to the side his legs are on. Keep the treat in front of his nose while his feet roll up toward the ceiling and back to his other side, letting him end up in a down or sit. That’s all there is to it – other than practicing it over and over. Once he understands the maneuver, teach him to do it with the treat and a command so he can be the hit at any party.

How to Teach a Dog to Stand

Teaching a puppy to stand sounds like such an easy but unimportant thing to do, right? One of the most important reasons to teach this is for making veterinary visits easier. If your puppy knows how to stand, he can cooperate during temperatures, vaccinations and examinations.

To teach this, keep your puppy’s attention by holding a food treat in front of your face to encourage eye contact. Reward even the shortest glimpse at your face and the treat, slowly asking for a longer and longer gaze at your face, while standing with all four feet solid and steady on the floor. Once you have mastered this, add the word “stand” and slowly add small and short distractions to help “proof” that your puppy is ready to show off this skill at your next veterinary visit.

How to Get Your Puppy to Come When Called

Coming when called is an important life skill for all puppies to learn. When puppies are under four months old, this is easy as puppies want to be near you. This is the time to practice a perfect “recall”. The steps are to call the puppy to come, using the same word every time, a thousand times a day. When they arrive, provide a delicious but small treat – cheerios work great. Then release her to go back to playing. NEVER call her to come if you are planning to end whatever fun activity she is engaged in. You want coming to you to always have a positive end – a treat and a release back to an enjoyable activity.

Once puppies reach four months of age, they start to see activities outside their immediate circle and where you are. Once this happens, recalls are much less reliable. Chasing the squirrel or just playing “catch me if you can” is much more rewarding than showing up at your side for a treat.

So be sure you have a rock-solid recall BEFORE she is old enough to become independent.

Leash Training a Puppy

How to teach a puppy to walk on a leash is another life skill we take for granted. Every dog, regardless of lifestyle, at some point in their life will need to be able to walk on a leash. Typically, the speed you want to walk at won’t be the speed the puppy finds suitable – they usually lunge ahead or lag behind. Start with letting the puppy get used to wearing a collar such as the Breeder’s Edge® ID Me™ Perfect Fit Training Collar. A training collar is different from a normal collar because it has sewn in elastic that will stretch if the pet gets caught on something. This allows the animal to easily slip out of the collar if needed. Always make sure to watch your puppy as they get use to wearing a collar. Once he tolerates the collar, put on a leash such as the Breeder’s Edge® ID Me™ Take Me Home Collars and Leashes and let him acclimate to that.

Then, you can start walking. Using a long-handled plastic or wooden spoon with peanut butter or soft cheese on it, hold the leash in your left hand, the spoon in your right hand at your left knee and start walking, using the food-coated spoon as a tool to help your puppy forget about the leash. If you have enough yummies on the spoon, he will follow the spoon and eventually end up walking politely at your side.

Take along enough treat to refill the bowl of the spoon as he is learning to heel.

Head halters are another great tool to use to help teach your puppy to heel while not causing too much trauma to your arm as they tug you down the sidewalk. Halters are how we lead horses and cows – they are not muzzles and are kinder than having your puppy choking on a leash and collar. Don’t hesitate to order one of these. When properly fitted and used, it will make walking more pleasant for you and your puppy.

How to Teach a Puppy to Be Alone

No matter how much time you can spend with your puppy, there will be times she will have to be left unattended. With practice and advanced planning, she will be able to look forward to your absence or inattention. While snuffle mats are popular for slowing down the time in which your puppy eats his meal, puppies should never be left alone with this type of mat. The risk is he may eat parts of the mat, causing an obstruction in his intestines.

Stuffed Kongs and other hollow toys, and muffin tins filled with frozen goodies are a great way to keep your puppy busy and slow down mealtime. You can stuff the toy or metal muffin tin (no silicone please) with plain yogurt, soft cheese, peanut butter, liver sausage or other soft treat, mixed with your puppy’s kibble or other diet. Have two or more so one can be in the freezer ready to go and the other can be in front of your puppy or in the dishwasher. It’s a handy way to feed meals or keep the puppy busy during Zoom meetings or while helping with homework and making dinner.

To help you puppy look forward to your absence, lock the frozen treat in the crate before you are ready to leave for the day. That way, they will anticipate a great time in their crate, instead of giving you sad puppy dog eyes when you will be otherwise occupied.

How to Prevent Separation Anxiety in Puppies

Many puppies and adult dogs develop separation anxiety – meaning they become nervous when separated from their favorite person. By acclimating them to a crate with something fun to do inside, they will be better adjusted to being alone. Additionally, getting them onto a schedule that will reflect your back-to-work or back-to-school schedule will help prevent anxiety with a change in schedule.

In many but not all cases, puppies who have come through rescue organizations or puppies belonging to first time dog owners are the most commonly affected by separation anxiety.

Symptoms of separation anxiety include restlessness while you are preparing to leave, an unwillingness to eat or drink while you are gone, or destructive behavior in your absence. At times, this can be dangerous.

For some dogs, behavior modification or crating them can manage the symptoms. Other dogs require medication to aid in reducing their anxiety and the risks to damage to your home and themselves in your absence.

How to Teach a Dog to Wait at the Door

Waiting at the door is another life skill that has multiple meanings. One, if the puppy learns to charge the door, someday you will lose him. He will get out before you are ready and you may not get him back safely. Secondly, this is a status situation. You and all the other humans should go out the door before the dog. The higher the status of the dog in your home, the earlier in line they should be able to go out. If you are having status (formerly known as dominance issues) issues, leash the dog(s) who need to wait and practice letting the people and then the higher-ranking dogs out, then the younger and lower ranking dogs. Remember, this can be another life-saving tip.

Give Permission to Be on Furniture

In the dog world, height, age, and female are status. You can’t change the gender or the age of the dogs in your home, but you can change their height. For safety and status reasons, dogs should not be allowed to be on the furniture until they have earned it and been invited up.

If the puppy isn’t on the couch, he isn’t taller than the other dogs or your children. If he isn’t on the chair, he can’t chew it up, most of it anyway. If he is on the floor, he can’t shed on the new sofa. If he isn’t on the new recliner, he can’t urinate on it. For these and many other reasons, keep him “grounded” with all four on the floor or on a comfortable, washable, chew-proof doggie bed.

If you have a question or concern with your new puppy’s behavior or health, reach out to your veterinarian or call a Pet Care Pro at 800.786.4751.

Written by: Marty Greer, DVM

Director of Veterinary Services

Marty Greer, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, has 40+ years’ experience in veterinary medicine, with special interests in canine reproduction and pediatrics. She received her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Iowa State University in 1981. She’s served as Revival’s Director of Veterinary Services since 2019. In 2023, Dr. Greer was named the Westminster Kennel Club Veterinarian of the Year.

If you need help, call us at 800.786.4751.