5 Cues to teach your puppy

Bringing home a new puppy is an exciting time for many families! They’re cute, cuddly, and they’re usually too young to have picked up many bad habits. In the mix of all the playtime and snuggles, you’ll need to teach your puppy how to be a member of your household. This is where training comes in.  

The thought of teaching a new puppy good house manners and obedience can be overwhelming if you've never had any formal training. Experts at the Guide Dog Foundation have put together a basic puppy training guide to help everyday puppy parents learn some of the earliest skills our future guide dog puppies learn. This guide is full of advice directly from our puppy trainers and has been adjusted as an appropriate source for non-working dogs.  

Before you get started, some of the most important things to remember when training your puppy are baby steps, consistency, and positive reinforcement. Be patient and don’t hold training sessions that are longer than your puppy’s attention span. Any breaks in consistency will confuse your puppy, so keeping regularity in training is key. Lastly, never yell at or strike your dog. Training should be fun, not cause stress and/or fear. Reward your puppy’s positive behaviors and be patient as they learn to stop the negative patterns. 

Top 5 most important skills/cues the pups should be learning earliest in their foundational training: 
1. "Go Potty" 
2. Name Recognition 
3. Loose Leash Walking 
4. "Come" 
5. Crate training 

Download Top 5 Cues To Teach Your Puppy
“Go Potty”
Our puppy raisers use the verbal cue “busy”, but “go potty” is a more popular cue to teach your puppy to relieve when you ask them to relieve themselves. Remember consistency is key and be patient!  

• To teach this verbal cue most effectively, pick a designated busy spot at your home and take your pup to the designated area every time early in their training. Using the same door to exit your home will also help establish a consistent busy routine. 

• Once your puppy is in their area, give the verbal cue “go potty” and allow them to sniff while walking around you. 

• When your puppy starts to relieve themselves say, “Go potty”. Wait until they are done to praise them, but calmly tell them, “Good Potty”. It may take several weeks for your puppy to correlate relieving with the “go potty” verbal cue. 

• Once your puppy seems to understand the verbal cue start saying “Go Potty” right before they start to relieve. As before, praise your pup once they are done. 

• Once you have done this for several days and the connection seems to be understood, start saying the verbal cue as your pup indicates they are about to potty but hasn’t started yet. 

• Then, start saying the verbal cue when you get to the area where they normally relieve themselves. 

Name Recognition 
This one is basic - driving the connection between your puppy’s name and reinforcement by repeating your puppy’s name and following it with a treat each time.  For consistency, practice this at least 10 times each day. 

• Call your puppy’s name. As soon as they look at you, praise with a “yes” and give a treat.  

• If your puppy doesn’t provide eye contact right away, you can make slight kissing noises or gently rub their head to get them to turn to you. Once they turn and make eye contact, immediately praise “yes” and give a treat.  

• Be patient. Do not punish your puppy in any way when they don’t respond. Repetition is key, and they will eventually learn if you persist.  
Loose Leash Walking  
You can start introducing loose leash walking as soon as you get your puppy. A gentle leader leash or harness can be helpful to prevent pulling and help you provide a high rate of reinforcement to the pup to establish your expectations. The pup should walk by your side on a loose leash. There should not be tension or pressure on the dog's neck (if using a regular collar) or head (if using a gentle leader). The pup should be taught to alleviate the pressure if it's added through self-control and loose leash walking exercises.  

Please follow these guidelines when teaching loose leash walking:  
• Start in a low distraction environment, like your home in a quiet room. Hold the leash in a comfortable position with your hand on the leash in a position that keeps the pup close to you without tension on the leash. Do not hold the end of the leash at the loop. You should hold the leash close because it gives the pup a short range of movement. If you hold the end of the leash the pup has several feet to move before, they feel tension. 

• Pre-load your hand with kibble. You’ll want to deliver the food quickly to provide a high rate of reinforcement for the pup's loose leash walking. 

• Take one step forward and if the pup follows, say "yes" and reward the pup with a treat. The pup might get wiggly and out of position, just remember to reward at the left knee to maintain their memory of being rewarded there. 

• Continue taking one step at a time and offering reinforcement. 

• Once the pup has mastered walking one step at a time without lunging or adding tension on the leash, continuing adding 1-3 steps at a time between reinforcement. 

Your puppy should always happily come directly to you when they are called, even with distractions. 

On-leash & off-leash recall: 
• Have a piece of kibble ready in your hand and start by calling your puppy while they are about half a leash length away from you. 

• Start in a familiar environment with no distractions. Allow your puppy to wander, and when they are no longer paying attention to use give the verbal cue ‘come’ once in a happy voice. 

• If your puppy makes any attempt to move toward you, start praising them to encourage them to continue moving toward you. If they don’t come immediately gently reel the pup in with the leash. Once the pup starts paying attention to you, praise them! 

• Walk several steps backward with your puppy following you to teach them to keep moving toward you. Stop walking and continue praising your puppy as they approach you. Hold the piece of kibble near their nose and draw them toward you. When they are close enough take hold of their collar with your free hand as they get the kibble for reward. 

• Verbally praise and pet your puppy while still holding their collar. 

• Repeat this exercise several times. Make sure not to overstimulate or exhaust your puppy; keep these learning sessions brief. 

• The transition to off leash needs to be done gradually and only when your dog’s recall is solidified on leash. 

• In a safe, enclosed area allow your pup to drag the long leash (15 to 30 feet) and allow them to explore the environment. When they are no longer paying attention to you, call them to you and praise them when they respond and start walking toward you. As before, take several steps back to encourage them to follow you. When you have taken hold of their collar, give them quick pets, verbal praise, and then food reward. 

• If your puppy does not respond to your verbal cue pick up the long line to reel them toward you. Reward and praise as above. 

• If your pup is responding well you can start shortening the long line they are dragging behind them. Remember they are only ready to shorten the leash when they are immediately responding to your verbal cue every time. 

• After several weeks of training sessions, the pup should reliably come when called off leash in a safe, enclosed area with random reinforcement. Your puppy must be reliable with distractions in any environment. If you feel they are too distracted or not responding to your verbal cue immediately go back to the longer, handheld line until needed. You do not want to create the habit of allowing the puppy to ignore your verbal cue and being reeled in or needing a leash correction to get their attention. 

Crate Training 
The puppy should feel like the crate is a comfortable, safe place to relax. The crate should be an aide to keep your home and the puppy safe, teach polite house manners, and confine the pup when you cannot supervise them.  

• Feed all meals in the crate until the pup is eagerly going into the crate. This can take several months, increasing positive association with food in the crate, the faster they will acclimate and be comfortable in it. 

• Do not leave the puppy unsupervised in the crate with cloth or bedding. The crate should be clear of items the pup can destroy or ingest. 

• Give the pup a non-ingestible dog toy to play with in the crate. We suggest a strong, durable bone like this wishbone Nylabone.  

• If the pup must be left in the crate for a period more than 15 minutes at a time during the day before they have a foundation with the crate game, give the pup a food stuffed toy like a KONG. Soak their regular dog food for at least 10 minutes in warm water and then stuff the food in the Kong or sterilized bone. You can freeze the toy with food ahead of time to keep the pup occupied for extended periods. 

• Make the crate fun! Play the crate game described below. 

Crate Game 
Introducing the crate to your puppy with food creates a positive association. Play this game several times a day when the pup is hungry, but not right before mealtimes so they don't become frustrated or frantic and remember to set the crate up in a quiet room with minimal distractions. All food rewards should be given in the crate during this game and let the pup leave the crate if they want to.  

· Lure the pup into the crate with food so they go all the way to the back of the crate. Once the pup is in the back of crate, drop the food and allow them to eat the food. After you have done this portion of the game several times, only reward the pup for being in the back of the crate. 

· The pup should be facing the back of the crate as they eat the food you dropped. Put another piece of kibble in your hand and extend it into the crate so the pup is met with food when they turn around. 

· If your pup leaves the crate, lure the pup back into the crate several times with food until they make the connection that food is delivered in the crate. Continue to meet the pup with food when they turn around to walk out. 

· After luring the pup into the crate 5-10 times, start letting the pup walk into the crate on their own. Once the pup walks in, drop food into the crate from the top. Do not drop the food in until the pup steps into the crate. 

· Meet the pup with a piece of kibble when they turn around. If the pup becomes hesitant to leave the crate, lure them out with kibble. Then, allow the pup to walk back in and be reinforced with food by walking into the crate. 

· As the pup turns around in the crate after the first food reward you dropped in, quietly close the door. Feed the pup several times through the door. Then, delay the feeding 5-6 seconds. Continue increasing the duration of time between feeding through the closed door. After feeding 10-15 pieces of kibble, open the door. Feed the pup several pieces of kibble in the crate with the door open. 

· When the pup walks back into the crate close the door and increase the time between feeding by 10-20 seconds. Open the crate and feed the pup at the entrance before they exit. 

· Allow the pup to walk back into the crate. Close the crate and walk away. Return to the crate after several seconds and feed the puppy. Continue increasing and varying the duration of your time away from the crate to 20 seconds. Walk out of the room and pup's sight for several seconds and increase and vary the time with your absence. Continue this exercise by placing the pup in the crate while you're home. Leave the room but return to reinforce the pup's quiet and calm behavior with food reward. 

We hope this detailed guide on the top 5 most essentials cues to teach a new puppy is helpful to you! Please remember above all that teaching your puppy new skills should be a positive experience and help them feel more confident. You want to teach them that good things happen when you listen to your human!