Puppy Training 101: Top 20 Things to Expect in Puppy’s First Year
If you’re a first-time puppy owner… or it’s been a while since a new puppy was welcomed into your home… you’re probably wondering what to expect in your puppy’s first year! As you’ll see in Puppy Training 101, there is a lot of change that happens during a puppy’s first year.
Puppy’s first year includes five distinct puppy training phases – each with its own training goals which are based on your puppy’s development and previously learned skills. In Puppy Training 101, you will learn what to expect during each training phase and the training goals you should focus on to get the best results. So buckle up, it’s going to be a wild ride!
I’m going to start with puppies who are 8 to 10 weeks old as this is the most common time to bring a new puppy home.
Phase 1: Jet Lag
I like to call the first training phase after bringing a new puppy home “JET LAG.” Here’s an analogy that will help you understand what the “Jet Lag” phase is like for your pup.
Imagine going to a new country (we’ll call it Puplandia) all by yourself. It is very far away and there is no information about it online. This is what it’s like for your puppy when he leaves his littermates and mama dog and comes to your house.
As you get off the plane, you are suddenly immersed in everything new! Sights, sounds, language, the way people look, how they dress, the food… everything! As exciting as it is, you are probably overwhelmed as you try to take it all in.
So if someone comes up and offers you a big bowl of the national food of Puplandia, you probably don’t feel much like eating and the scenario might go something like this:
Puplandia Resident: “Would you like some kibble casserole??”
You: “Oooh, no thank you! Not quite yet. I’m so excited to be here but a little overwhelmed.”
Sure, you’ll want to dig in eventually, but you probably need a few days until you're ready. That is why it’s impossible to predict how long this phase will last for your puppy because each dog is different.
What to Expect During the Jet Lag Phase
1. Loss of Appetite
Your pup likely won’t want to eat much when he first comes home. And many puppies refuse treats at first too.
2. Needing LOTS of Sleep
When you first met your puppy she was probably full of energy, bounding around and playing with her littermates. So it might come as a surprise if she seems to need a lot of sleep after you bring her home.
You’ve probably experienced feeling sleepy after traveling on a long trip. The same is true for your puppy. She needs some time to adjust to her new surroundings and get her bearings.
Puppy Training Goals During the Jet Lag Phase
1. Keep your expectations low and your patience high.
Managing your expectations and patience can be easier said than done, especially if you’ve been anxiously waiting for weeks to bring this little guy home.
2. Give your puppy time to adjust.
Watch for signs that your puppy is feeling more rested and settled and becomes more interested in food.
3. Focus on building a schedule and routine.
Puppies, like people, thrive when they have a stable routine. You can help your puppy develop a routine that works well and makes potty training so much easier by following these simple steps.
- Note puppy’s daily activities like when he poops and pees, when he naps, and when he has a little more energy for play.
- Feed him on a regular schedule and watch for signals that he needs to go to the bathroom. These will be subtle but the more you are noting all his activities, the easier it will be to create a schedule.
There’s a sample puppy schedule in our free New Puppy Starter Kit.
Phase 2: “1000 Potty Breaks”
I call this the “1000 Potty Breaks” training phase because it’s going to feel like you’re taking Fido out 1000 times a day. Well, maybe not quite that often, but close!
What to Expect During the 1000 Potty Breaks Phase
1. More Curiosity and Activity
Have you heard the expression “Follow you around like a puppy”? Yeah, that’s this stage. Because your puppy is so interested in you and what you’re doing she’s very compliant. She may be really good at sitting and coming when called.
2. Frequent Need to Pee
In general, your puppy can hold her bladder about an hour for every month of age. So if your puppy is 8 weeks old, she will generally need to go potty every 2 hours around the clock. She will also typically hold it longer when she’s sleeping and shorter when she’s active because her bladder is still growing and developing and she’s learning bladder control.
3. Potty Accidents in the House
There will be potty accidents in the house, but with proper preparation, you can minimize the damage and prevent bad habits from forming.
4. Chewing and Biting
Yeah, that’s not so fun for the humans, but it’s natural for the dogs. So we can’t really blame that adorable little bundle of fluff when she gives us a nip. Just like human babies, puppies mostly explore their world by putting things in their mouths. The difference is that puppies come equipped with razor-sharp teeth!
An effective way to discourage chewing and biting is to redirect your puppy to something appropriate to chew on, much like we give a baby a pacifier. But it’s important to know that biting and chewing may have many different causes so you may have to use several different techniques to get the biting to stop.
Puppy Training Goals During the 1000 Potty Breaks Phase
1. Be Prepared for Potty Accidents and Minimize Damage
It’s important to keep potty training positive to achieve the desired results in the shortest amount of time so we never want to punish our puppy when there’s a potty accident.
Plan ahead for accidents by restricting puppy’s access in your home to an area that is easy to clean. A room that has vinyl flooring or a puppy crate is ideal.
You’ll also want to have the right cleaning product to safely sanitize the surface and remove stains and odors. Nature’s Miracle is the pet cleaning product we use and recommend.
2. Designate and Use A Consistent Potty Spot Outdoors
Consistently taking your puppy to his designated potty spot helps him quickly learn where to go potty and understand what you want him to do when he gets there.
3. Begin Exposure Training
This is the phase when exposing your pup to new and different things is critical! New places and strange objects can cause an inexperienced puppy to become fearful. So it’s important to help your puppy gradually become familiar with all the places and objects you want him to feel comfortable with throughout his life.
The goal of exposure training is to help your puppy feel safe and confident when going to new places and experiencing new things. This could be something like experiencing grass versus carpet versus tile. Or maybe you’ll be introducing him to a collar or harness and leash so you can enjoy walks together.
Perhaps it’s time to go hang out in the parking lot of a pet store, dog groomer, or veterinarian's office so he starts to become familiar with the smells and sounds he’ll experience during a vet appointment or trip to the groomer.
Or go visit a friend who has a cat that is safely tucked away in another room during your visit.
Many people call this socialization. But socialization implies just hanging out with other dogs and exposure training is so much more than that! It’s going to new places – safely, since all puppy vaccinations are not yet complete, and experiencing new things.
4. Teach Your Puppy Crate Confidence
A crate is an essential way to provide your puppy with a safe, comfortable place to relax and unwind. It also provides a secure place your puppy can be when you are unable to supervise her. And the crate is a great tool that helps with potty training. But it is something you need to help your puppy adjust to with crate training games.
5. Choose a Unique Behavior to Signal When Puppy Needs to Go Potty
Barking and scratching are annoying and unreliable methods to use as signals for your puppy’s need to potty. Instead, we recommend using potty bells and teaching your puppy to ring a ding ding when he has to go.
6. Begin Potty Training & Stick to a Routine
Now that you know your puppy’s behavior and have created a schedule that works, stick to it to minimize accidents. Of course, the schedule will need to be adjusted as your puppy grows, but having a routine is the best way to develop a well-adjusted puppy and happy owner.
7. Start Leash Training
Leash skills are needed right away when you get home since you’ll want to use a leash to take your puppy out for potty breaks. While you will need to use the collar or harness and leash right away, working on leash exposure and leash training will help your puppy adjust to these objects and develop confidence so it’s easier for you to put on the leash.
Did you think that practicing leash skills meant walking through the neighborhood? NOPE!
Leash training is a gradual process of increasingly more challenging skills, and neighborhood walks are the last step in leash training.
During this phase, you want your puppy to become familiar with the collar or harness and leash and get used to using it during potty training.
8. Consistently Reward the Desired Behavior
The best way to get your puppy to do more of a good thing is to reward her good behavior using a variety of training treats. Shouldn’t mastering a more challenging behavior be more rewarding than mastering an easier one?
9. Work on Socialization Skills
You also want your puppy to be comfortable around new people and other pets. And you can begin safely working on socialization skills even before puppy’s vaccinations are complete.
There’s so much socialization you can do during this time. And NO, dog parks are not one of them! Not now and not ever, if you ask me.
10. Make Sure Your Puppy Gets Enough Exercise
Your pup will need exercise in order to settle well during downtime. There are lots of indoor exercise activities you can do with your puppy and, if you haven’t heard of decompression walks by now, you’ll definitely want to know about those. We recommend taking your puppy on decompression walks as often as possible, as early as it is safe to do so.
Mastering these basic skills is enough to focus on during this phase. Basic cues (a.k.a. “obedience training”) and tricks can wait until later. And, trust me, your puppy will let you know when he’s ready for more skills.
An Important Thing to Note
The 1000 Potty Breaks puppy training phase is a common time for puppy owners to experience some frustration, or even regret.
In fact, it is so common that we have a name for it! It’s called the Puppy Blues and over 50% of dog owners experience them at some point – or several times!
I have a great video on my YouTube channel that can help you if you’re experiencing the Puppy Blues.
And finally, instead of worrying about all the things you need to teach your puppy, now is the first time to apply the concept: Train the dog in front of you.
What do I mean by that? Focus on your own puppy and what your puppy needs, without making comparisons to other dogs that you might know. This enables you to be more objective, less frustrated, and acknowledge the progress that you and your puppy are making.
After all, this is about forging a strong, loving relationship with your new lifelong companion.
Phase 3: “The Big Outside World”
“The Big Outside World” phase of puppy training usually coincides with vaccinations being complete. You’re ready to head outside! But is your puppy?
Have you done all that pre-training we recommended for phase 2 so your pup knows what to do when he’s on a leash? Have you dialed up puppy’s training sloooowly so when he gets outside he’s not overwhelmed?
It’s pretty common that it takes some time, maybe weeks or even a month, for your pup to really start loving those neighborhood walks. In fact, the first few days or even a week will probably be more like just a Driveway Walk because that’s about how far many pups get before they say “all done!”
And as puppy parents, we have to respect that limit and only push them as far as they can tolerate.
The Big Outside World phase for your puppy is similar to when a human baby is able to crawl, pull himself up, stand, and begin to walk. Puppy’s world is expanding and with that comes more opportunities to explore.
What to Expect During The Big Outside World Phase of Puppy Training
1. Growing Curiosity About Puppy’s Environment
As your puppy becomes aware of new things in his environment, his curiosity will drive him to explore new areas of your home – inside and outside. And, trust me, he will find all the areas that aren’t puppy-proofed.
2. Counter Surfing
By this time, your puppy has likely grown to the point where tabletops and counters are within her reach. So you can safely expect that anything left on a table or counter is fair game for your puppy to taste.
3. “Tasting” More Things
This is also that stage when puppies start picking up sticks, leaves, grass, dirt, rocks, and other inedible things. Puppies are also typically teething during this stage so they’re also looking for things to chew on to soothe those sore gums. Towels, socks, shoes, pillows, and throws are all prime targets for a teething puppy.
4. Chasing, Tackling, and Biting Things That Move
Things that move fast and make exciting noises awaken the prey instinct in your pup, making it irresistible for your puppy to chase, nip, and tackle. Chasing squirrels, birds, other pets, and children is normal dog behavior. So it’s up to us to teach our puppies what we want them to do instead.
Puppy Training Goals During The Big Outside World Phase
1. Start Impulse Control Training
If you haven’t already started it, you’ll soon realize that impulse control training is super important.
Impulse control training involves teaching your puppy to perform a different, desired behavior instead of defaulting to his natural behavior when exposed to a stimulus.
For example, when puppies are exposed to children that are running and playing, we prefer to teach puppies to use the Bump It behavior instead of chasing and biting. We use dog treats as a reinforcement to make the Bump It behavior more rewarding than biting kids.
2. Work on Advanced Leash Skills
When in the big outside world with your puppy, it is crucial that your puppy is comfortable with the leash and respects the amount of leash you allow her to use for her safety and the safety of people and other animals around her.
Keep in mind that when you first take your pup out on walks, he may not be comfortable
enough to go potty. You might be frustrated since you were hoping those walks would alleviate a few of those many potty breaks. Yeah, that’ll happen, but it could take a little while.
In addition, your dog may be triggered when he sees a squirrel, bird, cat, or other dog – especially if that dog is barking or acting aggressive. Cars, trucks, motorcycles, bicycles, skates, and skateboards can also be triggering for your pup. Instead of chasing and potentially pulling your arm out of the socket or dragging you down the street, you want your pup to stay within the length of leash you have allowed – particularly if you have a larger dog.
It’s up to us to teach him his leash limits and to keep his focus on you. And to do so, we must make that behavior more rewarding than his natural behavior so he’s more likely to do what we want.
4. Supervise Your Puppy Closely in the Big Outside World
Puppies, like babies, can get into trouble in an instant. They need your constant supervision when outdoors to ensure their safety. Plants, flowers, rocks, sticks, and other objects they encounter outdoors can be harmful or deadly if accidentally ingested.
Phase 4: “Manners and More Exercise”
As you expose your pup to new things you’ll start to see new training opportunities and skills that need to be improved.
For example, you may want to take your pup to a restaurant or outdoor cafe, or set up a doggie playdate with a similar size and temperament canine. Or maybe you want to take your puppy to the hardware store or pet store for his evening walk.
You may also encounter some lingering unwanted behavior that has been accidentally reinforced. When this happens, puppy owners often mistakenly believe that their dogs are “stubborn,” which couldn’t be further from the truth.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Anytime you call your dog ‘stubborn' or ‘bad' you are judging their potential based on your limitations as their trainer.
Did you know that around 6-9 months of age, it’s the most common time for dogs to show
up at a shelter to be rehomed? That’s because this is the age when a puppy gets more curious and active. They are no longer that sweet little puppy who sleeps on your lap like a potato, and any bad manners they have, well it’s like they multiplied.
This is when we need to put more effort into skills training, but as humans, we may become complacent or get worn out. So let me reassure you that, just like when you invested a ton of effort in potty training, you reap what you sow with skills training too. Keep working with your dog and teaching new skills and you will have that dream dog you always wanted.
What to Expect During the Manners and More Exercise Phase
1. Energy and Stamina
As mentioned before, your puppy has grown and no longer sleeps most of the time. Instead, they seem to have an almost endless amount of energy that is fueled by their curiosity and an ever-expanding world to explore.
During this phase of development, puppies will often initiate play. So your puppy may bring you their favorite toy or a ball and play tug-of-war or fetch with you. They’ll also run and splash in puddles and play tag.
Those days of your puppy following you everywhere all the time are officially over and puppy is content to play and explore on her own.
4. Destructive Behavior
When your puppy’s exercise needs are not met, that excess energy can lead to destructive behavior as your puppy does his best to release that energy in a dog-appropriate way.
Puppy Training Goals During the Manners and More Exercise Phase
1. Play With Your Puppy
Vigorous play strengthens your bond with your puppy and releases pent-up energy. It’s a win-win activity for everyone involved!
Puzzle toys, agility courses, and other enrichment activities provide your puppy with the mental and physical stimulation necessary to be a well-behaved and well-adjusted pup.
2. Take Your Pup on Decompression Walks
Decompression walks allow your pup to get out in nature and give freedom to move about freely to sniff, explore, relax, and unwind. They provide profound physical, emotional, and behavioral benefits for your dog.
3. Respect Your Puppy’s Need for Some Independence
If you find your puppy resting comfortably in her crate or playing with a favorite toy when you want her attention, leave her be. Also, your puppy may retreat to her crate if she becomes over-stimulated. And, just as you need to occasionally retreat to a quiet, comfortable place to unwind, your puppy needs some alone time for her physical, emotional, and behavioral well-being.
4. Teach Basic Cues
Throughout his life, your puppy will encounter new situations that require your help to learn good manners. For example, this is a phase when you will likely work on teaching your puppy how to calmly greet guests without jumping or pawing. You will also want to work on Basic Cues like Sit, Stay, Off, and Down.
Phase 5: “Freedom… and Regression”
As your pup gets older and more trustworthy, it is common to allow more freedom. You might open up new rooms of the house to him so he can hang out in the living room and watch TV with you, or be out of his pen while you eat or cook.
This is what we strive for!
But this is also a time when periods of regression are most notable and potentially annoying because you’ve worked too hard all year long to go backward now. Take heart. You’ll see periods of regression throughout the first year just as a natural development of your dog’s brain.
But I assure you that they will be temporary if you continue training your puppy and rewarding the desired behaviors. Training your dog is no different from you going to the gym to work on muscle building and toning. You have to maintain it or lose it!
The good news is that as your dog grows you'll learn so much more about his preferences,
what brings him joy, what routines work well for him, and how much exercise and enrichment he needs in order to have a harmonious life in the human world.
What to Expect During the Freedom and Regression Puppy Training Phase
1. Sudden Fear of Objects or Situations That Never Scared Your Pup Before
During this phase, your puppy is learning self-confidence and an appropriate fight-or-flight response. So objects or situations that never bothered your puppy before may cause him to react with fear.
2. Developing Preferences
Your puppy is beginning to develop preferences and the ability to exert them. As a result, she may not want to do the things you want her to do when you want them done.
3. Unsure of Human Expectations
Puppies do the things that come naturally to a dog – like chewing on the couch. They have no concept of “right” and “wrong,” so it’s up to us to teach them skills that go against their natural instincts so they can live harmoniously in the human world.
4. Increased Boredom
Up until this stage, the world was pretty new to your puppy and there was so much to explore and experience! Couple that with your puppy’s limited energy and stamina and there was no time for your puppy to get bored.
But now, your puppy has pretty much explored and mastered his environment. He’s familiar with all his toys and the places he’s normally allowed to go. He has lots of energy and stamina. So it’s understandable that your puppy may be experiencing boredom for the first time, or experiencing increasing boredom.
Unfortunately, boredom plus an abundance of energy can lead to all kinds of destructive behavior.
5. Behavior Regression
There will be times when you think that your puppy has forgotten his training. And, while this can be disheartening, it is completely normal.
6. The Call of the Wild
If your puppy hasn’t been spayed or neutered yet, the urge to mate will increase. As a result, you will see an increase in behaviors to escape to mate like digging, jumping fences, and darting out open doors or gates.
Puppy Training Goals During the Freedom and Regression Phase
1. Go Easy on Your Puppy and Yourself.
Now is not the time to expect perfect behavior. Instead, be prepared for unexpected and unwanted behavior that accompanies this stage of development. Stick with consistent training sessions, and reward positive behavior.
2. Provide More Opportunities for Vigorous Play and Exercise.
As mentioned earlier, vigorous play and exercise help your puppy to burn off excess energy, reduces stress, curbs boredom and destructive behavior, and strengthens your bond with your pup.
3. Prevent Attempted Escapes
For your puppy’s safety and your peace of mind, it is best to ensure that your puppy is safely confined to the house or your yard and that he is leashed before opening doors or gates. Otherwise, he might try to make a break for it to find an appropriate mate.
4. Promptly Address New Behavior Issues
When your puppy’s behavior regresses or new behavior issues arise, don’t assume that they are a phase that will pass with time. Instead, be proactive by continuing to provide ongoing training and rewarding the desired behavior.
5. Enjoy The Remaining Puppy Moments
Those puppy days are quickly coming to an end and soon your adorable puppy will be an adult dog. So savor every precious puppy moment while they last!
To help puppy owners get their first year off on the right paw, we have a free resource – the New Puppy Starter Kit – that you might enjoy. It includes four on-demand video lessons you can watch over and over again plus a 10-page guide you can download with a sample potty training schedule and so much more!
If your puppy is a little older or you’re ready for a more comprehensive program. Our 30 Days to Puppy Perfection course will help guide you and your puppy through all the challenges of the first year.
About the trainer
After spending 20 years helping families with their dogs face to face as a professional dog trainer, Michele realized that so much of what she knows could be shared with families everywhere - in a way that actually works. People sometimes think their dog is just SUPER difficult because the advice they’ve gotten was incomplete, confusing or just wrong. So she set out to help. Michele loves training dogs because of the impact that it has on the families she gets to help. The peace and joy they get from being able to enjoy their dog LISTENING. Besides teaching classes, helping private clients and running seminars, Michele is also a foodie and fantasizes about being a food critic or secret shopper for restaurants. Talk to her about food and your instant best friends.