6 Essential Things to Teach An 8-Week-Old-Puppy

What To Teach An 8-Week-Old Puppy

Knowing what to teach an 8-week-old puppy can make puppy’s transition into your family smoother, especially during the first few weeks. But puppies have so much to learn that you may not know where to start! So I’m going to share six key things you should teach your 8-week-old puppy.

If your puppy is a little bit older than eight weeks, that’s no problem. Just jump right in as soon as you can!

These six age-appropriate skills are foundational for basic puppy training. So it's best to start with these essential skills before attempting more complex skills like obedience training or any of those fun party tricks like roll over and play dead. Your puppy’s 8-week-old brain isn’t developed enough for complex skills.

And by focusing on teaching age-appropriate skills, you’ll be more successful because your puppy will master new skills faster and easier.

So let’s dive right in.

6 Essential Skills to Teach an 8-Week-Old Puppy

8-week-old puppy potty training

1. Potty Training

Doggie potty training is typically where most people want to start their puppy’s training. And I wholeheartedly agree!

You might be surprised to learn that there are several factors to consider when teaching a puppy to go potty outside. Here are a few you should know right away:


  • Your puppy’s bladder is small. So creating a potty training schedule is crucial for helping your puppy reach this critical milestone.


  • Your puppy needs a designated “potty spot” that is safe and secure to do his business. And he needs to be taught where that designated potty spot is.


  • Your puppy needs to learn how to tell you when he needs to go potty. And it’s helpful to have a method that helps you distinguish between a cry for food or attention and “Help! I need to go potty right now!”


I’ve created an excellent free resource that will get you started on the right paw for potty training, and I’ll share more about that in a bit.


2. Food Comes From You

If you follow me on YouTube, you might have heard me say that I strongly recommend an established feeding schedule, especially around meal times, instead of allowing constant access to food.

The benefits of teaching your puppy that food comes from you and having a feeding schedule include:


  • Strengthening your bond with your puppy.
    Every time you feed your puppy, it strengthens a positive association with you because you + certain noises (like scooping kibble from the bag or pouring kibble in her bowl) = food and a happy tummy.


  • Improving puppy’s focus on you.
    As your puppy learns that food comes from you, she will begin to pay more attention to you. And having your puppy’s attention is crucial as you start training games and teaching new skills.


  • Helping your dog maintain a healthy weight.
    A feeding schedule lets you monitor your puppy’s food intake and quickly spot signs of trouble. A sudden decrease in your pup’s appetite may signal a potential dental or health problem. A sudden increase may signal a growth spurt or potential health problem.


  • Monitoring your puppy’s bathroom habits.
    Some puppies need to go potty immediately after eating, while others need time to walk around and sniff out the perfect potty spot. A consistent feeding schedule and monitoring your puppy’s bathroom habits help you create an effective potty schedule and notice signs of potty problems.


  • Creating training opportunities around meal time.


Most 8-week-old puppies need to be fed about three times a day, but you should follow the advice of your veterinarian if your vet’s guidance differs from these guidelines.

We don’t want to create an unpleasant association with food or mealtime. Mealtime should be pleasurable and stress-free. If you have a busy household with other animals running around and kids playing noisily, you want to choose a calmer location.

You should also know that puppies sometimes don't eat much for the first few days after bringing them home. That’s totally normal and should improve after a few days.


Teaching 8-week-old puppy that food comes from you


3. Collar and Leash Desensitization

Puppies are unfamiliar with dog collars, harnesses, and leashes. Think of these as foreign objects that don’t come naturally to a puppy. Besides being uncomfortable and irritating, wearing a dog collar or harness and leash is stressful for a puppy who doesn’t understand what you’re trying to do to them.

So it’s important to introduce these new items slowly – a process known as desensitization – to prevent your puppy from being scared or traumatized.

Desensitizing occurs by creating a positive association with new objects or situations. In my online course, we do this by teaching the “Bump It” game. We start by training the puppy to bump your hand and giving a treat.

Once your puppy has mastered bumping your hand on cue, you can use this game to introduce other new items like the collar, harness, or leash.

Because you will need the collar or harness and leash right away for potty trips outside and other training, this should be one of the first skills you work on before you attempt leash training a puppy.

Of course, you might have to use the collar, harness, and leash before completely desensitizing your puppy. And working on building a positive association with these items right away will help your puppy become comfortable wearing these items faster.


4. Crate Confidence

Next up, we have dog crate training to instill crate confidence. The crate provides your puppy with a safe and comfortable retreat for napping and decompressing. Think of it as giving your puppy her own private bedroom where she can relax, unwind, and sleep.

We need to teach our puppies to have crate confidence because puppies are born in a litter, and it is unusual for them to have alone time at this early stage in life.

Crate confidence means that your puppy:


  • Is not panicking when in the crate
  • Is not having potty accidents in the crate
  • Goes into the crate on his own or on your cue
  • Comes out of the crate calmly when you give the release word


For crate training, you will need to choose a crate, and I recommend using either a metal (wire) crate or a plastic crate because they are typically more secure and durable than wooden crates. While a metal crate makes it easier to see inside and deliver treats at the back once your puppy is all the way inside, puppies seem to settle into the plastic crates more easily.


Plastic crate for crate training an 8-week-old puppy


And plastic crates are often airline-approved. So, a plastic crate can serve double duty if you’re planning to travel with your puppy.

Also, because a crate is an unfamiliar object to your puppy, you’ll want to use training games to slowly desensitize her and build her confidence in using the crate.

Remember that excellent free resource I mentioned earlier? It also includes crate training!


5. Name Game

Know what else 8-week-old puppies need to learn? How about their names?

Yep, you want your puppy to turn his head and focus on you when you call his name. But first, you need to teach him to recognize his name and what you want him to do when he hears it.

The name game is a fun and easy way to help your puppy recognize his name.

Start by saying or calling the puppy’s name. Then, when he turns his head to look at you, use a marker word like “Yes!” and immediately follow it up with a treat.

This game is so fun and rewarding because, honestly, most pups are pretty compliant at this age and will often turn their heads at just the sound of your voice. But, when you pair it with an irresistible treat, you can teach him this new skill quickly.

And learning this skill is the beginning of teaching your puppy to come when called (a skill known as recall) which will be essential for him later on.

Practice makes progress on this skill and all the skills you want to teach your puppy. And making training time fun with games and rewarding treats gives you and your puppy something to look forward to.


6. How to Play With Enrichment Toys

The last thing I think you should teach your 8-week-old puppy is how to play with an enrichment toy like a Bob-a-Lot or something similar. Here’s why.

Enrichment toys are a little more challenging than a typical rope toy or a ball. These toys require the puppy to do a little problem-solving or a little detective work and teach them to have some control over their environment, which reduces stress.

Sometimes puppies need a little human engagement in order to help them understand what to do with a new enrichment toy. And you can do this by encouraging them when they're getting
closer or resetting it to a start over if they've been struggling.

Also, if you can break it down into micro steps for them, they will have an easier time figuring out the toy and getting what they’re supposed to do with it.

Micro steps for the Bob-a-Lot might include:


  • Show how the Bob-a-Lot moves.
  • Pull a treat out of the Bob-a-Lot to show the puppy that there’s actually something inside.
  • Show the puppy which way Bob-a-Lot moves to cause a treat to fall out.


And you may have to do this several times for your puppy to catch on. So don't expect perfection immediately, especially with this game or some other tougher ones.

If your puppy isn't sure he likes it – maybe he barks at it, or he's scared of it – that's okay too. You didn't waste your money. Just put the toy away for a little while and bring it back out again in the future.

If your puppy is especially sensitive to sounds, look for toys that don't make much noise. Or, if your dog likes to chew, maybe a toy that requires more work to get the treat – like a Kong filled with frozen applesauce – might be a better choice.

Now that we’ve gone over these six essential skills to teach an 8-week-old puppy, I’d like to tell you about that free resource. The New Puppy Starter Kit includes four lessons, a downloadable resource packet with printable worksheets, and access to my private Facebook group – a supportive community for new puppy owners like you!

I’m also going to assign you just a little homework. First, I want you to record a short video of you training your puppy one of these new skills and share a little snippet with me inside my Facebook group. Then, if you use the hashtag #homework, I will look at your video and give you some personalized feedback.

Michele Lennon with her dream dogs

About the trainer

Michele Lennon

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.