The best time to teach your dog new tricks is right after bringing them home (after fawning over them for a couple of hours of course!). Setting the pace for learning tricks is important and can make teaching new ones easier in the future. Here are 5 of the most important tricks to teach your new puppy, along with some tips to help guide you both through the learning process.
“Sit” provides a quick and easy way to get your dog in the right headspace for performing tricks and paying attention to you. When your puppy is standing, place the treat in front of their nose and move your hand towards their tail. Any time they begin to put their bottom to the ground, reward them with affirmations (either by clicking or saying “yes” or “good dog”) and the treat. This position is sometimes a little unnatural to your pup, so you can also use your other hand to gently put pressure on their rear end to see if they’ll sit. Sometimes a little pat can go a long way, indicating that you want them to move the back part of her body. Eventually, your puppy will get used to the movement and will sit quicker and quicker.
A puppy can get very excited when out for walks, which can cause a long, grueling game of tug-of-war. To limit this, “heel” is the perfect command to encourage your dog to walk beside you. Find a room where your puppy can roam free and you can stand a good distance away. Place the hand with the treat in it (use the hand that is on the side you want your dog to come to), and then say the command. Sometimes getting your dog’s attention can be difficult, so allow them to see the treat or call their name and show them what you have. When your dog comes to your side, affirm and reward. Continue doing this until they come as soon as you say the command. When they’re comfortable, start walking around the room while they walk beside you. Keep rewarding them and try walking longer and longer distances, perhaps even walking around obstacles or through different rooms. Also make sure to practice this command when outside for a walk, where distractions are plentiful.
Sometimes you just aren’t fast enough, and your dog is close to or sniffing something they really shouldn’t be. “Leave it” will teach them how to pause before going after an item, which can give you enough time to pull them away from it. Place a treat under your foot (socks or shoes work best for this one; peanut-flavored toes may not be a good look), and have one in your hand. Allow your dog to sniff around the treat under your foot, and say the command. When your dog stops sniffing, affirm and give them the treat you have in your hand. Repeat this until they stop sniffing immediately after saying the command.
This is one of the toughest, yet most important tricks out there. Nothing scares us like seeing our dog with something they shouldn’t have in their mouth, so it’s imperative to work on this command as often as possible. Start by getting your dog to pick up a toy they really like. Play with them for a while, and then show them the treat while saying the command. Ideally, your dog will want the treat more than the toy, so they will let go and take the treat instead. Once they have the toy down, up the ante with hard-to-eat chews; hold the chew out to your dog, and once they put their mouth on it, say the command and show your other, more-desirable treat. You should also give them the toy back after a few tries, which helps them learn that they may get the toy back if you ask them to drop it (of course if they have something dangerous that’ll be a different story!). If your dog is a resource guarder (they growl or get aggressive when you get near their toys or food) you will likely need to take care of that first before teaching the “drop it” command.
This command is probably the most versatile of the bunch. Is your dog surfing the counters? “Down!” Do they jump on new people that they meet? “Down!” Do they get comfortable on your favorite duvet cover? “Down!” A good way to teach this one is by waiting for your dog to be “up” on something, and then saying the command while putting the treat to their nose and leading it downwards. Repeat this motion until they follow, and then affirm and reward them with the treat. If you have family or friends willing to act as a dummy, invite them over and practice this command when your puppy jumps on them.
Some tricks are super cute to show off, but some can save your puppy’s life. It’s important to lay a good foundation when teaching your new puppy, so maintaining consistency is key. Set a routine, and practice new tricks daily.