Chihuahua Training

Starting Puppies Off On the Right Paw

So many puppies are brought to animal shelters each year before they even reach one year of age due to “problem behaviors.” These behaviors can look like pulling on a leash, nipping, jumping up, food guarding, destructive chewing, house soiling, and ignoring recalls. Thankfully, there are steps that breeders and new owners can take to reduce the chances of a puppy being brought to a shelter. For a breeder, they are the first people that a puppy will come into contact with. Breeders have a lot of control over a puppy’s potential and whether or not they reach it. Setting a strong training foundation can make a world of difference! By teaching your puppies seven basic tasks, their chances of becoming well-rounded, lifelong companions greatly increase. And new owners can build from that foundation! Read on for more information that could help a lot of puppies have a happier, healthier life.

What To Do?

So, what are the seven tasks? How long does each take to teach? How difficult will this be? What fancy equipment is needed?

Have no fear; we’re here to help!

The tasks include teaching puppies to look at you, to sit, to come when called, to walk on a loose leash, practice bite inhibition, and early potty and chew toy training. Teaching a young puppy these tasks as soon as possible will set a strong training foundation for the future. Each task takes just a couple minutes a day with each pup, and all you will need is a treat like a little peanut butter or a few pieces of soft cheese (smaller than half the size of your pinkie nail or smaller, if possible), a quiet place, and an eager puppy!

For these training tasks, a person will need their puppy, a flat collar and leash, treats (Have plenty of tiny pieces of cut-up treats ready beforehand, a reward-marker word (This will be used to let your puppy know they’re doing the right thing. “YES!” or “GOOD!” are good options), a visual cue (or hand signal), and a verbal cue or command.

Some Tips for Beginning Training 

It’s best to start any training with a puppy that is a little hungry, so avoid feeding your puppy right before training. Instead, wait a few hours after they’ve had a meal so that they are motivated to work for the food. Start out in a distraction-free or low-distraction area. Have your puppy with you on a leash to avoid becoming distracted and running off. The leash is held in the left hand and the treat in the right hand, with additional treats kept in the trainer’s back pocket. Be able to coordinate between holding the leash, holding the treat, making a training motion, giving the treat, and grabbing a new treat for a lure can feel a little awkward initially, and you may fumble it a bit in the beginning. That’s okay! Once you’ve had a few practice sessions under your belt, it will become easier. Just keep at it. Decide beforehand what word you will use as your verbal cue or command. Also, decide which word you will use as your reward-marker word. Be sure that you use the words consistently! The reward schedule can be as follows: Only the best efforts get a treat, and once the puppy starts getting the command consistently, treats can be offered more randomly.

Once a command is learned, ask for the behavior in a new environment. Ask for a command eight times, offering the treat from the pocket on the third effort, fifth effort, and eighth effort if accomplished while still using the reward-marker word “GOOD!”

Let the training begin! 

The Seven Tasks/Training Basics

Watch Me 
This command, which teaches puppies to look at their trainer, can help for many reasons. First, you can’t train a puppy that isn’t looking at you. Second, it will keep the puppy out of trouble in the future as an adult dog. After all, a dog can’t spot and chase other people or things if they are diligently paying attention to their trainer.

Move a treat in front of a puppy. Lure the puppy to focus from the nose to the trainer’s eyes and use the reward word “GOOD”! Perform the luring action with an empty hand, still using the reward word “GOOD,” and providing a treat from a pocket. Morph the luring action into the visual cue while still using the reward marker “GOOD!” and giving treats from a pocket. Use the verbal cue “Watch!” with the hand signal (Pointing to eyes) while still using the reward marker word, “GOOD!” and providing treats from a pocket.* Make the hand signal less exaggerated through repetition while still using the verbal cue “Watch” with the reward marker word “GOOD!” while providing a treat from a pocket. Eventually, use just the verbal cue “Watch!” while also using the reward-marker word “GOOD!” and providing a treat from a pocket.

Sit is an easy trick to teach to pups, and the benefits are endless. By teaching puppies to sit in place of other unwanted behaviors, you can wipe out nearly half of their “problem behaviors,” such as jumping on people, bolting through doors and gates, and chasing after other objects and animals. They can’t misbehave as easily if their bottom is on the ground!

Lure the puppy to sit by moving the treat from the puppy’s nose back toward the back of the puppy’s skull and using the reward word “GOOD.” Repeat this step until your puppy has reached fluency with it or can follow the treat in your hand into the position 8/10 times in a row. Once achieved, practice fading the lure. Perform the luring action with an empty hand, moving the lure from the puppy’s nose toward its skull, still using the reward word, “GOOD!” and providing a treat from a pocket. Continue this step until the puppy responds to the empty hand, making the same luring motion fluently, or 8 out of 10 times in a row. Morph the luring action into the visual cue while using the reward marker “GOOD!” and giving treats from the pocket.

When a puppy responds to the visual signal fluently, you can add your verbal command or verbal cue. This simple step is done by simply saying the verbal cue or verbal command while using the hand signal. Repeat this step until the puppy responds to both the visual or hand signal and the verbal command fluently, or 8 out of 10 times in a row. Once your puppy has fluency, you can begin fading the visual or hand signal. This is done similarly to fading the lure with repetition and making the hand signal less obvious. Use the verbal cue “Sit!” with the hand signal (Bringing the right palm to the right shoulder to signal “Sit/Stay.”) while still using the reward marker word, “GOOD!” and providing treats from the pocket. Make the hand signal less exaggerated through repetition while using the verbal cue “Sit” with the reward marker word “GOOD!” while providing a treat from the pocket. Use just the verbal cue “Sit!” while also using the reward-marker word “GOOD!” and providing a treat from the pocket.

Loose Leash Walking 
Pulling on the leash is a problem that almost every single puppy or dog in an animal shelter has. And it IS a problem, especially for medium to large breeds. Even small breeds can make walks problematic if they are constantly straining on the leash. Teaching them to walk in a relaxed fashion on a loose leash is simple and fun for you and the puppies.

A properly held leash is comfortable, allows the handler maximum control over a puppy, and gives the handler a little bit more time to react if the puppy becomes distracted and tries to run. The puppy should be leashed with the snap hook placed securely on the collar. If appropriately held, leashes offer added control and restraint for handlers, giving just a few more seconds of reaction time. In addition, a leash can keep the puppy close enough that training can be carried out. The leash should always be held in the right hand because the puppy will be trained to walk on the right side next to the handler. Use treats to keep the puppy close to you and to get them to come back if they wander too far.

Recall is the most important command a puppy can learn, and the earlier they learn it, the better. Teaching puppies the recall commands at an early age will save new puppy owners trouble in the future and can even save the puppies’ lives in emergency situations. A trainer will need some help with training this command. 

To lure the behavior, you will start with your puppy on a leash and your helper holding the puppy’s leash. You will move in front of your puppy. While in front of your puppy, hold the treat in front of the puppy’s nose. Let your puppy know the treat is in your hand by moving it in front of their nose and letting them follow it. You can even give the puppy a few pieces of the treat to motivate and encourage them to continue responding to the lure. Once they know and respond to the lure, you can take a step backward while excitedly giving the recall verbal command like “COME HERE.” Your helper should let the puppy move to you freely. When the puppy moves to you, praise them lavishly and give them a high-value treat. Repeat the process of moving away from the puppy one step back at a time to start, luring the puppy with you as you go. Morph the luring action into the visual cue while still using the reward marker “GOOD!” and giving treats from the pocket. 

Early Potty Training and Chew Toy Training 
Puppies begin teething and pottying in specific locations around 5–6 weeks of age. This is when all puppies should be started on housetraining and chew-toy training. Encouraging puppies to chew on certain items and not on others and encouraging puppies to “potty” in specific areas (outdoors, on a puppy pad or newspaper). This will eliminate future destructive chewing and house-soiling. It’s simple to teach to your puppies, and it can improve both the life and quality of life of each puppy you send into the world.

Soft Mouths (or Bite Inhibition)
This is one of the most important things that an owner can do for their puppies. Many people make the mistake of trying to get puppies to stop biting and nipping altogether, but this is a grave error. The reality of the situation is that all puppies/dogs have (or should have) 42 teeth, and all dogs can and will bite if provoked, even those "taught never to bite a person,” no matter the size, breed, or sex. Dogs that are afraid or in pain are the most common “biters.” To be sure that you produce and home the best puppies possible, they must be taught to have a soft bite rather than to stop biting altogether. If a dog is provoked into biting, it WILL bite - even if it’s been “taught not to bite.” And when it does, it will bite with the same strength and force that it last used as a puppy (usually a full mouth, full-force, damage-causing bite). By teaching your puppies to have a soft mouth, they will do far less damage (barely touching the skin, if at all). This is a very simple yet extremely important thing to teach puppies. It can save the puppies’ lives, as well as the lives of others (such as children).

All of the training is positive and reward-based. It is extremely important that you do not use any corrections or punishments on puppies, or else you can traumatize them for life. Everything in life should be sought as a positive experience to build trust and confidence in puppies. Fearful puppies are what we want to avoid because fearful puppies grow up to be fearful dogs, which become dogs that bite indiscriminately. 


Even though puppies are mentioned specifically within this article, please know that a dog, no matter their age, is never too old to be trained! 

There are other resources that CKC offers to help with training and raising new puppies, including our Ages & Stages video series, YouTube Channel, and other blogs. If you have questions or find yourself and your puppy struggling, it might be helpful to do more research or to find a professional dog trainer for assistance. Our mission is to bring dogs and people together, and having a solid training foundation can help bridge the gap between owner and furry companion! 

Recommended For you!