The rule used to be that you shouldn’t start training a dog until he was six months old. You couldn’t take a puppy any younger than that to an obedience class, because the harsh methods that used to be the standard are too much for puppies to handle.
Fortunately this isn’t usually the case anymore, but there’s still some merit to the six-months rule: You can’t really expect a young puppy to work on long obedience drills. Puppies generally have the attention span of a gnat.
Wait, let me rephrase that: puppies have the attention span of a gnat unless they are doing something really fun.
So put your puppy’s sense of adventure to good use and play some puppy training games. These are lots of fun and they give you a solid foundation in basic training that you can build on when your dog is older and ready for more complex training.
We teach 15 games and puppy-friendly training exercises in Puppy Survival School, but here are four of our favorites to get you started:
Get the whole family involved in this one. Give everyone a handful of treats and have them sit in a big circle with the pup in the middle. Everyone takes turns calling the puppy to them, feeding her treats and making a big fuss over her. This is early come-when-called training, and it also teaches the pup that people are fun and trustworthy.
Have someone gently restrain the puppy while you run off to hide and then call her name. When she finds you, praise her and give her treats or a toy. When you first play this, don’t hide yourself too well or the pup might get discouraged. As she gets better at the game you can go farther away and make it harder for her to find you.
Take a walk with the puppy on leash and let her explore. Every time she glances back at you, praise and give her a treat (if you’re clicker training, click and treat), then let her go back to what she was doing. If she doesn’t look at you, say her name or make an interesting sound.
It’s not uncommon for a puppy to catch on quickly and start walking next to you with her eyes glued to your face or hands. If that happens, give her a steady stream of treats for as long as she’ll stay next to you.
I do this with my dogs from the day I bring them home and let me tell you, it makes heel/loose leash/recall training MUCH easier.
Tug-of-war is one of the best games to play with your dog. It burns off energy and builds focus. Encourage your puppy to grab a toy from you and tug on it. Teach her the “take it” cue when she grabs it, and the “drop it” cue – hold up a treat while she’s tugging and when she releases the toy for the treat, tell her to drop it.