When you first get a puppy, it can be overwhelming knowing what to teach first. Puppies have little sponges for brains! The top 5 cues all puppies should know are:
1. Hand Target
The hand target is one of the most versatile cues you can teach your puppy. It involves your puppy touching their nose to your hand, and can be used for moving your puppy places, calling your puppy back to you, and teaching loose leash walking!
Start by offering your open palm to your puppy. When they go to sniff your hand, mark with a “yes!” and follow it with a treat from your other hand.
Repeat that step until your puppy is reliably touching your hand when you offer it. Start to ask for “touch” as you present your hand, to put the behavior on a verbal cue.
Mix up the position you present your hand to your puppy and play in more distracting areas until they are a pro!
2. Come When Called
It’s incredibly important for our puppies to learn to come to us when we call them. It can be a life saving cue!
Start by teaching your dog that your recall word means that you have delicious treats. Pick something unique that you won’t casually say to your dog - “come here” is said often, but “abort mission!” is a unique cue that won’t be said too much, for example. Say the cue and then feed treats!
Next, practice by calling your puppy from around the house or backyard and rewarding when they arrive. Don’t call your puppy unless you know they will come at this stage, because we don’t want them to learn to continue exploring when we call them!
Once your puppy flies to you in less distracting environments, practice around more distractions. Always set your dog up for success! Come when called is one cue where it’s recommended that you ALWAYS reward your puppy for so that they never stop listening.
3. Eye Contact
It’s hard to train dogs if they aren’t paying attention, so let’s teach our dogs to look at us!
Start with your hands behind your back. Make fun noises to get your dog to look up at your face. When they do, mark with a “yes!” and pull a treat from behind your back to reward.
Next, gradually ask for longer periods of eye contact before marking with a “yes!” and rewarding. You can use your dog’s name as their cue for eye contact, or you can use a separate word like “look” or “eyes.”
4. Loose Leash Walking
Walking nicely on a leash is easiest to teach from puppyhood, and MUCH harder to fix as an adult. Even if your puppy can’t pull you over yet, it’s so much easier to start this one right from the beginning.
Reward often when your puppy is on a loose leash! Teach your puppy that being close to you is a magical place where treats appear, so they stay closer in the first place.
Secondly, if your puppy pulls on the leash, stop or turn around. Every. Single. Time. If you let your puppy get away with pulling now, they will learn that pulling works to get them places.
After turning around, once your puppy has caught up to you, you can turn around again and walk your original direction and reward your puppy for their choice to catch up to you!
Sit in and of itself it’s a necessary behavior, even though most owners teach it first thing to their dogs. However, sit can be a useful behavior to teach dogs to “say please” for things they want!
You can teach sit by holding a treat over your dog’s head and rewarding when their butt touches the ground. Once they know how to do that, you can start having your dog sit to ask for things they want.
If your dog is begging for food, ask them to sit before feeding them anything. If your dog wants to play fetch, ask them to sit before throwing the ball. If your dog wants to say hi to someone, ask them to sit before letting them greet the person.
Asking for a sit in these situations will help your puppy learn to automatically sit when there is something they want, rather than risking problem behaviors in those situations in the future.