Puppy Training Basics

The primary puppy-training goals include house-training, crate-training, collar and leash desensitization, and food manners. We’ll explain all of these goals below.


Puppies are full-time jobs, and house-training is just part of that job. As an eight-week-old puppy, Nova will need to take trips outside as often as every half hour. Pups are especially prone to needing bathroom breaks after meals and drinks, after naps and after playtimes when they run around.

The more consistently Nova is taken out to do her business outside, the fewer messes she will make in the house, and the sooner she will be fully house-trained. Make use of a crate or play-pen anytime you are not able to give Nova your full attention. Keeping your puppy in a smaller space will help her be less inclined to mess in her area. This will also encourage Nova to express her need to go outside.

As Nova’s body matures in the next few months, she will be able to wait longer to go outside. By four or five months old, she will be able to make it a solid hour or two between trips outside. Housetraining will go smoother for Nova at this age if her owner continues to watch for signs that she needs out.


A crate will be the place where Nova is allowed to keep her favorite toy, eat her meals, and take naps. As a puppy, the smaller space of the crate will reduce accidents, and keep her from getting into trouble (chewing inedible items, for instance).

When you begin crate training (which can start at eight weeks old), it’s a significant change for your puppy. Nova’s whining and barking are normal responses when she is to bed and finds herself without her siblings and mother.

To teach Nova that the crate is a safe and happy place:

  1. Open the door wide and toss in a few treats. When Nova enters to get the treats, drop a few more in the top, but leave the door wide open. Only give Nova treats when she’s in the crate.
  2. Toss another treat into the crate and when Nova enters, briefly close the door.
  3. Gradually increase the time that you close the door behind Nova, and at first offer ample treats (it works well to use a meal of regular dog food for this training). Decrease the frequency of treats as the time increases.
  4. If you catch Nova at naptime, encourage her to sleep in the open crate and once asleep close the door behind her. Be ready to let her out right away when she wakes up.

To help make Nova sleepy at night:

  • Place the crate by your bed to keep her near you.
  • Turn off the lights.
  • Sit next to the crate and stick your hand in to rub her.
  • Give Nova a good chew-toy.

As she begins to settle down sooner, start to sit further away from her crate until she is no longer dependent on your presence to settle down and go to sleep at night.

Collar and Leash Desensitization

Since Nova’s owner is raising her as a therapy dog, she will need to have excellent leash manners. Teaching good leash manners starts by getting Nova used to wearing a collar and leash.

Allow her to wear the collar for a few days until she no longer seems to notice it. Then attach a light leash (not a heavy one) and let her drag it around for a few days to get accustomed to feeling it’s weight. Soon you will be able to use the leash to keep Nova close to you in the house during the day.

Each day Nova is led around the house for several minutes on her leash to learn to walk nicely with her owner. Nova is encouraged with a cheerful “Come on, Nova!” when she lags behind and before her owner makes turns. These short walks teach Nova to pay attention to the tension on her leash and collar and to listen to her owner and watch where she is walking. These brief walks are also an excellent and gentle way to establish leadership with Nova, who has an independent streak.

A collar and leash are also important safety measures for your puppy. Please keep a collar and ID tag on your puppy (microchips can be another safety measure in case your pup gets lost) and always have your puppy on a collar or harness and leash when traveling.

A note on harnesses: A harness is quite helpful for Nova at this time. She doesn’t choke herself on a harness like on a collar. It is also easy to pull her whole body out of harm’s way with the harness. However, Nova will soon outgrow her puppy-sized harness and will become much stronger. By four months of age (sixteen weeks) it will be time for Nova to learn to walk only on her buckle or martingale collar. 

Food Manners & Feeding Tips

Meals are excellent times for beginning training sessions, especially for puppies like Nova who are between eight and sixteen weeks old. Basic obedience commands like sit, down, come, and look can be taught by using Nova’s food as training treats.

Nova can learn good manners around food right away. Teach her to sit for her bowl instead of jumping, to look at you instead of pawing, and to lay down instead of barking. Teach commands like “leave it,” “wait,” and “take it” to help Nova learn self-control and to be reliable around food.

Well-known dog trainer and developer of the first off-leash puppy classes, Ian Dunbar, recommends using at least twenty percent of every meal as a training session. Using this advice, and considering that puppies eat three to four times a day, Nova will have had approximately 64 training sessions by the time she is six months old.

To read our Top 8 Tips for Feeding and Top 8 Supplements for puppies, read our article, “Healthy Nutrition for Puppies.”

To learn more about puppy training basics, check out our recommended
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