Prepping Puppies for Life

| Jasey Day

Are you hoping to teach your new puppy how to navigate life to his or her fullest potential? Add these life skills to your puppy training checklist!


You’ve started mastering crate training and house training. You’ve provided safe chew toys galore and lots of love. Is there more you can do to mold your dog into a well-mannered citizen and to ensure he has the right foundation for general “life skills”? Yes! Whether your pup is a companion dog or a future competitor in canine sports, add the below items to your puppy training checklist:

1. Expose your dog to walking on different surfaces.

Your breeder may already have started this surface training with your pup at 4-6 weeks of age! Now that your dog is home with you, you can continue teaching your dog to be comfortable walking on all different textures – metal cookie sheets, foam pads, dog beds, carpeted floors, wood floors, concrete, linoleum, tile floors, and so on!

Next, set up a proprioception obstacle course to practice balance and confident footing – line up a row of sofa cushions, inflatable dog or human exercise equipment, duct-taped old phone books, and aerobic benches. Then guide your dog to carefully walk over the obstacles by luring him with a treat in front of his nose!

Finally, be sure your dog has seen and is comfortable with stairs and elevators. If your dog has never seen stairs or an elevator, this could put a glitch in your vacation plans if you book a pet friendly hotel that requires your dog to happily use either. Have your dog carefully go up and down a few stairs as age appropriate per your veterinarian. Find a dog-friendly facility that will allow you to use the elevator with your pup; teach your dog that elevators are safe and fun! Find a CGC Urban Dog class to help you master those skills.

2. Practice “out and about” training.

Do you want your dog to be a well-rounded hound who can behave and be confident in public situations and on vacation? Give your dog positive new experiences with people and other dogs. Make sure your dog sees things that he would see in the real world beyond your neighborhood. Has your dog seen strollers and cart wheels? Does he know how to settle on a mat while you eat a meal so that you can take him out to a café or out for coffee?  Is your dog going to cheer your kids on during local soccer games? If so, make sure he’s ready! Teach him the go to your mat behavior so he knows how to settle at a restaurant. Ensure he has positive experiences – such as eating - near items with wheels. Gradually expose him to crowds of happy people – first from a distance and then later, closer to the hustle and bustle - while he stays quietly and confidently at your side. Have your dog meet a variety of people of all different shapes, sizes, ages, and heights. A different hairdo, outfit, or walking style may seem odd to your dog – dogs need to be acclimated to humans’ ever-changing silhouettes. Keep new exposures short and positive – socialization is about quality, not quantity. End the socialization training session before your dog is overtired!

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3. Do obedience and sports skills on the flat.

You need to be careful of your pup’s growth plates, so young pups cannot do things like agility jumps, duration exercises on unstable dog fitness equipment, and jogging for distance on hard surfaces. What can you do to train and exercise your precious pup? You can do a lot of skills on the flat to prepare for those adult dog activities. Teach crawling, lateral walking, backwards walking, sit, down, stand, circles left and right, shaking each paw individually, and nose touch!

Agility dogs often wrap a cone long before they ever learn to wrap or “slice” a jump (meaning they jump over a pole at an angle). Many sporting dogs also practice shadow handling in which the dog follow’s the handler’s body language and motion cues on the flat (ground) in preparation for someday doing actual agility obstacles. Create a dog who loves to problem solve, learn new tricks, and master his body’s coordination! Even if the skills you perfect are not directly foundational exercises, it still teaches your dog to stay in tune and bond with you!

4. Master grooming manners before you need those skills.

Some new dog owners forget to train their dogs to be handled for grooming, nail trimming, and vet visits. With all the other skills on your puppy checklist to refine, it can be easy to forget those animal husbandry behaviors. Waiting to train the behavior until you need it often means you may rush the training or end up with a wiggling, nervous pup during grooming, bath time, or medical exams. Don’t wait until you look at his paws one day and see overgrown nails! Instead, train those now and make them part of your weekly routine. Check out these two blogs (here and here) for nail trimming tips and learn how to desensitize your dog to ear exams and cleaning too!

5. Establish a recall command sooner than later.

A strong, reliable recall is important in case you accidentally drop the leash or a house guests inadvertently lets your pup bolt out the door. You want your dog to think the “come” skill is fun and ends in a huge party of valuable treats and praise! Practice your recalls (“come”) as soon as your get your puppy so that behavior becomes engrained and natural. When your dog becomes more independent at approximately six months of age, you will not be as interesting to your dog and it can be more challenging to train this key skill.

Go Train!

Now, go grab some kibble or treats to do a quick, happy training session with your pup! Do you want more help? Find a dog training class, enroll in AKC’s GoodDog! Helpline service, or pick up a good dog training book.

Photo of a woman holding her dog

Every Dog and Cat Deserves the Pet Insurance of Champions

Get prize-winning care for your pets.

Jasey Day

Jasey Day holds the Certified Canine Fitness Trainer (CCFT) credential through the University of Tennessee. She is a member of the Bobbie Lyons K9FITteam - a team of compassionate canine fitness instructors who actively teach others and continually expand their own knowledge. Since 2004, Jasey has taught a variety of workshops and classes on the following: Puppy, Canine Good Citizen/Family Pet, Advanced Family Pet, Canine Fitness, Canine Swimming, Rally, and Agility. In addition, Jasey has earned over 60 titles in Dock Diving, Agility, Rally, CGC and Trick Dog. Jasey has worked full time for the American Kennel Club since 2007 and teaches at Care First Animal Hospital in Raleigh, NC. Jasey’s Labrador Retrievers spend their free time hiking, training, and snuggling with Jasey.


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