Train your puppy the Zen Dog way and learn the most important steps to take, what lessons to focus on, pitfalls to avoid—in less than ten minutes!

New puppy owners should also read Mastering the 7 Essential Puppy Lessons, a summary of the most important new puppy training resources including our Free House Training GuideWe also have a list of our favorite tools, equipment, and treats we use with our dogs in this article These Are a Few of Our Favorite Things.

The importance of socialization

Dogs may grow up to be timid, shy/fearful, or even aggressive if they are under-socialized! It takes a little bit of work to help a puppy learn to accept city noises, traffic, and become comfortable with people but it is worth the effort! Many problem behaviors can be avoided with proactive socialization and mastering the puppy basics. Barking at strangers, other dogs, or noises outside or becoming upset when left alone can be prevented by dedicating time to train the Zen Dog way.

If you focus too quickly on obedience or teaching commands and skip these new puppy basics, you can experience behavior problems. This is especially an issue in families with children. A young child might be turned-off to having a puppy in the house if the puppy bites and scratches them. A Zen Dog will be calm and accepting of everyone in the home, especially children and guests.

Proper puppy training can reduce problem behaviors such as: separation anxiety, fearfulness, excessive barking, being nervous with new people or new situations, and even aggression!

Where to start!

Young puppies and newly adopted dogs need to master the 7 Essential Puppy Lessons to ensure they grow up to be Zen Dogs. Here are the exercises and activities that new puppy owners should be working on every day to ensure their dog becomes a Zen Dog!

  • Socialization Experiences – 100+ treats-a-day* for exposure training (loud noises, trucks, kids…)
  • Crate Training Exercises – 10-12 times-a-day for 5-40 minutes
  • Outdoor Experiences – 10-12 times-a-day for (10 minute to 1-hour sessions)
    • Short breaks for pee/poop opportunities outside (House Training)
    • Longer walks, yard sessions for socialization to people, places, things, and other dogs
  • Body Handling/Socialization to Touch – 2-3 times-a-day for 1-2 minutes
  • Bonding Experiences – 10 times-a-day for 2-5 minutes
  • Teaching Commands – 3 times-a-day for 5-10 minutes (Not one of the 7 Essential Lessons but important too 🙂
  • Food Bowl Exercises – 2-3 times-a-day for 1-2 minutes
  • Play Biting Solutions – 10 times-a-day for 2-5 minutes

You can do several activities at the same time. For instance, when taking the dog outside for 10 minutes you reward going to the bathroom, do a few obedience exercises, and socialize for a few minutes by giving treats for meeting new people or watching traffic, joggers, trucks – all during a single outing.

For the first week or two, there will be a lot to practice each day, however, in 2-3 weeks many of these exercises become unnecessary as your puppy masters them. By implementing an intensive approach, training becomes easier because your puppy learns faster. Many of our clients’ dogs are mostly house trained in 4-5 days, and can greatly reduce play biting in 48 hours or less!

How long does it take to train a puppy?

3-4 weeks of actively working on these essential puppy lessons is all it takes for most dogs to become:

  • Crate trained
  • House trained
  • Comfortable with body handling (being picked up and handled)
  • Comfortable with people touching their food bowl or opening their mouths, and
  • Relaxed (excited) to meet new with people, explore new environments, and witness the sights and sounds of the city.

In the second month, spend more time with the puppy on longer walks, or new places (friends’ houses, parks, and public settings) and shift the training to commands like look, come, sit/down/stay and leash walking.

The crate makes everything easier!

Puppy crate training is the foundation of separation anxiety prevention, helpful for house training, and the most important way for people to take control of the relationship they have with their puppy.

Crate training exercises speed up the house-training process. Puppies tend to not “go” in their crate, so when people get into the habit of taking the puppy outside immediately after every crate session, they can reduce the chance for mistakes and encourage good bathroom behaviors.

Remember: a puppy who is comfortable in their crate makes it easier for people to get work done, cook, interact with children or other pets without interruption. Once a puppy can tolerate longer absences, people can relax when they are home, or can leave the house without worrying about the puppy becoming anxious or getting into mischief.

Socialization to the real world

One of the most important areas for new puppy owners is socialization, as dogs need constant help learning to become comfortable with different people, places, and situations.

Socialization to people, places, and things is the key to having a well-trained dog who is not fearful or protective. If there are not enough people around to properly socialize the puppy (as for example during the pandemic), healthy socialization can still be done; however, it requires a bit more creativity and effort. People can socialize their puppy by dressing up in different clothing and act weird, stomping around the house, or quickly entering the front door so the puppy gets a “socialization experience” to a “stranger” or loud person, person with crutches, person wearing a hat, sunglasses, or a hoodie…

Make sure these experiences are positive by using lots of treats to help the puppy associate that startling experiences like a door slamming or a person with boots, gloves, and a hat are OK!

Puppy socialization is counter-intuitive

When socializing a puppy, we encourage clients to go towards loud noises and unusual things: the landscaping crew, fire truck, or busy street so they can use treats to create a positive experience with the sights and sounds of the city.

On walks our trainers (gently) kick trash cans, or bang on street signs, while simultaneously giving treats, to help puppies learn to expect the unexpected. We recommend people act goofy and silly and even dress up as different people to help puppies learn to become relaxed and comfortable with everyone. Using lots of treats* makes these socialization games fun!

With young puppies especially, effort should be taken with enlisting friends and family to come meet the puppy during the crucial socialization period (which ends at the 14th week). However, ALL DOGS can benefit from socialization and bonding exercises where they are gently exposed to new people, places, and experiences. The secret (once again) is using lots of treats! Just getting a nervous dog to take a treat in a new environment can be the first step toward a confident dog.

*It is important to note that “treats” should be small. During visits, clients sometimes call them “treat crumbs” when they see how tiny treats can be. If a treat is the size of a dime, break into 4 or 5 smaller treats!  The trick is to find soft treats and use a knife and cutting board to dice them into little bits before you start training. This way giving your dog 100 or more treats-a-day for training and socialization exercises is a healthy way to train. For more socialization ideas see: Socialization Tips for New Puppy Owners

Raising a Zen Dog

A Zen Dog is a well-socialized dog who is not afraid of visitors, the plumber, house keeper, or teenage kids’ friends. Basic and advanced obedience depends on having a dog that is not fearful, protective of their food or things in their mouth, but comfortable being left alone, bonded with people, and enjoys being touched, even in uncomfortable ways by groomers, veterinarians, or during a “tick check” after a walk in the woods.

Training happens faster when people are pro-active with socialization to the world and other people, and when people combine rewards, praise, and treats to speed up the learning process. Later, once your puppy understands what you want, you will not need to use treats as much.

Spend a month or two on mastering the activities in this guide to ensure your dog expects rules and boundaries, accepts all kinds of people, is comfortable going everywhere, and does not become fearful or protective – and your dog will grow up to become a Zen Dog!

Puppy Boot Camp

If you are interested in training your puppy with positive reinforcement methods that get results, check out our Puppy Boot Camp. This online resource ($27) includes 6 weeks of puppy class group lessons, training videos, ALL the Zen Dog Training Comics, and the best play biting solutions in the industry!