This everything you need to know guide is designed for people who want to train their puppy the Zen Dog way and learn the most important steps to take, what lessons to focus on, pitfalls to avoid—and can be read in less than ten minutes!

The goal at Zen Dog Training is to offer people training solutions which, once learned, can be applied universally to all dogs, all breeds, at any age. Our methods are intuitive and easy to implement, helping people quickly teach new behaviors and stop unwanted behaviors in a peaceful and Zen way.

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


The importance of new puppy training

Dogs may grow up to be timid, shy/fearful, or even aggressive if they are under-socialized! Many young children are turned-off to having a new puppy in the house if the puppy bites and scratches them. Many owners become frustrated when their puppy becomes upset when left alone or worse, if they growl and bite people over food, being touched, or when they are scared.

If people focus too much on traditional obedience and skip the new puppy basics, (socialization: people, children, city noises, places, and other dogs; home alone training; solving play biting; getting control of things in a puppy’s mouth) they can experience serious problems.


The secret to dog training

It is essential that people consistently follow through with teaching lessons, and setting rules and boundaries. Dogs will quickly learn by trial and error what they can get away with, and with whom, so training takes patience! Instilling good habits requires people take time to work with their dog with daily exercises and repetition.

At Zen Dog Training we teach that setting up situations where people control the outcome – before they start training – is the secret to dog training. This means the right training tools and equipment are key! A well-fitting collar, and having a puppy wear a “drag line” or indoor leash when they are acting up, can give people the upper hand when training or interrupting an unwanted behavior. More on this topic can be found here: Understanding Dogs

Treats too are a “secret” training tool and an essential part of training. It is much easier to motivate a dog to stay focused and enjoy interacting with people, if they get rewarded for doing so. Instead of learning that listening to people is rewarding, dogs find rewards when not listening! For example, when people forget to bring treats on walks, dogs constantly search and sniff the ground for “other rewards”.


How to “speak dog”

People are prone to taking a new puppy into their homes and treating them like a new roommate, child, or furry little human, using lots of words or talking with their dog in long sentences, and expecting them to learn the same way people do.

People are primarily verbal communicators, while dogs are focused on body language, tone of voice, facial expressions, and non-verbal signals when learning to navigate the world. Dog training is easier when people limit how much talking they do with their dogs. Talking to a dog all the time is fine, just not effective for training, instead people should focus on signals, actions and outcomes.

Since dog training is interspecies communication, the clearer the signals and more predictable the outcomes, the faster dogs will understand what people want from them.


Keep the words to a minimum

At Zen Dog Training the first game people learn is called the “Yes Game”, where people use a “Yes” marker to help dogs understand they did something right – “Yes” do it again. When people learn to say “Yes” at the right moment (and reward the behavior) people help their dog understand what they like.

The reason the Yes marker (or clicker) is such a powerful tool, is that it encourages people to use dog-centric, clear and consistent, communication when training. A clicker is a small dog training device that makes a “click” sound to help people signal they approve of their dog’s behavior. At Zen Dog Training we suggest instead of using a clicker, everyone who trains the dog uses the “Yes” word.

Pro Tip: A powerful training trick to ensure everyone in the family is on the same page with training is to create a list of training words and sounds and define what they mean.


Where to start!

Young puppies and newly adopted dogs need to have certain baseline behaviors taught so they grow up to be Zen Dogs. 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!

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 5-30 minutes
  • Outdoor Experiences – 10-12 times-a-day for 5-20 minutes
    • 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 – 4-5 times-a-day for 1-2 minutes
  • Bonding Experiences – 10 times-a-day for 2-5 minutes
  • Teaching Commands – 4-5 times-a-day for 5-10 minutes
  • Food Bowl Exercises – 3-4 times-a-day for 1-2 minutes
  • Play Biting Solutions – 10 times-a-day for 2-5 minutes

Many of these activities overlap, for instance, when taking the dog outside for 10 minutes owners can play obedience exercises for 5 minutes, give treats when joggers go by, and reward their puppy for peeing in the right place – all during a single outing.

For the first week or two, there are hours of activities to practice each day, however, in 2-3 weeks many of these exercises will decrease or become unnecessary.

For example, after a puppy learns to consistently go to the bathroom outside, or stops play biting, people do not have to practice those games and solutions as intensely. Using our methods, many clients have their dogs mostly house trained in 4-5 days, and play biting can be greatly reduced in 48 hours!


How long does it take to train a puppy?

One month of actively working on these essential puppy lessons is all it takes for most dogs to become crate trained, house trained, and comfortable with people touching their bodies (picking them up and handling them), comfortable with their mouths being opened, the food bowl being moved, and comfortable with people, their new environment, and the sights and sounds of the city.

By the second month, most puppies have mastered these basics and people will have more time to spend with the puppy on longer walks, or bringing them to friends’ houses, parks, and public settings. Now the training focus shifts to commands like sit/down/stay, come, and leash walking.

Raising a Zen Dog or mastering challenging training goals will take several months of consistent effort, as every dog is unique, and all dogs need different kinds of experiences and lessons at various points in their development.


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 have a tendency 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, as a way 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!