The responsibility of a new puppy can feel overwhelming—in addition to ensuring their health and safety, early socialization and training are essential so they grow up as a well-behaved dog. While puppy-raising will never be a part-time job, teaching your furry friend how to behave shouldn’t require hours of intense training lessons, complicated techniques, or strict disciplinary procedures. All you need is a little preparation, patience, and consistency—and a sense of humor will make things easier and more enjoyable, of course!
Here are four steps to a well-behaved puppy from the Billings Animal Family Hospital team.
#1: Make your puppy’s crate their favorite place
Crate training is one of the best ways to ensure your puppy feels safe and comfortable, and can fast-track housetraining and prevent separation anxiety. Select an appropriately sized crate with room for your puppy to stand up, turn around, and lie down comfortably, and then add a cozy bed and a few toys. Every time you place your puppy in the crate, provide a special treat or food-stuffed toy. Never use the crate for punishment or to deprive your puppy of attention or play. Use the crate:
- When you cannot directly supervise your puppy
- To provide rest for other household pets
- If you’ve taken your puppy to their designated elimination area (e.g., outside, to potty-pads), and they did not urinate or defecate
- To practice controlled separation
- If your puppy becomes over excited during play (e.g., nipping, humping, rough physical play)
- For naps, and overnight
When your puppy is crated, ignore any whining or vocalizing, unless you suspect they need to urinate or defecate. In that case, take them directly to the appropriate place and give them their cue (e.g., “Go potty”). Paying attention to your crying puppy by letting them out, or saying “No bark,” will reinforce the behavior, and they will not learn how to settle in their crate. Always let your puppy out calmly, to avoid overexcited behavior.
#2: Maintain a daily puppy-care routine
Establish a daily routine as soon as you bring your puppy home. While house training can feel unpredictable, anchor your puppy’s schedule around these consistent daily events:
- Wake up and bed times
- Elimination opportunities
- Play or training sessions
- Naps (e.g., crate time)
- Exercise, such as short walks
Puppies feel safe and more confident when they can anticipate what will happen. Predictably scheduled activities, such as play and exercise, can help your puppy rest at night and during nap times. Feeding several small meals throughout the day can expedite house training by making bowel movements more predictable. Finally, providing regular elimination opportunities at key times can help ensure your puppy learns excellent potty habits. Key times include before crating, and immediately after:
- Waking up
- Playing, training, or another physical activity
#3: Provide puppy-safe toys, games, and chew toys
Providing appropriate play items and ensuring your puppy gets sufficient exercise can help prevent common puppy behavior problems, such as chewing, destructive behavior, stealing, and nuisance barking.
Puppies naturally chew to explore their environment and soothe sore gums during the teething process. Ensure your puppy makes the correct chewing choices by puppy-proofing their area, and providing only appropriate items, such as pliable Kong toys, Nylabones, and toys, designed for teething puppies.
Engage your puppy’s mind with puzzle toys that require them to sniff out their food or access hidden compartments with their nose or paws. Such mental exercise can provide intense satisfaction—often ending with a hearty nap. Always supervise your puppy with any chew toy or puzzle, to ensure safe play and prevent them from swallowing small pieces.
#4: Enroll in a positive reinforcement-based puppy class
After your puppy receives their first exam and vaccinations at Billings Animal Family Hospital, it’s time for school! Puppy classes allow your puppy to experience new people, places, and situations in a safe, controlled setting, which ensures they form a positive association with unpredictable environments, and react with curiosity rather than fear or aggression.
Look for a dog trainer who uses positive reinforcement methods (i.e., clicker training, reward-based training) and who does not endorse punishment or correction, which can teach your puppy to distrust you, or develop fear-based reactions (e.g., snapping, growling, barking, running away). Positive reinforcement training helps your puppy learn that the world is a safe, not fearful, place.
Puppies bring us joy, affection, and faithful companionship. Investing in your puppy’s training during their first year can ensure you spend many happy and rewarding years together. If you have questions about your new puppy’s health, behavior, or training, let the pet experts at Billings Animal Family Hospital be your number one resource. Check out our blog for helpful articles on common puppy topics, or contact us to schedule an appointment.