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The First Five Things To Teach - Your Newly Adopted Dog

If you’ve just brought home a new dog, you’re probably wondering where to start with their training. There is an almost unlimited number of skills, tricks, and cues your dog can learn, which can make getting started feel all the more complicated and overwhelming. Each dog will have somewhat different training needs depending on their age, history, and temperament, but there are core foundational skills that will benefit just about every dog and their people. These are the first five things I would personally teach a dog who was new to my home.

With all of these skills (except perhaps the last one) you will want to first practice in your home, then in the backyard, then front yard, and then expand to the rest of the world. This way you can build the distractions up slowly!

1. Their name: The very first thing I would teach my new dog is their name. Many people skip over actually teaching this, and let the dog figure it out along the way. Most dogs will pick up on what their name means over time, but you can speed up the process with just a couple short training sessions.

The easiest way to start teaching them is with the Name Game. Simply say their name, then hand them a treat! Make sure there is a tiny pause between when you say their name and when you start moving your hand. If you talk and move at the same time, your dog will mostly focus on the movement and may not pay any attention to what you’re saying.

At first you will do this while they’re in front of you, already paying attention, but once they’ve started perking up a bit when they hear their name, you can wait for them to be looking away before saying it.

2. Touch: This is when your dog touches their nose to the palm of your hand, sometimes called a nose target. This is a super simple behavior to teach that has a lot of practical uses. I find that starting with a simple skill like “touch” helps start the training relationship on the right foot.

Once a dog knows “touch” it can be a great way to redirect them from doing something you don’t like. They have to come all the way up to you in order to do it, so it put them right where you need them! I use it often as a way to get my dog to stop barking at the door, to refocus on me when she’s a bit too distracted outside, and I get her to follow the hand to position her where I want her to be for other training projects. I also love to use it as an “easy win” in an otherwise more challenging situation or training session.

3. Offered attention/eye contact: In my book, this is one of the most important foundational skills for any dog to have. Offered eye contact means that, without you saying anything at all, your dog chooses on to look up at you. This is different than asking for their attention with their name or a “watch me” cue.

When I am starting to take a dog outside around distractions, I don’t want to be constantly asking my dog for their attention. I want them choosing to check in with me and stay focused.

This one is also pretty simple to get started with. (Perhaps you’re seeing a theme here). Stand in front of your dog with treats held behind your back, then wait for them to look up at your face. As soon as they do, say “yes” and feed a treat. Then repeat 5-10 times until it seems like their eyes are bearing into you. At first they may try to get at the treats in your hand, paw at you, bark at you, wander off, stare off to the side, etc., but they quickly realize what earns them the treat.

This will be important anytime you leave home with your dog, and all other training around distractions will be routed in this foundational skill!

4. Loose leash walking: Okay this one is a little bit more challenging than the first three. But one thing I would change about how I started training my current dog is that I didn’t focus enough on leash walking right away, and she built some bad pulling habits that took a long time to undo.

It’s much easier to start training leash skills right away than to try to fix it later, so set yourself up for success!

While you’re building up their leash walking skills you can exercise and stimulate your pup through play, training, and walks in the park on a 20-30 foot long line.

If you don’t have a fenced in yard, I recommend using a longer leash for potty breaks so that they’re less likely to hit the end and practice pulling. You can also try using different equipment for training vs. non training walks. When I got more serious about my own dog’s leash skills, I started having her use a front clip harness for non-training times, and simply switched to the back clip when we were training. As long as you’re consistent with it, they can learn the difference between the different walking “modes.”

5. Door Manners: There is an old idea that you need to cross through doors before your dog is to show them you’re in charge. This certainly isn’t true and has been debunked, but it’s still a good idea to teach your dog to wait before heading out the front door. I want my dog to know not to ever cross through the threshold of the front door without being released.

This made the list because it’s a safety concern, and a dog who is just getting settled into their new home is even more likely to take off and not want to be caught. I find most people don’t teach this unless the dog has already bolted down the street a few times. But I would encourage you to focus on it before it becomes a problem!

Every person will have slightly different priorities when it comes to the first things they teach their dog, but this should give you a good starting point if you’re feeling lost or overwhelmed!  

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