Expert Guide: Your Puppy Training Schedule by Age

Author: K. Marie Altoby K Marie Alto Updated 9 min read

Expert Guide: Your Puppy Training Schedule by Age

We often think of animals as having most of what they need to know to survive ingrained in them when they're born. There's a certain amount of genetic memory and instinctual behaviors present in their tiny forms, but there's also an immense amount of learning going on.

They learn by playing with one another, they learn by watching their parents and being scolded or praised accordingly, and they learn when someone like you comes in and teaches them a behavior that otherwise might not be a natural part of their lives.

If you're fostering, raising, or adopting a new puppy, it's important to know what you can train them and when, as well as how long it's likely to take. So, what does a puppy training schedule look like?

Age 0 to 8 Weeks

From the moment they're born, puppies are learning. The trouble is, the things they're learning when they're under a week old are things like "how to breathe", "how to walk", and "how to eat", so they aren't really trainable behaviors.

A Very Young Puppy Image by Toe Beans

At this point, they're too young to do much more than eat, sleep, grow, and gradually learn how to be living creatures. You aren't going to be training them much of anything.

In fact, if you're adopting a puppy rather than raising the puppies your current dog had, you won't even have them when they're this young. The vast majority of rescues and adoption services don't allow adoption until at least 8 weeks of age.

Age 8 to 16 Weeks

For adoption, this is the earliest you can get your puppy. Otherwise, this is the earliest you can start training them in behaviors beyond simply existing.

The first and most important thing you should be working on at this age is familiarity and comfort. Puppies learn best when they're in a safe and secure environment, so the more stress they're under, the harder it will be.

They'll need to get used to things like traffic noises, car rides, visitors, other dogs, and being handled, especially by the vet.

Tip: Many vets have special puppy visits you can schedule at this age, where they don't do any handling or invasive testing; all they do is sit with and play with the puppy, and reward them for their time. This helps train them that a trip to the vet isn't always going to be unpleasant or bad. If your vet offers these, look into having a few scheduled.

A lot of the early training you do with your puppy will be bringing them to new places, showing them new things, and helping keep them safe. That's not the only goal you have with training at this age, though.

Training a Young Puppy Image by Toe Beans

The second goal is impulse control. This includes all of the most basic obedience commands, such as Sit, Come, and Drop It.

Some of these are to help keep the puppy safe – you don't want them running to and fro when you're waiting to cross a street, and you want to be able to get them to let go of an item they're chewing on that could be dangerous – but in general, it's all about teaching the puppy to obey you rather than their instincts.

Another bit of training to work on during this time is potty training. Potty training a new puppy is a complex task and it requires a lot of firm behavior on your part, but if you do it right, it really doesn't take very long. You can read more about the intricacies of puppy toilet habits in my guide here.

Other training you can work on during this time includes:

  • Chewing and mouthing behaviors. Puppies use their mouths to explore the world around them, but you want to keep them from chewing on things they shouldn't. Two reasons for this. The first is to protect your furniture and other items from those sharp little teeth. The second is to protect your puppy from chewing on something that can harm them, like a toxic plant, a sharp item, or something they could choke on. You can't fully stop chewing, but you can redirect it to chew toys and other safe items.
  • Socialization. If you've ever met a dog that gets really defensive at other dogs or other people or is scared of seemingly everything, it's likely because they were poorly socialized and have had bad experiences in the past. When they're young puppies, this is the best time to teach them that most things aren't dangerous and that you'll keep them safe.
  • Leash training. Getting your puppy used to wearing a leash, even if they're mostly just pulling at it, is also important during this time. Leash training is best done in short bursts to start, potentially without even leaving the home, just getting them used to having it on and the feeling of being restricted.

A lot of the early training is just about laying the groundwork for future easy training and healthy behaviors.

Age 16 Weeks to 6 Months

At this age, you're essentially just continuing all of the things you've been teaching up to this point, and adding in the occasional more advanced version of them.

For example, a big goal of training during this time is polite play. Polite play is all about enforcing boundaries, understanding stop commands, and learning what is and isn't available for play.

Your puppy will likely be teething during some portion of this time, and that's a miserable experience, so they'll be chewing on a lot of different things; be sure not to punish them for it, just redirect it to acceptable chew toys.

House training should be going smoothly at this point. Potty training a new puppy is never an entirely smooth and easy process, but you should be able to address any issues that come up quickly and easily.

Leash training, as well, should be going smoothly. You can take them on walks with the leash now – even if it's just around the yard – and they should be learning more about how to stick close to you instead of constantly pulling in every direction to explore their boundaries.

Training a Puppy Outdoors Image by Toe Beans

Another bit of training to introduce and increase during this time is leaving your puppy alone. If you're tooattached to your puppy, they'll never want to leave your side.

That means when you need to go to work, go to bed, visit a friend, or go shopping, your puppy is going to be anxious and miserable. Separation anxiety is also a big part of night crying. This "reverse socialization" in getting your puppy to learn how to be comfortable alone is critical.

Crate training should be ongoing as well. You'll likely have started this earlier, but dedicated crate training is its own beast, it's also part of a lot of other forms of training. Good crate training ends up being integral to a healthy lifestyle with your pup.

In your pursuit of more advanced training, your puppy will have already mastered basic commands like Sit, Stay, and Come. To layer on top of this, you'll want to get deeper into recall training. I have a whole guide on dog recall training, which you can read here, so give it a look!

Tip: If you're interested in getting into dog agility training – you know, the fancy running courses, weaving between poles, and jumping over gates – this is the time to start. Agility training isn't necessary to have a happy and well-trained dog, but it can be a good way to increase your bond with your pup, as well as give you new social outlets and exercise of your own. If you're interested in agility training, check out this post.

Any advanced training you want to do can be learned over time, as well, and you never have to go all the way. It's only in cases where you're training a dedicated service dog or other top performer that you need to be aggressive and rigid with training early on.

Age 6 to 12 Months

As your puppy gets older and more obedient, and you get better at learning how they react to various forms of engagement and praise, you can build up more advanced versions of everything we've listed.

If your dog is going to be a working dog of some form – whether it's in agility competitions, animal herding, or a service dog – you can work on more of the advanced commands and techniques they'll need to know.

A Puppy Learning Commands Image by Toe Beans

A lot of your more advanced tricks and sequences of tricks can be taught during this time. A lot of the basic obedience commands can be really tested here as well, such as the sit and stay combo or the come/heel command in a place with significant distractions.

You'll also be validating their current training. Make sure recall training works while off-leash when there are distractions (like a friend with something tasty on hand) so you can trust that they'll come when called no matter what.

Missing Milestones

So, what happens if you're adopting a dog that is already older than the puppy stage, was poorly socialized, or was otherwise not treated properly during their formative months?

The answer is that you have a challenge on your hands.

Training a Dog Image by Toe Beans

Older puppies and adult dogs that have had a hard early life are going to have bad behaviors they need to be trained out of, and they are likely not going to be obedient to the common commands because they never learned them or had them reinforced.

Training an older dog is entirely possible, it just takes longer and requires more care. You need to be prepared for the challenge or leave it to someone who can dedicate themselves to it because it won't be easy. Still, older dogs deserve love, especially if they've had a hard early life, so please, if you can, take that time.

Tips for Smooth and Effective Puppy Training

Puppy training requires consistency, reward, and positive reinforcement.

One of the best tools you have at your disposal is your puppy's food. Food – and sometimes, high-value treats like bits of cheese – is one of the best ways you can motivate a puppy and reward them for their behavior.

When using food as an aid in training, make sure you're only giving it to them when they successfully do what you want them to do. If you reward them regardless, you aren't training them, you're just feeding them.

Unfortunately, there's no shortcut to training. You need to put in the time and effort, and you need to practice. You can't show a dog a trick once and assume they'll have picked it up. You need to start small and build up.

Even something like the "sit" command isn't something they'll have the self-control to do indefinitely. Teach them to sit, reward them when they do, and let them go. Gradually increase the amount of time they need to stay sitting before the reward, to build up patience. The same goes for pretty much all forms of training. Start small, start simple, and build up.

Effective Puppy Training Image by Toe Beans

Consistency is critical, and I can't say it enough. Consistency in rewards, consistency in commands, and consistency between people. A common issue you see in puppy training is that one pet parent is on the ball and keeps track of a behavior, but the other ignores it or rewards the wrong thing, and it muddles the waters.

I've also mentioned this many times before, but don't use punishment.Dogs don't respond well to punishment and negative reinforcement. Plus, it makes them more fearful and anxious of you and of other people, and can lead to a defensive, or even aggressive, adult dog. Nobody wants that if they can help it, and it's a lot of work to undo the damage caused by punishment.

Finally, don't forget that different dogs, and even different breeds, learn different things at different paces. A working breed like an Aussie is going to have a lot more energy and be more intent on herding behaviors than a larger and lazier breed.

Some take commands very well, while others are less self-confident or more anxious. Every dog goes through the same kinds of training and experiences, but they may learn in different ways or at different paces, and you need to be able to accommodate that.

When all is said and done, though, you'll have a happy, bright-eyed, and well-trained pup to keep you company for many years to come.

So, now that we're at the end of this article, do you have any questions? As always, I'd be more than happy to help you out however I can. Be sure to leave me a comment down below, and I'll get back to you as soon as possible!

K Marie Alto
K Marie Alto

K. Marie is an animal lover, wife, kitty mom, dog auntie, writer, and co-founder of Toe Beans, a proud American family-owned online boutique pet supplies store focused on the improvement of the life of furry family members via pet parent education, better products, and advocacy. She has over 20 years of experience as a pet momma. She loves sharing her personal journey and experience as a pet parent via her blog and Facebook page where she currently has more than 50K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-). Read more

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