Puppy Training: The First Six Months

November 22, 2023

Welcoming a puppy into your home is a new chapter filled with boundless love, playful antics, and, admittedly, a dash of chaos. As these furry bundles of joy wag their way into our hearts, the first six months become a foundational period of growth and learning.

Dive into this guide to embark on a fulfilling journey of nurturing, understanding, and training, ensuring that your newest family member blossoms into a well-adjusted, loving companion. Let’s set the stage for countless happy moments and paw prints across your living room (and heart!).

Timeline Overview: Puppy’s First Six Months

From the moment they’re born, puppies undergo rapid development both physically and behaviorally. Here’s a snapshot of what happens during those critical first six months:

Birth to Week 3: Neonatal Period

  • Blind and Deaf: Puppies are born blind and deaf. They rely heavily on touch and the warmth of their mother.
  • Crawling: Initial movements are crawling motions, primarily to find warmth and nourishment from their mother.
  • Early Development: By the end of this phase, puppies start to open their eyes and ears, becoming more aware of their surroundings.

Week 3-4: Transition Period

  • Senses Develop: Puppies begin to see, hear, and smell more clearly.
  • First Steps: They start to walk and may even attempt a wobbly run.
  • Introduction to Solid Food: While still nursing, they might start to eat small amounts of solid food.

Week 5-7: Early Socialization

  • Play with Littermates: Puppies engage in play, learning vital lessons about bite inhibition and social cues from their siblings.
  • Human Interaction: This is a golden period for gentle human interaction, introducing puppies to various people and handling.

Week 8-12: The Foundations

  • Homecoming: Prepare for your puppy’s arrival by setting up a designated space with essentials like a bed, toys, and food/water bowls. A designated space, like an exercise pen or enclosure will help keep your puppy away from unsafe areas and begin to learn the boundaries of your property.
  • Adapting to a New Environment: Offer comfort and security as your pup adjusts to their new surroundings.
  • Beginning Socialization: Introduce your puppy to different household sounds, objects, and gentle handling.
  • Initiate Basic Commands: Start with simple instructions like “sit,” “stay,” and “come.” Remember to keep training sessions short and fun.

Month 3-4: Building Consistency

  • House Training: Establish a consistent potty routine, taking your pup out after meals, playtimes, and naps.
  • Broadening Socialization: Once your puppy has had all necessary vaccines (usually by week 16), you can safely introduce your puppy to new people, pets, and environments, laying the foundation for well-rounded social behavior.
  • Leash Introduction: Familiarize your pup with a leash and collar, beginning with short indoor sessions.
  • Crate Training Basics: Start by making the crate a positive and cozy space, gradually introducing your puppy to short confinement periods.

Month 5-6: Refinement and Advancement

  • Solidifying Basic Commands: Build on the commands your pup has learned, ensuring they respond reliably.
  • Address Biting and Chewing: As teething begins, offer appropriate chew toys and reinforce bite inhibition.
  • Advancing Leash Training: Take longer walks, practicing good leash manners and introducing new environments.
  • Play and Bonding: Use playtime to strengthen your bond, introduce new toys, and reinforce training.

By following this timeline, you’ll have a roadmap to guide you through the initial and crucial stages of your puppy’s development. However, always remember that each puppy is unique, and while this serves as a general guideline, it’s essential to adjust based on your pup’s individual needs and pace.

Puppy sitting on couch.

The Puppy’s First Days at Home

The thrill of bringing your new furry friend home is undeniably exhilarating. But for your puppy, this transition can be a mix of excitement, curiosity, and perhaps, a touch of anxiety. Here’s how to ensure their first days in their new environment are as smooth and comforting as possible:

Setting Up a Safe and Welcoming Space

Before your puppy arrives, puppy-proof your home. Remove potential hazards like small objects they could swallow, toxic plants, and accessible electrical cords.

Allocate a specific area for your puppy’s bed, toys, and feeding station. Having a consistent space helps them feel secure and understand boundaries.

While the urge to introduce your puppy to everyone immediately is strong, give them some quiet time to acclimate to their new surroundings first. Overstimulation can be overwhelming.

Introducing Your Puppy to Its New Environment

  • Guided Exploration: Under supervision, allow your puppy to explore their new home room by room. Stay close, offering comfort and praise as they familiarize themselves.
  • Consistent Routine: Puppies thrive on routine. Set consistent times for feeding, play, and potty breaks. This structure not only aids in training but also provides a sense of security.
  • Introduce Family Members Gradually: Let one family member at a time gently approach the puppy, offering a calm presence and perhaps a treat. Avoid loud noises and sudden movements during these introductions.
  • Safe Outside Introduction: If you have a yard, make sure it’s secure and free of hazards. Initially, keep outdoor exploration sessions brief, gradually increasing as your puppy becomes more confident.


Proper socialization can mean the difference between a well-adjusted, confident adult dog and one that’s fearful or aggressive in unfamiliar situations. Here’s a roadmap to guide you:

Safe Ways to Introduce Your Puppy to New People, Animals, and Environments

  • Controlled Settings: Initially, introduce your puppy to calm, dog-friendly individuals in a controlled environment. Use treats and positive reinforcement to create a positive association.
  • Variety is Key: Expose your puppy to different people (including children, adults, and the elderly), various sounds (cars, sirens, household noises), and diverse settings (parks, streets, other homes).
  • Puppy Playdates: Organize play sessions with other vaccinated, well-behaved puppies. This helps with learning doggy etiquette and reduces the chances of developing fear or aggression towards other dogs.
  • Positive Experiences with Other Animals: If you have other pets, or if your friends or neighbors do, organize supervised introductions. Ensure the first encounters are calm and positive.
  • Adventurous Car Rides: Use car trips not just for vet visits but also for fun destinations. This helps in preventing travel anxiety.

House Training

House training is often one of the first challenges new puppy parents face. But with patience, consistency, and a clear understanding of a puppy’s needs, you can set the stage for a lifetime of good habits. Here’s how to navigate this essential training:

Setting Up a Schedule

Puppies have small bladders and need to go out often, especially after meals, playtime, and waking up. Start with every 2 hours and adjust based on your puppy’s needs. A general rule of thumb is to correlate their age in months to the number of hours they can hold it, up to about 4-5 hours). For example a 3 month old puppy should (generally) be able to hold their bladders for 3 hours, a 4 month old puppy for 4 hours, etc.

Keeping a regular schedule not only helps in training but also allows you to predict when your puppy might need to go, preventing accidents.

Regular feeding times translate to more predictable potty times. Avoid leaving food out for your puppy to eat whenever they wish.

Positive Reinforcement Techniques

Every time your puppy does their business outside, reward them immediately with praise, petting, or a small treat. This helps them associate going potty outside with positive outcomes.

If you catch your puppy in the act indoors, a firm “No” is enough. Never rub their nose in it or use harsh punishments. It can lead to fear and confusion.

Dealing with Accidents

Accidents will happen. It’s a part of the process. When they do, clean up immediately to remove the scent, so the puppy isn’t tempted to go in the same spot again.

Enzymatic cleaners are specifically designed to break down pet waste and eliminate the smell entirely.

If accidents are frequent, try to understand why. Is there a particular time or trigger? This can help you preemptively address the issue.

Basic Command Training

These early lessons are stepping stones to a harmonious relationship between you and your canine companion. Here’s how to begin this enlightening journey:

Importance of Consistency and Patience

  • Uniform Commands: Everyone in the household should use the same words for commands. For instance, if you use “Sit” to make your puppy sit, avoid variations like “Sit down” or “Take a seat.”
  • Regular Training Sessions: Short, frequent training sessions (5-10 minutes, a few times a day) are more effective than longer, sporadic ones.
  • Be Patient: Puppies, like humans, have varying learning curves. Some may grasp a command quickly, while others may take longer. Celebrate small achievements and remain patient.

Teaching Basic Commands

  • “Sit”: Hold a treat close to your puppy’s nose and move your hand up, allowing the puppy’s head to follow the treat and causing their bottom to lower. Once they’re in a sitting position, say “Sit,” give them the treat, and share affection.
  • “Stay”: Ask your puppy to “Sit.” Open the palm of your hand in front of you and say “Stay.” Take a few steps back and reward them if they stay in place.
  • “Come”: Use a leash and collar. Crouch down to your puppy’s level and say “Come,” pulling them gently towards you. When they come to you, reward them with affection and a treat.
  • “Down”: Hold a treat in your hand and move it down to the ground, then slide it along the ground away from the puppy. They should follow it into a lying down position. Once they’re down, say “Down,” reward them with the treat, and show them affection.
  • “Heel”: Ideal for controlled walking. With your puppy on a leash, begin walking. If they start to pull or go in a different direction, firmly say “Heel” and give a gentle tug on the leash. Reward them when they walk by your side.

Puppy chewing on toy.

Biting and Chewing

Biting and chewing are natural behaviors for puppies. It’s a way they explore their world, play, and relieve the discomfort of teething. However, you must teach your puppy appropriate biting and chewing habits to ensure they don’t carry undesirable behaviors into adulthood. Here’s how to take on this common challenge:

Understanding the Behavior

  • Teething Troubles: Between 3-6 months of age, puppies go through teething. Chewing helps alleviate the pain and discomfort associated with new teeth coming in.
  • Play and Exploration: For a puppy, their mouth is a primary tool for exploring their environment and playing, much like how human infants tend to put everything in their mouths.
  • Attention Seeking: Sometimes, puppies may bite or chew to get your attention, especially if they notice it garners a reaction from you.

Curbing Unwanted Biting and Chewing

  • Provide Appropriate Chew Toys: Invest in a variety of safe and durable chew toys. When your puppy starts chewing on something inappropriate, redirect them to their toys.

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  • Use a Firm ‘No’: If your puppy bites too hard during play or starts to chew something they shouldn’t, respond with a firm but gentle “No” or “Ah-ah.”
  • End Playtime if Biting is Rough: If your puppy gets overly excited and bites hard during play, stop playing immediately. This teaches them that rough play results in no play.
  • Teach Bite Inhibition: When playing, let out a clear yelp if your puppy bites you. This mimics the reaction they’d get from other puppies and helps them learn to control the force of their bite.

Safe Ways to Encourage Appropriate Chewing

  • Frozen Treats: Frozen carrots or puppy-specific teething toys can provide relief for a teething puppy’s sore gums.
  • Interactive Toys: Toys that can be filled with treats can keep your puppy occupied and satisfy their urge to chew.

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  • Rotate Toys: Keep things interesting by rotating out the chew toys every few days. This can prevent boredom and deter them from seeking out inappropriate items to chew.

Things to Remember

  • Never Punish After the Fact: If you discover something your puppy has chewed up but didn’t catch them in the act, it’s too late for a correction. They won’t associate the punishment with the action.
  • Puppy-Proof Your Home: To reduce temptations, ensure that shoes, electrical cords, and other chewable items are out of your puppy’s reach. Exercise pens, baby gates or other barriers are helpful tools to prevent destruction.

Leash Training

Venturing outdoors and exploring the world with your pup is one of the joys of dog ownership. However, for these excursions to be safe and enjoyable for both of you, leash training is crucial. It ensures that your puppy doesn’t pull, tug, or get overly distracted during walks.

Understanding the Leash’s Purpose

A leash keeps your puppy safe, making sure they don’t run into traffic, approach aggressive animals, or get lost. More than a restraint, a leash acts as a communication channel between you and your pup, signaling them on directions, pace, and when to stop.

Getting Started

  • Introduce the Collar/Harness: Before introducing the leash, let your puppy get used to wearing a collar or harness. Put it on them for short durations, gradually increasing the time.
  • Add the Leash: Attach a lightweight leash and let your puppy drag it around (under supervision) to get accustomed to its presence.
  • Indoor Practice: Begin by guiding your puppy around the house with the leash, offering treats and praises when they follow your lead without resistance.

Teaching Proper Walking Behavior

  • Positioning: Ideally, your puppy should walk by your side or slightly ahead but not pulling you. Use treats held at your side to encourage them to stay close.
  • Stopping Pulling: If your puppy starts to pull, stop walking. Only resume when the pulling stops. This teaches them that pulling won’t get them anywhere faster.
  • Distractions: Puppies are naturally curious and can get easily distracted during walks. If they seem fixated on something, use a treat or toy to redirect their attention back to the walk.

Crate Training

Crate training, when done correctly, offers a myriad of benefits. For the puppy, a crate can be a safe haven—a place of rest, security, and comfort. For owners, it’s a valuable tool for house training, preventing destructive behavior, and keeping the puppy safe.

The Value of a Crate

Dogs have a denning instinct, which means they often appreciate a space of their own to retreat and relax. A crate ensures your puppy is safe and out of mischief, especially when you can’t supervise them. Dogs typically avoid soiling their resting space, making crates effective for house training.

Choosing the Right Crate

The crate should be big enough for your puppy to stand up, turn around, and lay down comfortably. However, too much space can negate its efficacy for house training. There are various types, including wire crates, plastic crates, and soft-sided crates. Choose based on your puppy’s needs and your lifestyle.

Petmate, 2-Door Wire Crate

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Timing the Crate

It is important to consider the puppy’s age before beginning crate training. For an 8-10 week old puppy, 10 minute intervals in the crate is appropriate. As they get older, you can expand the time in the crate.

Steps to Crate Train Your Puppy

  • Introduction: Place the crate in a common area with the door open. Allow your puppy to explore it at their own pace. Encourage them by placing toys or treats inside.
  • Feed Meals in the Crate: Begin serving your puppy’s meals inside the crate. This creates a positive association with the space.
  • Gradual Increase in Crate Time: Once your puppy is comfortable eating in the crate, start closing the door for short periods. Gradually increase this duration, always making sure they’re relaxed.
  • Overnight or Longer Duration: Once they’re used to shorter durations, they can begin sleeping in the crate overnight or staying in it when you’re away from home.

Dos and Don’ts

  • Do Make It Comfortable: Add soft bedding and favorite toys to make the crate appealing.
  • Don’t Use as Punishment: The crate should never be a place of negative associations. Never send your puppy there as a form of punishment.
  • Do Ensure Adequate Exercise: Before longer crate durations, let your puppy have ample exercise and an opportunity to relieve themselves.
  • Don’t Overdo It: Puppies shouldn’t spend all day in a crate. They should have enough time for play, training, and bonding outside the crate.

Preventing Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety in dogs refers to the distress they experience when left alone. Symptoms can range from mild restlessness to destructive behaviors and excessive barking. Given that our lives often require us to leave our pups behind for periods of time, we should make sure they’re comfortable being alone.

What Is Separation Anxiety?

Puppies can become overly attached if they’re constantly around humans without breaks. This can make any form of separation stressful. Whining, destructive behavior, excessive barking, pacing, attempting to escape, or even self-harm can indicate separation anxiety.

Steps to Prevent Separation Anxiety

  • Gradual Introductions to Alone Time: Start by leaving your puppy alone for short periods, gradually increasing the duration as they become more comfortable.
  • Create Positive Associations: Make departures and arrivals low-key. Offer a special treat or toy when leaving so your puppy associates your departure with something positive.
  • Implement a Routine: Dogs find comfort in routine. By maintaining consistent departure and return times, your puppy will find solace in the predictability.
  • Offer Sufficient Stimulation: Give your puppy toys and activities to occupy them while you’re away. Puzzle toys or treat-dispensing toys can be especially effective.
  • Avoid Over-Fussing Before Departure: While it’s tempting to shower your pup with affection before leaving, it can actually create more anxiety. Keep goodbyes brief and emotion-free.

Training Techniques

  • Independence Training: Encourage your puppy to spend time alone even when you’re home. This can be achieved by using baby gates or playpens.
  • Desensitization: If your puppy reacts to cues like grabbing keys or putting on shoes, desensitize them by performing these actions without leaving. Over time, they’ll stop associating these actions with your departure.
  • Crate Training: As discussed in the previous section, a crate can be a safe space for your puppy, reducing anxiety when left alone.

Puppy eating from food bowl.

Nutrition and Health

Just as training molds their behavior, proper nutrition and health practices set the stage for their overall well-being and longevity. With so many food choices and health considerations, here’s a guide to ensuring your puppy thrives during these crucial months:

Puppy Nutrition

Puppies require more calories and specific nutrients compared to adult dogs, owing to their rapid growth and high energy levels. There are various options like dry kibble, wet food, raw diets, and home-cooked meals. Each comes with its pros and cons.

Choosing the Right Food

  • Age-Appropriate: Opt for foods specifically designed for puppies, as these will contain the right balance of nutrients.
  • Quality Ingredients: Look for foods where high-quality proteins are listed as the primary ingredients, and avoid those with excessive fillers or artificial additives.
  • Consult Your Vet: Your veterinarian can offer tailored recommendations based on your puppy’s breed, size, and health needs.

Health Guidelines

  • Vaccinations: Give your puppy their necessary shots. Vaccines protect against common canine diseases, many of which can be severe.
  • Parasite Prevention: Regular treatments for fleas, ticks, and worms are vital for your puppy’s health and comfort.
  • Spaying/Neutering: Discuss the right age and benefits of spaying or neutering your puppy with your vet.

Health Warning Signs to Watch For

Contact your veterinarian if your puppy exhibits the following signs:

  • Changes in appetite or water consumption
  • Excessive coughing, sneezing, or discharge from the nose or eyes
  • Lethargy or significant behavior changes
  • Diarrhea, vomiting, or other digestive issues
  • Issues with urination or defecation
  • Unusual lumps, bumps, or skin issues

The Role of Play in Training

While structured training sessions are undoubtedly crucial, playtime holds its own unique value in a puppy’s developmental journey. Engaging, interactive, and downright fun, play can be a powerful tool to reinforce training, build trust, and establish a lifelong bond with your pup.

The Value of Play

  • Mental Stimulation: Play challenges a puppy’s cognitive functions, fostering creativity and problem-solving skills.
  • Physical Exercise: Active play keeps your puppy fit, making sure they burn off excess energy, which can prevent unwanted behaviors.
  • Social Skills: Play sessions, especially with other dogs, can teach important social cues and manners.
  • Strengthening Bond: Playing together strengthens the bond between you and your puppy, fostering trust and understanding.

Incorporating Training into Play

  • Command Reinforcement: Use playtime to reinforce basic commands like “sit,” “stay,” or “come.” For instance, make your puppy “sit” before throwing a ball.
  • Fetch and Retrieval: Teaching a puppy to fetch and return a toy can be the foundational step to more advanced retrieval tasks.
  • Tug-of-War with Rules: This game, when played with clear boundaries (like releasing the toy on command), can teach impulse control.
  • Hide and Seek: A fun way to reinforce the “come” command and improve recall.

Choosing the Right Toys

Puzzle toys or treat-dispensing toys stimulate your puppy’s brain, helping them learn problem-solving skills. Chew toys not only satisfy a puppy’s natural urge to chew but can also be used to redirect inappropriate chewing. Give your puppy toys that are non-toxic and suitable for your puppy’s size to prevent choking hazards.

Celebrating Small Steps

Training a puppy during its first six months is an exhilarating journey filled with challenges and achievements. As you guide your pup through these formative days, cherish each moment— from the mischievous antics to the first successful command. Every step you take now paves the way for a harmonious and joy-filled bond with your furry companion.