Go to Puppies 12 to 16 weeks >

The puppy’s brain is now able to learn as well as an adult (even though the puppy still has the physical limitations of being in an immature body).

An important developmental window closes between 12 and 16 weeks of age. Experiences before that time help shape a puppy’s worldview. It takes a bit of effort during these early weeks to help the puppy see the world as you would like but it takes much more time to change the puppy’s feelings when it is older. Begin training right away – your pup will be learning during every waking moment!

For a puppy who has had a smooth start

  • Complete the checklist from First 24 Hours Together. Already past 24 hours? Regroup and start over using the checklist!
  • Introduce the puppy to a wide variety of sights, sounds, smells, objects, surfaces, people, dogs, other animals, experiences, and situations using positive association.
  • Begin a puppy kindergarten class or a similar process of careful exposures. https://avsab.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Puppy-Socialization-Position-Statement-FINAL.pdf
    • Actively plan new experiences for your puppy. A well-structured class will provide a variety of new experiences, including interactions with new people and other puppies of multiple shapes, sizes and personalities. If a class is not available, you will need to be sure to help your puppy meet lots of new people and friendly dogs.
    • Help the puppy learn to expect the unexpected. This is the goal of puppy class but it must be continued all week between classes, too. Introduce your puppy to so many new things that she looks forward to the new and different. We want her to see something new, look at you and say, “There’s something different – do I get a treat for this one?” There is no way to go back later and make up for lost time now.
  • Introduce the puppy to clicker training and practice your own skills.
  • List important behaviors for your situation and start them first. Here are some priorities that most people find useful.
  • Keep your teeth to yourself (no biting)
  • Take treats from hand (accept food as a reinforcer)
  • Keep barking to a minimum (stay quiet most of the time)
  • Keep front feet on the floor (no jumping or counter surfing)
  • Chew nothing but dog toys (allow access to nothing but dog toys)
  • Greet strangers politely (keep feet on the ground and mouth closed)
  • Wear collar or harness comfortably(ignore when on)
  • Accept leash calmly (hold still while attached to collar or harness)

Suggestions for:

This is important to keep your dog and everyone around it safe from injury. Many dogs lose their homes because they do not learn this as puppies.

  • Be sure puppy gets enough sleep. At this age the pup should be awake for an hour or so about six times a day and sleeping 15 to 18 hours a day. Tired puppies bite.
  • Demonstrate to the puppy that biting will not get attention: do not look at, speak to or touch the puppy if it bites. What can you do instead? Here are some options.
    1. Quickly hold out a dog toy for it to bite
    2. If holding the puppy put it down immediately and withdraw – perhaps by standing up
    3. If the puppy is on the floor leave the room and close the door – return in 30 seconds
    4. If the puppy continues to bite, put it in its crate for a nap

MYTH: Crate should not be used for punishment
FACT: For punishment to be connected to a behavior it must occur in less than three seconds after the unwanted behavior.
NOTE: It is not likely that a puppy can be put into a crate in less then three seconds, therefore it is not serving as punishment, but merely as respite from the confusing world of humans.

This is important for all future training.

  • If offering a morsel of food, take it back if the pup touches your hand with its teeth
  • For a pup who regularly uses teeth, teach it to be gentle by closing a treat in your fist, letting the pup try to get it, and opening you hand only when the pup stops trying
  • Practice at feeding time, give pup one bite at a time – sometimes from hand and sometimes by putting it on the floor
  • If no time for a whole meal, do this for the first 20 bites or so
  • At training time (outside of feeding time which can also be training time) practice with special treat items

This is important for your peace of mind and that of your neighbors. Many dogs lose their homes because they do not learn this as puppies.

Demonstrate to the puppy that barking will not get attention: do not look at, speak to or touch the puppy if it barks. What can you do instead? Here are some options.

  1. Give the puppy lots of attention while it is quiet
  2. Immediately withdraw attention if it barks
  3. If pup is barking from crate, wait for a pause, click and treat for quiet
  4. When a napping pup wakes up in crate and barks, take it to potty area immediately

This is important for safety and good manners. Many dogs lose their homes because they do not learn this as puppies.

Demonstrate to the puppy that jumping will not get attention: do not look at, speak to or touch the puppy if it jumps. What can you do instead? Here are some options.

  1. Freeze, holding completely still, when pup jumps up then give attention when front feet drop to the floor
  2. As the pup approaches, click and treat while front feet are still on the floor
  3. Remove all items of interest to the pup from shelves, counter tops, tables, etc. – everything must be out of reach of the pup

This is important for the safety of the pup and your belongings. Many dogs lose their homes because they do not learn this as puppies.

  • Puppy proof any area of your home where the puppy will be allowed at first. Plan to limit the pup’s full, unsupervised access to all rooms until it is 18 months old!
  • Close doors, use gates, pens, tethers to restrict pup’s access to anything you do not want it to chew or use as a toy
  • Provide a variety of safe toys for the pup to bite, shake, chase or chew whenever it is awake. Sturdy chew toys and balls for when it is alone. Soft tug toys and fetch items for playing with humans.
  • The more humans focus on playing with dog toys, the more puppies will choose them, too. The more the puppies see humans play with cell phones and TV remotes, the more puppies will want to play with them, too.

Personal observation: My experience as a breeder having raised many generations of puppies is that there is a time at about 18 months of age when a growing pup no longer searches out new things to chew. If it has never seen a shoe off my foot, it takes no interest in shoes. If it has never had access to a rug or upholstered furniture to chew on, it takes no interest in those things. On the other hand, when I have clients whose pups have already tried chewing on shoes, furniture, etc. it is very difficult to convince them not to do so in the future.

This is important for safety and good manners. Many dogs lose their homes because they do not learn this as puppies.

  • For puppies who are hesitant to approach, click for anything that is braver and perkier. Click as soon as the pup notices the stranger and treat near your knees. When they look back at the new person click again and treat away from the stranger again, allowing the pup to retreat a bit before the next approach. Explain to the stranger that you are not going to force the pup closer if it is not ready to approach on its own.
  • For pups who approach energetically, click and treat before they reach the new person. Click and treat again if front feet are still on the ground. Click and treat again if mouth closes after eating the treat. Click for anything that is lower and slower.

This is important for safety and to obey the law. Many dogs lose their homes because they do not learn this as puppies.

  • Some puppies will already be used to a collar. If so, they will outgrow several in quick succession and in any case it will be important for the pup to hold still for the collar to be put on and taken off.
  • If the pup needs help with this, show the collar, give a treat, and hide the collar again. Repeat several times, until the pup looks forward to seeing the collar because it predicts a treat. Next, touch the pup’s neck and give a treat several times. Then hold the collar around the pup’s neck and give a treat several times.
  • Finally buckle and unbuckle the collar several times, always giving a treat for both the buckle and the unbuckle.
  • The same method can be used for a harness.

This is important because many pups learn to duck away to avoid the leash.

  • Show the leash, give a treat, and hide the leash again. Repeat several times, until the pup looks forward to seeing the leash because it predicts a treat. Next, grasp the collar, touch it with the snap of the leash, and give a treat several times. Finally snap and unsnap the leash from the collar several times, always giving a treat for both the snap and the unsnap.
  • Once the leash is attached, click and treat the pup, when it moves close enough that there is slack in the leash. If the pup pulls the leash so it is taut, hold still and do nothing. Be ready to click and treat as soon as the leash is slack again. The pup will soon learn to stand quietly with the leash on.


Decide on a hand target, such as two fingers or a fist. Hold your hand in this position about four inches from the side of your pup’s muzzle. When it turns and touches your hand with its nose, click and treat as soon as you feel the touch. Repeat, then move the hand to the other side of the dog, above and below the muzzle, then a bit farther away. Click and treat every time the pup touches the hand target.

Use this trick to move the dog to new places, such as on to a scale or through a new door or to encourage the dog to run back and forth between two people.


Begin with a delicious treat in your hand, holding it near your knees. Let the dog sniff it, then follow it as you move your hand away in a circle from your body while the dog follows the treat around the circle and back to your knees. Click and give the treat when back at your knees. Repeat once or twice, then pretend you have a treat in your hand, but wait until the circle is complete and you have clicked before reaching for the treat.

Note: If the treat is used more than a few times the dog will think it is part of the cue for the behavior and in future will only do the behavior if the treat is there to follow.

Use this trick as a way to give your dog a suitable activity when it becomes worried or impatient.

Go to mat

Select a mat, rug, or dog bed to use for this trick. This item should not be available to the pup except at training time. Prepare to train by having clicker, treats, mat and plan ready to go. Put the mat down and click as soon as the pup looks at it. Put the treat on the mat to create an association – the mat may be a source of treats. As the pup steps on the mat to get the treat, click again, this time for stepping on the mat, and put another treat on the mat. Repeat a two or three more times, then pick up the mat and take a break to pat or play with the pup.

Begin a second round by putting the mat down again. If the pup steps on it, click and this time throw the treat a few feet away form the mat. Let the pup get it and wait for the pup to return to the mat. Again, click and throw the treat a short distance to re-set the pup so that it can again return to the mat. Next click for more and more feet on the mat until you get all four. That’s enough for one day!

During the next few days, further practice will build up the pup’s attraction to the mat. Begin to ask for a sit/or a down on the mat. Build duration by treating repeatedly for staying on the mat. Finally, decide what you will call this behavior and add the cue (link to Add a Cue under Training Process)

This trick will take a bit more practice than Touch or Spin, but you will be very happy when your pup learns to Go to Mat when you ask.

For a puppy who has had a rough start

Examples of a rough start include but are not limited to:

  • a puppy that was not from a planned litter – because the mother is unlikely to have received the support she needed and the people may not be prepared.
    a puppy who was not given individual attention between 3 and 8 weeks -because people were not there or did not understand what puppies need for behavioral health.
  • a puppy whose experiences were limited or frightening due to injury or illness – because it associated pain or discomfort with people and places without an opportunity to learn new, healthy behaviors.
  • a puppy who was taken from its mother before the age of 7 weeks – because it will bond more with people and be uncomfortable around other dogs.
  • a puppy who had no littermates – because it will not have learned canine social interactions from its littermates.
  • a puppy whose mother was not in good health – because she may not be up to the work involved in being a good mother, either in providing nutrition or in teaching life lessons.
  • a puppy whose mother was not comfortable around people – because the mother will not be helpful in teaching the pup to be confident around people.
  • a puppy who stayed with its littermates after the age of 8 weeks – because it will have bonded more to its littermates and be less likely to form attachments to people.

Provide everything as suggested for a puppy with a smooth start, then pay special attention to the following:

  • Complete the checklist from First 24 Hours Together. Already past 24 hours? Regroup and start over using the checklist!
  • Wait for the dog to sit (or any behavior of your choice) before giving attention so that it can learn how to manipulate its environment through two-way communication
  • Introduce practical handling experiences so that it readily accepts handling of ears and feet and gentle restraint. Let your dog know what to expect.  Teach your dog that you will be respectful and handling can be a positive experience.

Teach your young puppy to accept holding and handling so that it will not be surprised or worried when it is restrained by a veterinarian or groomer – or even you when you need to examine a sore paw or give a bath.

Teach your dog to allow you to lay it on its side using the following plan, with the understanding that some pups my not need as many steps and some may need more:

  • Use a treat to draw the pup to your side
  • Put an arm around the pup and hold firmly against your side
  • Hold firmly and grasp front elbow nearest handler’s body
  • Hold firmly and slide pup’s rear to floor
  • Hold firmly, slide pup’s rear, then front, to floor
  • Hold firmly, slide pup all the way to floor and hold there
  • Increase duration by increasing the average time you expect the pup to hold still, while always including some very short times

Practice each step several times if necessary, moving to the next only when the pup is comfortable with the current stage. Expect progress to be fast. Many pups will master all the steps within five minutes.

  • At the end of each hold release the pup and give a treat.
  • Because both hands will be used on the pup, it will be difficult to click. A different marker that the pup understands (I make a “T’ sound as in “Tuh.”) may be used. Mark during the hold in order to reinforce it, then release and treat.
  • The release may also serve as a reinforcer.

Teach the puppy to play interactively with people as in tug or fetch.

Teach your pup to tug:

  • Select a rope or soft toy to use only for this game
  • Hold the item with one hand at each end and room for the pup to grab it in the middle
  • Move the toy around in front of the pup until it grabs hold. Many pups will grab it immediately, but a few will be hesitant and it will require a bit more patience to entice them into the game.
  • Pull the dog back and forth to the extent it seems to enjoy the game, then stop and hold the toy still (I find I can do this best by holding it firmly against my knee). Keep still and the pup will let go because the fun has stopped. As soon as the pup releases its hold, start the game again. Repeat several times and stop before the pup loses interest. Give a treat and put the toy away.
  • When the pup begins to consistently release the item as soon as you stop the game, you may add a cue such as “Give.”

MYTH: Playing tug lets your dog be dominant and you should never let the dog win.
FACT: Dogs do not enter into dominance hierarchies with other species, including humans. Read more about dominance here: https://avsab.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Dominance_Position_Statement-download.pdf
Note: tugging can serve as positive reinforcement for many dogs and top agility trainers use it frequently in their training.

Teach your pup to fetch:

  • Select two (or three) balls or other items that the dog can easily carry in its mouth
  • Begin by holding one item and moving it around in a way that gets the pup’s interest. Roll it or gently toss it a short distance at first
  • The pup will likely chase it, pick it up and look back
  • When it looks back, show a second toy to entice the pup to return for that one
  • As the pup arrives for the second toy, roll or toss it away. The pup will likely drop toy number one to chase toy number two. Each pup is different, but through trial and error you will be able to develop a rhythm of chase, return with toy, drop toy, chase another toy, repeat. Gradually increase the distance and the pace of the game. Occasionally a toy will not get all the way back to you which is why it can help to have a third one ready to go.