Education Center

PUPPY KINDERGARTEN: Basic manners for puppies and their people

Teaching your puppy:

• Housetraining

• To play gently

• To have safe and healthy habits

Welcome to parenthood! You and your puppy are about to experience a major life change together. The more patient and flexible you are, the more easily you and Rascal will adjust to each other. But the most important part of teaching Rascal good manners is to try and look at the world from a puppy’s point of view.

Puppies are babies–changing, growing, and picking up clues about the world they live in.

Puppies can’t learn overnight the difference between appropriate behavior and that which is dangerous, or just not to our liking. But they can begin to learn, just as young children absorb information and language before they actually use them.

Teaching a puppy good manners requires a few simple guidelines:

  • Be positive.
  • Be patient.
  • Be consistent.
  • Be a leader; stick to the rules you make.

Puppies don’t naturally understand how to behave in human households. They need to be taught what our rules are, calmly and with rewards, so that we can live harmoniously together. It’s not the puppy’s job to figure out what we want from him–it’s our job to teach him until he understands.

Rascal plays too roughly with me, jumping and using sharp puppy teeth.

Rascal does need opportunities for rough play, but you shouldn’t be the victim. Never encourage rough play with a person.

When wrestling with another puppy or dog, this kind of play would be accepted until it hurt the playmate. Then a sharp yelp, an immediate end to the game, and a brief “time-out” would send the clear message just how much rough stuff is appropriate. You can teach Rascal to play gently with the same methods:

Keep playtime in control. If Rascal becomes overly excited and jumps or bites, firmly say “NO!” and freeze. Slowly remove yourself from the situation. Give Rascal a “time-out” to calm down by ignoring the pup for about five minutes.

Don’t shout. It isn’t necessary and it’s frightening. Eye contact and a firm, deep voice are much more effective; that’s the language that Rascal’s dog-mom would use.

Give your puppy plenty of opportunities for wrestling and tugging with Rascal’s own soft toy (a toy made of knotted, sterilized rope is a great choice). Don’t allow rough play with any other object. Puppies need to use their mouths, so make sure they are using them in a constructive way.

Discourage Rascal from jumping on people by insisting that all members of the household follow the same important rule: don’t pay any attention to the dog unless all four feet are on the ground. Keep a lightweight leash on Rascal when he is not in his crate or safe zone to give you a bit more control.

If Rascal continues to nip (or growl, which is worse), remain calm and disengage. Create a “safe zone” with a puppy exercise pen so that you can easily disengage when things get rowdy by stepping out of the pen. Return when he is calm, and encourage calm play.

Some puppy chewing is related to teething irritation. Help soothe Rascal’s sore gums with a homemade pacifier. Soak a washcloth or Rascal’s knotted rope toy in water, wring out the excess, and put it in a plastic bag in the freezer. Give the frozen toy to your pup to gnaw. It will leave a melted puddle as it thaws, but that’s better than a chewed couch or hand!

This handout can explain puppy mouthing a bit more in depth, and suggestions on how to fix it: Mouthing Tips

I want my puppy to be housetrained.

Routine is the key to successfully housetraining a puppy. Help Rascal learn the correct time and place for elimination: show Rascal where to go, use lots of praise for going there, and confine the puppy in a “safe zone” (a crate, playpen, or chosen room) between outings. Here’s a sample routine:


  • Take Rascal outside for “bathroom” duty.  Ignore him until he eliminates, and praise immediately. What a good boy!
  • Offer breakfast and water.
  • in 20 minutes or so, take Rascal outside again. Reward any pottying outside.
  • Let Rascal play and exercise (with supervision) in kitchen or den for about 15 minutes at first, then gradually for more time.
  • Put Rascal into “safe zone” to rest.
  • Repeat at intervals throughout the day if you are home; if you cannot be home all day, see below.


  • Feed Rascal dinner and water now to help get through the night dry.
  • Take Rascal outside.
  • Play and exercise with Rascal until everyone is tired.
  • Take Rascal outside again around 7 or 8.
  • Put Rascal into “safe zone.”

10:00pm or bedtime

  • Take Rascal outside.
  • Put Rascal into “safe zone” for night, or crate him nearby.

Every time you take Rascal outside to eliminate, go directly to the place you have chosen as Rascal’s specific “bathroom” spot. Let the pup sniff around – on leash and only in that spot.

This trip outside is not for play or exercise, but for one purpose only. Help Rascal understand that concept by using a word or phrase (“hurry up,” “go potty,” etc.) as a bathroom command. Repeat the word, encouraging your pup to eliminate.

As the puppy urinates or defecates, show your approval by praising with “Gooood dog! Gooood hurry-up!” (don’t overdo it; too much enthusiasm in your voice will encourage Rascal to play). Stay there until Rascal has both urinated and defecated. Encourage Rascal to move around and sniff by moving the leash a little.

(Use a leash whenever you take Rascal outdoors to eliminate, even inside a fenced area. Rascal will connect much more quickly the phrase, the place, the action, and the praise.)

When Rascal has completed both duties, reward Rascal (and yourself!) with a little supervised play. Then return Rascal to the safe zone.

If Rascal stops sniffing and you’re just looking at each other after five minutes or so, take the pup indoors and into the safe zone. Don’t follow an unsuccessful “bathroom” trip with play or access to the rest of your home.

After a few weeks, taper the “bathroom” schedule to four times, and then to three times daily. Be patient – you’re teaching a baby, and it may be several months before Rascal is completely housetrained. Punishment is not effective for housetraining a puppy! Don’t rub Rascal’s nose in it, and certainly don’t hit. Give him lots of chances to succeed and prevent failure by properly confining him when you are not supervising. See our handout on Crate Training for more information on proper confinement.

I want my puppy to be affectionate with my family and confident with visitors.

Puppies have individual personalities, just like people, and will show their affection in their own ways. However, a pup that shows too much enthusiasm can quickly become out of control and a nuisance. You can teach Rascal to be confident around people without knocking them down!

Emotional stimulation is important: that means cuddling, talking, petting, grooming, and playing…but not too much. Don’t wear the puppy out, and respect the need for rest and privacy. This is especially difficult to enforce with young children around, but an over-handled puppy will be a stressed, hyperactive, and antisocial dog. As a general rule, puppies aged 6 weeks to 12 weeks need at least 18 hours of sleep per day. This amount decreases slowly as the puppy gets older.

Socialization is very important, but don’t force your puppy into the hands of strangers. Ask visitors to stay calm and quiet and let the puppy come to them. Proper socialization is not allowing tons of strange people pet Rascal or allowing lots of dogs to overwhelm him. It’s about calm, positive exposure to things he will encounter in his world. This video will explain more about socialization.

Routine is very important to dogs; they need to know what to expect. Decide who will be responsible for Rascal’s feeding, bathroom duty, exercise, and grooming and make sure those jobs are performed on schedule.

To boost your pup’s self-confidence, specify a comfortable, private place that is just for Rascal. A nest made of a soft towel or blanket will help Rascal relax and feel good about your home. You can also use that special spot as a “time-out” zone when Rascal is underfoot or overly excited. When things get hectic or stressful, add a worn shirt or pillow case from the dirty laundry hamper so that your familiar smell will help your puppy feel safe.

Groom Rascal regularly. Even short-haired dogs need a weekly brushing or combing, a quick inspection of ears and mouth, and nail care (ask your veterinarian what to look for). Your puppy needs to become accustomed to being handled. Help Rascal think of grooming as an excuse for extra attention, and those sessions will be relaxing quality time for you both. A grooming session doesn’t have to be a wrestling match!

Enroll in obedience classes. The social experience with strangers and with other dogs is as important as the training you will both receive.

I want Rascal to be safe and healthy.

Give your puppy a long, safe life with common sense and regular visits to your veterinarian.

Keep Rascal’s mind and body interested and occupied. A bored puppy is much more likely to be a problem child, both destructive and antisocial.

Check toys for sharp edges or any glued-on parts that could be swallowed. Don’t allow Rascal to play with toys that are small enough to get caught in your pup’s mouth or throat. Avoid rawhide bones, as they can be choking hazards.

Puppy-proof your home: any way that a toddler could get into trouble goes double for Rascal! Any toxic substances (medications, cleaning supplies, etc.), small objects that could be swallowed, and breakables should be safely stored in cabinets with puppy-proof doors. Put house plants out of Rascal’s reach.

Take responsibility for your own belongings even if they aren’t dangerous; if you don’t want it in Rascal’s mouth, don’t leave it on the floor!

Teach Rascal from the very beginning what should and should not be picked up. Whenever anything inappropriate is in Rascal’s mouth, remove it with a firm “Drop it!” Immediately praise Rascal enthusiastically and offer a toy that is allowed in your puppy’s mouth. (Rascal needs at least two safe toys: one hard rubber for chewing and one soft fiber for wrestling and tossing.)

Don’t confuse your puppy by offering old shoes or socks as toys. How can Rascal tell a good shoe from one that is worn out and ready for a dog?

When Rascal is 6 to 8 weeks old, it’s time for the first visit to the veterinarian for a check-up and vaccinations. Puppy vaccinations are usually given in a series of three visits. All of these vaccinations must be repeated annually (see SmartHeart handout on Health Care). This early experience with being handled and traveling in the car will make visits to the vet will be easier for Rascal and for you.

Don’t feed your puppy table scraps, raw meat, bones, sweets, or cat food. Feed Rascal a dry food meant for puppies, containing a balanced diet with the extra nutrition needed for healthy growth. Your veterinarian can recommend a high-quality food. Scheduled mealtimes help you know that the food is always fresh and will help tremendously with housetraining.

Have Rascal spayed or neutered as soon as your veterinarian will perform the surgery, as early as 8 weeks of age in many cases. A spayed or neutered dog will be healthier, better behaved, and will live longer. For maximum health benefits, Rascal should be spayed or neutered before reaching 6 to 8 months of age.

Fleas, ticks, and other parasites are part of living with pets, but they don’t have to be a threat to you or to Rascal if you take proper precautions. Fleas can make your puppy very ill: they irritate the skin, carry tapeworms, and can make Rascal anemic, lowering the pup’s resistance to disease.

Learn more about combating parasites with this handout.

An important note for the family who wants a happy and healthy puppy:

While a family pet offers children a wonderful opportunity to learn about responsibility and caring, regular pet-care duties must be carefully supervised by an adult.

Children forget. The ultimate responsibility for Rascal’s care and safety is that of the adults in the household. Rascal is not a toy or privilege to be used to bargain between parent and child.  The puppy’s needs must be met every day, which requires work and a bit of sacrifice.

The relationship between your puppy and your child will be strengthened by your respect for Rascal’s needs and feelings. Teach by example that Rascal is an important family member, not a toy to be neglected and tossed away when no longer new. What better way to teach your child responsibility?


This information is part of the Atlanta Humane Society’s SmartHeart Educational Series.

The AHS depends on friends to provide funding for our services and programs of animal aid, support for individuals with animal related problems, and community animal issues.

The Atlanta Humane Society and Society For Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals, Inc. is a private nonprofit organization for the purpose of preventing cruelty, relieving suffering, and providing humane treatment of animals. The Society’s mission is to eliminate causes of animal suffering with an emphasis on education and the human/animal bond.