Getting a new puppy is both exciting and overwhelming. You might be tempted to Google “what does my dog need to know” and start following whatever the top results say.
Don't do that.
Stop and think about your own lifestyle and preferences first. As a new dog parent, you get to choose what you want out of this relationship! Then comes intentional preparation and training, grounded in your long-term goals, to set your whole family up for success.
Here’s everything you need to know about deciding what matters most to you.
- Your puppy raising priorities will vary based on your personal situation and preferences. Basic goals like house training hold across lifestyles, but the rest is up to you.
- Value-driven goals help you feel confident and stay motivated even when puppy raising gets tough.
- You’ll build the best life with your dog by being intentional. Reflect on who you are, where you are, and what you want.
- There are countless reasons to bring a dog into your life. It’s worth getting to the root of your motivation before you start nitty gritty training.
- Breed traits, personality quirks, and individual preferences will influence your long-term goals. You and your puppy will cooperate—and compromise—as a team.
- Ask what your life is like right now. Consider the skills you and your dog need to successfully navigate your environment. These priorities will help you create more day-to-day harmony.
- Imagine what you want your life to be like in the future. There’s no need to prepare for *every* contingency or have a detailed five-year plan—but a few minutes of planning can go a long way.
- Make sure your family is on the same page. Everyone should be involved in the goal setting process to avoid confusion (remember, your puppy needs you to provide consistency!) down the line.
- Prioritize “deal breakers” first. There are countless things you can do with your puppy. Focus on the ones that will most impact your quality of life.
- Break large goals into small steps. This helps you understand all the foundational skills that go into successful experiences and makes things feel more attainable.
- Track your goal progress to keep moving in the right direction. You can make this as detailed or high level as you want.
- You don’t have to plan out your entire future. It’s okay if your goals and training priorities change over time.
Why is it important to set thoughtful goals for my puppy?
Every dog, family, and lifestyle is different. You don’t need to have the same goals as fellow dog parents. By reflecting on what you want from life with your puppy, you’ll be able to break lofty dreams into attainable parts, stay motivated when things get tough (or just plain tedious), and build a better relationship with your new dog.
Every dog, family, and lifestyle is different
Most puppy parents share similar goals like house training, sleeping through the night, and basic training communication. These can be viewed as the “vital few” of life with a dog: small things that have a big impact on overall harmony.
Beyond that, your puppy raising priorities will vary based on your personal situation and preferences:
- Maybe you live in the suburbs and hope to have a quiet, classic life with your family pet. You just want your dog to hold her bladder in the house and join you on neighborhood walks.
- Maybe you’re an avid adventurer hoping for a do-anything companion. Your puppy needs to learn how to handle a range of environments, come when called, and build physical strength.
- Maybe you’re a city dweller who loves greeting new faces at a favorite coffee shop or bar. You hope your puppy will grow into a confident dog who’s happy to tag along.
Life with your dog can take many forms. Thinking about what you want—not what your neighbor, family member, or friend might want—will help you maximize real joy. You’re in charge!
(More detailed goal examples at the end of this article.)
Thoughtful goals will help you stay motivated
While life as a new dog parent is full of excitement, it can also be difficult to manage so many responsibilities. Some people experience “puppy blues” after bringing home their dog: feelings of regret, disappointment, or even dismay at what they’ve gotten themselves into.
You have to play a lot of defense as a new dog parent. Life with your puppy involves reacting to unexpected situations and doing tasks you think you “should” do. Putting everything in the perspective of intentional, value-driven goals helps you feel in control. You’ll be more confident about what you’re doing on a day-to-day basis—and you’ll stay motivated when things get tough. (Or, let’s be honest, when your puppy raising process just feels tedious.)
You’ll create a better life with your puppy
It’s not easy to get past the noise of things you “should” do with your puppy. The comparison game is difficult to avoid completely (especially as a new dog parent in the age of social media).
But taking some time to reflect on who you are, where you are, and what you want will help you build the best life possible with your dog. You’re going to have years and years together.
What should I think about when setting dog parenting goals?
Ask why you got a dog in the first place. What do you hope to get out of this new relationship? Then consider who you and your puppy are as individuals. What breed traits, personality quirks, and preferences will influence your lifestyle? Think about what’s most important in your current environment, imagine what might change during your dog’s lifespan, and make sure your whole family is on the same page. This solid foundation will enable you to set goals that are truly relevant to your life together.
Ask why you got a dog in the first place
There are countless reasons to bring a dog into your life. It’s worth getting to the root of your motivation before you start nitty gritty training. What drew you to a canine companion? What do you hope to experience together? What’s your ideal lifestyle?
When you close your eyes and imagine life with your dog, what does it look like?
Are you lounging on the couch together? Out climbing mountains? At a family gathering? Rolling around in the yard? Maybe you’re playing with your kids, or romping together off leash, or calmly sipping coffee at a patio.
Spend some time daydreaming about your “perfect” life as a dog owner.
Then ask yourself why certain activities or emotions made it into your vision. If the answer is “because I saw someone else doing it,” it’s worth thinking more deeply about comparing yourself to others.
Maybe you’re looking for an easygoing family companion. Maybe you want someone to inspire you to be more active. Maybe you hope she’ll bring you out of your own shell. Whatever your answer, the question of “why you got a dog” will help you reflect on what matters to you.
Consider your and your dog’s individual personalities
Realistic goals require honesty about inherent personality traits and preferences. You need to ask who you and your dog both are.
What makes you who you are?
Take a few minutes to think about your own personality. What brings you joy? What frustrates you?
- If keeping a spotless house is important to you, you might set different training priorities than your neighbor who’s fine with more of a mess (Maybe you ask your puppy to wait outside so you can wipe her feet before coming in).
- If you’re noise sensitive, you might spend more time teaching your puppy to be quiet on cue (after meeting her basic needs, of course).
- If you’re an extrovert, you might want to make sure your dog is comfortable joining you at social events or staying home alone while you get your fix.
What makes your puppy who she is?
The same way it’s important to think about your own traits, consider these things when setting expectations for life with your dog:
- Your puppy’s breed affects her instincts. No amount of training will be able to make a hunting breed completely uninterested in prey or a herding breed fully indifferent to fast-moving objects. Proper socialization can help your puppy feel calmer in these intense situations, but you should still expect her breed traits to shine through.
- Our dogs’ personalities are influenced by their genetics, just like humans. The same way many physical health problems (like hip dysplasia) can be inherited, so can behavioral issues like anxiety and fear. Reputable breeders aim to preserve stable temperaments. Meeting your puppy’s parents can give you a rough idea of what she might be like as an adult.
- Remember a young puppy’s personality is still developing. Socialization and training can shape your dog in many ways. Her breed and early responses to different situations should give you a starting point, though.
Do you and your dog have any incompatibilities?
Consider your dog’s breed and individual preferences. Think about what you both love most—and ask yourself honestly if there are areas where your personalities don’t line up with each other. Maybe you love hanging out in loud, large groups of people, but your puppy is shy and sensitive to noise. Maybe your dog is a social butterfly but you’d actually rather not greet strangers. Maybe one of you is more active than the other.
Don’t worry: A few incompatibilities will not prevent you from being a great dog-parent team! Even the healthiest relationships have moments of compromise. It’s just important to think critically and set realistic goals.
Ask what your life is like right now
Think about your current environment. Consider what skills you and your dog need to navigate it successfully. A few things to ask:
- Do you regularly encounter other people and dogs? In what sort of situations—merely out in passing? At gatherings where there’s a lot of direct interaction?
- Will your dog spend most of her time off leash? Do you live in an area where it’s important she can walk next to you in a heel?
- What kinds of wildlife do you see most often? Does your puppy try to chase them?
- Are there are moments of frustration in your current routine? They might indicate specific things to work on.
- Ultimately: When you think about getting through a day in your current life seamlessly, what necessary skills come to mind?
Imagine what you want your life to be like in the future
You should also try to plan ahead for predictable upcoming changes. For example:
- If you currently live in an apartment but plan to move into a house, you might focus most on skills that will be relevant to your new property (like recall to come in from the backyard) compared to ones that specifically affect your apartment situation (like keeping a loose leash while going up and down your building’s stairs).
- If you don’t have kids right now but hope to grow your family in the future, it’s a good idea to practice things like impulse control and confidence around startling noises sooner rather than later.
- If you stay at home a lot, it might still be worthwhile to expose your puppy to a range of environments just in case she encounters them later in life.
There’s no need to prepare for every contingency or have a detailed five-year plan. Just a few minutes getting ahead of any foreseeable changes can go a long way.
How can I meet my dog parenting goals?
Your whole family needs to be on the same page to reach your dog training goals. Puppies thrive with consistency! Prioritize the things that most affect your quality of life first. These are your dog parent deal breakers. Once you’ve set some overarching goals, break each one into smaller parts that you can work on in attainable increments. And remember that your lifestyle and preferences can change over time.
Make sure your whole family is on the same page
Who lives in your house? How does everyone in your family feel about dogs? Does anyone have fears, worries, or strong preferences you need to take into account when setting goals for your puppy’s training and behavior?
Here are some conversation starters to get everyone in your home thinking:
- Will your puppy be allowed on the furniture?
- What should your dog be doing while we eat?
- Are there any “deal breakers” for specific family members?
- Will one person take the lead on training? Do you want the kids to be involved?
- How will you divide up puppy tasks (like potty breaks and meal times)?
- How will you keep track of what’s already been done each day?
- What are you most looking forward to as a new dog parent?
- What are you most worried about?
- How can you work together to mitigate those concerns?
Prioritize “deal breakers” first
After all of the above reflection, you should be able to get a feel for what things will have the greatest impact on life with your puppy. Prioritize working on those deal breakers first! What habits will create the most day-to-day harmony? What skills really influence your day-to-day moods and experiences?
These “musts” are in contrast to skills that would simply be “nice to have.” There’s nothing wrong with teaching behaviors that don’t have large practical impacts in your life—silly trick training can be especially fun for everyone involved—but to set yourself up for success early on, focus your energy on top-of-the-list items that will have an outsized impact.
And it bears repeating: Your priorities will depend on your individual situation. Don’t feel bad if you aren’t working towards the same things as fellow dog parents you see.
Break your big goals into smaller steps
There’s a lot of wisdom out there about properly breaking up your goals in order to stay motivated. Slightly different approaches work for different people. Don’t be afraid to find what’s best for you and your family!
As a general rule, it’s a good idea to start with overarching goals and then “zoom in” to identify individual pieces you can work on step by step.
You can think of this like prerequisites. In high school and college, you had to take certain introductory classes before being their more advanced counterparts. Dog training works the same way! Before your dog can pass the “off-leash hiking on a busy trail” course, she needs to be proficient at the “ignoring tempting wildlife” and “feeling confident around other people and dogs” and “listening to recall” ones.
Common new dog parent mistake: Tackling too much at once
Many new dog parents don’t break skills down into small enough steps. That results in everyone—dog and human alike—feeling overwhelmed.
Try to break your goals into their very smallest component parts (like “ability to focus on you in the living room” before “impulse control around larger distractions”). You can adjust over time as you and your puppy get a better feel for life together.
An example of how many skills can go into a single experience
Imagine taking your dog with you on a weekend getaway. Think about all the things she needs to be able to do just in the first few hours after leaving home:
- Getting into the car, riding comfortably, and getting out
- Walking calmly on leash in an unfamiliar environment
- Staying neutral in a hotel lobby with other people and dogs
- Holding a sit or otherwise settling while you check into your room
- Maintaining polite manners while getting on and off the elevator
- Being comfortable (and quiet) sleeping in her crate in a brand new space
That’s just getting checked into the room on one trip!
Choose some go-to “incompatible behaviors”
Ask yourself this: When imagining something you don’t want your dog to do (like bark at other dogs on walks or jump on guests in your home) can you also picture what you do want her to do instead?
It’s easier (and less stressful) to teach your dog things to do rather than simply showing her what isn’t allowed. These are called incompatible behaviors. Common examples include:
- Sitting to “say please” instead of whining, jumping, or pawing for attention
- Going to a designated mat or bed instead of barking out the windows
- Offering you eye contact instead of fixating on other dogs
Remember that dogs struggle to generalize
One reason it’s so important to break your goals into small steps is that dogs aren’t great at generalizing behaviors. Just because your puppy responds to your sit command in the kitchen doesn’t mean she “knows sit” across the board. When learning something new, dogs take in the entire picture of the situation around them—so the kitchen itself might be part of the larger cue for “put my rear end on the ground.”
You need to teach your dog the same cues in multiple locations before she’ll be able to reliably perform them in new environments.
Keep track of your progress
Tracking progress towards your goals will help you stay motivated and moving in the right direction. It will also provide feedback on whether your goals might need to change (More on that in the next section).
Your goal-tracking process can be as specific or broad as you want. Find what works best for you—from detailing every single training session to having a daily or weekly check in.
- Use an online goal tracker or phone app
- Write in a hard copy journal
- Include long-term goals as part of your puppy raising schedule
What is a puppy raising schedule?
A puppy-raising schedule gives your puppy the consistency she needs to feel secure and develop foundational skills. It makes sure you stay organized as a dog parent. And it keeps your entire household on the same page so nothing slips through the cracks!
Don’t be afraid to adjust your goals
Be flexible in life with your dog. You’re both complex individuals. You will grow and change over time. Embracing this is called a “growth mindset.” Remember you can always adapt to new circumstances.
Your lifestyle and priorities can change
Something that feels unimportant now might become a priority later on, and vice versa. That’s okay! When you think about long-term goals for your puppy, you don’t have to plan out your entire future. You simply want to be thoughtful about what you’re doing, where you’re going, and why.
Make sure you’re clear with your dog as you adjust
There’s nothing wrong with adjusting your overarching goals (and the day-to-day plan you follow to meet them). Remember that you can’t verbally explain to your dog what’s going on, though.
Take the transition slowly if you change up any household boundaries or obedience criteria. Use lots of positive reinforcement so your puppy doesn’t feel stressed by any sudden change—and remember to show both yourself and her some grace during any transition.
Consider working with a professional trainer
You don’t have to go it alone. Many new dog parents struggle to translate human visions into specific dog training goals. That’s where professional trainers come in! An experienced coach will help you identify top priorities, understand your dog’s traits, and develop a plan for your unique situation.
Examples of dog training and parenting goals for different lifestyles
Here are a few examples to get you thinking about what you want out of life with your own dog. Use them as a base and adjust as needed!
Things you might prioritize if you work in an office
If you have to be out of the house for hours at a time, it’s a good idea to crate train your puppy and ensure she’s comfortable if a dog walker or friend needs to take her out.
Comfort being left alone
- Why does this goal matter? It’s important that you can do things without your dog. When you’re gone, you need to know she’s safe at home—not disturbing your neighbors, not destroying your belongings, and not feeling overly stressed.
- What does success look like? Success might look like being able to confidently leave your dog alone either confined in a crate or eventually left to roam (everyone will have different long-term goals!) for an entire work shift without worrying that she’ll be unable to relax. Maybe she sleeps most of the time you’re gone or simply stays quiet without anxious behavior.
- What can you do to work towards this goal? Specific steps might include practicing your dog’s ability to settle when you are home; building her overall confidence through problem-solving activities that encourage independence; desensitizing her to the cues that you’re about to leave; teaching her to enter a crate willingly; and building up a positive association with the crate over longer periods. (You can read more about crate training your dog in this article.)
If you work from home
Many WFH-ers love spending every day with their dogs. It’s still important to help your puppy develop some independence, though. This can prevent separation anxiety problems down the line.
Independence from you
- Why does this goal matter? Even if your schedule is flexible, there will inevitably come a time where you can’t be with your dog. It’s important that she can handle your absence—whether you’re all the way out of the house or simply taking a call in another room—without feeling stressed out. Aim for a healthy balance of social connection and independent experience.
- What does success look like? Your definition of success will depend on your puppy’s personality and your typical routine.
- What can you do to work towards this goal? Specific steps might be practicing your puppy’s ability to settle in the same room as you without being right at your feet; teaching a place command or out-of-sight down stay; gradually working to her relaxing in a separate area of the house; providing problem-solving activities she can learn to do on her own; and ensuring you do get plenty of social time so her trust battery is full.
Have (or plan to have) kids
If you hope to raise a family, you’ll want to make sure your puppy is comfortable being touched by multiple people, build her frustration tolerance in case your kids handle her poorly, and take care to prevent resource guarding.
Comfort with handling
- Why does this goal matter? It’s important that your dog is comfortable around your kids. While you’ll always have to supervise their interactions—that’s a key part of being a responsible dog and human parent—knowing that they can all interact safely with each other provides peace of mind.
- What does success look like? If you have a very social, tolerant puppy, success might look like trusting that your kids can play all their favorite games with her. Maybe it’s that your dog allows herself to be touched specifically on her head and paws. Maybe it’s simply that you feel like you can read her body language well enough to keep all interactions positive.
- What can you do to work towards this goal? Specific steps might be building your puppy’s overall social confidence; training frustration tolerance through impulse control games; counterconditioning grooming procedures and specific types of handling; and teaching your kids to respect your dog by petting gently, reading basic stress signals, and providing breaks.
Have (or plan to get) other pets
Multi-dog households run smoothly when everyone can happily share resources, engage in acceptable play behavior, and know how to regulate their energy levels inside the home.
Basic social skills and acceptable play
- Why does this goal matter? Knowing your dogs can take turns during play will allow you to relax when they’re out together—and to simply have them out together in the first place, requiring less management on your end as a dog parent. Basic social skills ensure interactions stay safe and enjoyable.
- What does success look like? Your goal might be for your pets to be able to roam together the majority of the day without needing to micromanage their interactions. Maybe it’s just that they can recall back to you out of play so you can interrupt if necessary. Perhaps you just need your dogs to be able to hang out in the same room without paying each other much mind.
- What can you do to work towards this goal? Specific steps might include providing ample socialization with a range of trusted dogs from a young age; spending time in a training class or other public setting to work on neutrality without direct interaction; exposing your puppy to other animals you might have in your home, like cats or guinea pigs; practicing foundational focus work and impulse control; and teaching strong recall and basic commands like leave it.
Love having company over
To be a good host, you might want your puppy to be socialized with many different people, stay calm when greeting guests, and feel comfortable taking cues from your friends.
Ability to calmly greet guests
- Why does this goal matter? You’ll be able to fully enjoy your time with friends and family if you aren’t worried about your puppy’s behavior the entire time.
- What does success look like? Success might look like trusting your dog to appropriately interact with a guest at the door without management from you. Maybe you’re happy to provide direction but just need her to not completely lose her mind.
- What can you do to work towards this goal? Specific steps might be providing plenty of exposure to guests from a young age; setting up structured situations to practice the behaviors you want; teaching a “go to mat” or place cue; and counterconditioning high arousal cues like the doorbell.
Live in the city
City life requires your puppy to be able to walk on a leash, politely pass other people and dogs, and use the bathroom in a range of environments.
- Why does this goal matter? Chances are your dog needs to be on a leash for regular bathroom breaks and walks. Her ability to walk next to you without pulling can make these excursions easier on everyone. Loose-leash manners enable you to carry other things if needed and more respectfully pass other people and pets in the same space.
- What does success look like? Success might look like setting a threshold of leash tension you’ll accept and reaching a point where the majority of your dog’s time on leash is below that threshold.
- What can you do to work towards this goal? Specific steps might include loading certain reward marker words to use in training; ensuring your dog is properly conditioned to whatever walking collar or harness you decide to use; teaching a specific heel command; showing your dog how to turn off leash pressure; and slowly practicing in more distracting environments.
Have a fenced yard
If you have a fenced property, you might focus on teaching your puppy not to dig in the garden. You’ll also want to stay on top of leash manners and exposure to new environments for the times where you do leave the house together.
Trust when outside unattended
- Why does this goal matter? Being able to let your dog outside without constantly having to entertain her gives you more flexibility in your day-to-day routine.
- What does success look like? Success might look like feeling confident your dog won’t dig holes in the garden, bark at neighbors walking by, or otherwise cause a ruckus when out in your yard.
- What can you do to work towards this goal? Specific steps might be starting with full supervision to provide feedback; providing lots of outlets and opportunities to engage in natural behaviors; and building impulse control.
Go on lots of nature adventures
A reliable recall (coming when called) will make off-leash time safe. It’s also a good idea to think about your puppy’s confidence in rural environments. (You’d be surprised how many dogs can actually feel afraid of wildlife.)
- Why does this goal matter? If your dog has lots of opportunities to romp around—like if you own a large stretch of land or have quick access to off-leash hiking trails and parks—it’s important you can trust her to make good decisions, pay attention to you, and come when called.
- What does success look like? Success might look like feeling confident unclipping your dog’s leash without worrying that she will harm wildlife, approach other people or dogs uninvited, or otherwise get into trouble. Maybe your definition of success is a perfect formal recall more than 90 percent of the time. Maybe it’s just that your dog disengages from other stimuli and returns to your general vicinity when you ask.
- What can you do to work towards this goal? Specific steps might be loading reward marker words to use in training; teaching a specific recall position (like sitting in front of you); and practicing impulse control in increasingly difficult situations.
Love visiting patios and stores
If you love going out on the town, you might prioritize your puppy’s leash manners, comfort being in close proximity to stimuli like carts and other people, and her ability to settle around commotion.
Ability to settle in busy environments
- Why does this goal matter? If your dog can relax while out and about, you can too. This is polite to other people in a shared public space and makes your own trip more enjoyable.
- What does success look like? Success might look like your dog relaxing underneath a patio table or while waiting in line to check out of a store, with or without direction from you.
- What can you do to work towards this goal? Specific steps might be building overall confidence; providing plenty of environmental exposure from a young age; practicing your puppy’s impulse control to sit still while interesting things happen around her; starting to reward calm behavior in familiar environments; and slowly increasing distractions in more difficult settings.