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How to train your puppy

How to train your puppy

Puppy training begins the moment your new friend arrives at your place. Toilet training, basic commands, walking on a lead and puppy crate training are the curriculum areas you need to focus on; patience, persistence and rewards will get you both there.

The principle of positive reinforcement

Tip #1. Use a range of high-value and low-value treats

Rewarding your puppy during training is essential, because it teaches your pup that they are doing the right thing. Rewards during basic puppy training can include treats, verbal praise, a pat and playtime with a toy.

  • Puppy treats can be of both high and low value. High-value treats are reserved solely for training and are the best thing ever, while low-value treats are for everyday maintenance of learned behaviours.
  • High-value treats tend to be food items your dog doesn't get outside of training sessions. Think doggy treats, tiny pieces of chicken or something else that’s delicious (but healthy). A high-value treat doesn’t have to be food – it could be playing with a specific toy that the puppy loves, but is reserved only for training time.
  • Low-value treats are less delicious, but still desirable. A piece of kibble, vegetable or a pat. As you get to know your pup, you’ll soon work out which treats are most powerful.
  • Professional dog trainers often use a training device called a clicker. The idea is that you make a click at the exact moment your puppy does what you want. The pup will learn to associate the clicker sound with getting things right and being rewarded.
  • Never punish undesirable behaviour. If your puppy doesn’t get something right, stay neutral and quiet.
  • Keep training periods short, around two to three minutes at a time. Stay focused on training during this time and end on a positive note.
  • Training should happen when your puppy is calm and focused. Training when your puppy is overexcited, distracted or sleepy will confuse the behaviours and can be frustrating for both of you.

How to toilet train your puppy

Tip #2. Pick a specific toilet place for your pup.

Establishing a set routine for toileting from the moment your puppy arrives home is the surest and quickest path to success. A crate helps a lot with toilet training a puppy, so ensure you read the crate training advice as well (further down).

  • Choose a toileting area for your pup. This could be a safe zone outside, a prepared place inside or a grass mat on a deck. You can also buy specialised puppy training pads for indoor toileting. Whichever you choose, ensure you can both get there quickly when it’s toilet time.
  • Take your puppy to their toileting place after they wake up, play, eat, drink, after cuddle time and after being in their crate. Taking your puppy on a lead is a good idea; they will learn that going to the toilet while on the lead is an acceptable behaviour.
  • At other times you might notice your puppy circling, sniffing the ground, whining or looking for somewhere to hide – these are all indicators that your puppy needs the toilet.
  • Choose a word your pup will learn to associate with peeing and pooping. For example: Tinkle, toilet, loo-loo, wee-wee, whizz. Use this word and give a high-value treat when your pup does the right thing in the right place, i.e. ‘Yes! Go tinkle!’. You can also use this word as a command, i.e. go tinkle, go whizz. The ‘yes’ gets added for success.
  • If your puppy doesn’t do anything on a toileting trip, even after your voice commands (go toilet, go whizz, go tinkles), put them back into their crate for a short time then try again. If you’re not using a crate, just wait in the toileting area for a while. This way your pup will learn that they don’t get to run around and have fun again until after toileting. Teaching your puppy to go toilet on command, instead of when they are desperate, will help your pup to avoid accidents in the car and other inappropriate places.
  • Be prepared for accidents with pet stain and odour remover. Avoid ammonia-based cleaners. If an accident isn’t properly cleaned up, your puppy may choose to go toilet in that spot again because it will smell like a toilet area.
  • Never punish your puppy for having an accident. Instead, go straight to the toileting area as a reminder.
  • Once your puppy is really good at toileting in the right place and is familiar with the voice cue (go tinkle, go whizz etc), you can try other toileting surfaces. For example, if your puppy has been toileting on grass, they need to get familiar with going toilet on concrete, bark and dirt.

Basic voice commands

Tip #3. Always say 'yes' when your pup gets something right.

Every puppy needs to learn their name and a range of basic commands, like come, sit, lie down and stay. As with toilet training, success should always be rewarded. You can use one word that signals the puppy has done something right (yes) and another to confirm the action (sit). You can also include a praise word (good) and your puppy’s name. For example: ‘Yes! Sit. Good Fido’. Every command can have a specific hand signal, so you build a vocabulary of both verbal and non-verbal commands. Here’s how to train your puppy to do what you ask:

  • Teach the word ‘yes’. When your puppy is first learning a command, use the word ‘yes’ for getting it right and reward with food each time. As your pup becomes more confident, add in the verbal command, e.g. ‘sit’ before they sit, and then verbally acknowledge the sit by saying ‘yes, sit.’ As your puppy’s confidence builds, you can combine the food reward with a pat or a quick play with a favourite toy, but remember to always say ‘yes' before the reward.
  • Teach your puppy their name. Always use your puppy’s name during interactions. Reward them with a treat if your pup looks at you. Do this several times a day. Once your pup responds to their name, other commands can be tied to the name. For example, ‘Fido sit’, ‘Fido come’, and so on.
  • Teach your puppy to come. Find something your puppy loves, like a favourite toy. Crouch down next to the toy and say your puppy’s name, followed by ‘come’ in an excited tone. Your puppy should come running to you. When they reach you, say ‘yes, come’ and reward with a treat and a cuddle. Once your puppy masters this inside, try in a secure area outside where there are more distractions. The aim is to have your puppy come to you, even when there are much more exciting things happening. Remember to take treats and a favourite squeaky toy to the park, to ensure the puppy can always be enticed back to you.
  • Teach your puppy to sit. Hold a treat above their nose and slowly raise the treat while moving your hand over your pup’s head. Say their name and ‘sit’ at the same time. Your puppy’s head will follow the treat and its backside should go down in a sitting position. Say ‘yes’ as soon as your pup sits and give a treat as a reward. Repeat this a few times at each training session. After your puppy has mastered sit, remove the verbal command and use the hand movement only (and vice versa) until they have a solid understanding of both verbal and hand command. Always say ‘yes’ when your puppy successfully sits.
  • Teach your puppy to stay. Ask your puppy to sit and reward them for sitting, then raise your hand in a stop signal and say ‘stay’. Take a step backwards, rewarding them with a ‘yes, stay’ and a treat. Repeat a few times. Once your puppy seems to understand this, take an extra step backwards. Repeat until you are over a metre away. If your puppy moves, reset them to a sit and reduce your distance. When you are about a metre away, begin turning away from your puppy. The biggest challenge is when your puppy knows you’re not looking. Repeat these steps until you are able to ask them to stay while walking away (You can follow the same steps to teach your dog how to stay while in a lying down position and to stand back up from a sitting or lying position).
  • Teach your puppy a release word. You need a word that breaks your pup’s sit or stay. Best options are ‘ok’, ‘go’ or ‘done’. Once your puppy has completed their stay, say ‘yes, go’ to break the stay, and encourage them to leave the stay position. Your puppy will soon associate this word with release.
  • Other use commands to train. Teach your puppy to ‘leave it’ and ‘drop it.’ ‘Leave it’ will teach them when to leave things alone; ‘drop it’ is handy for ball retrieving and when your pup picks up something nasty or potentially dangerous.

Walking on lead

Tip #4. Don't let your puppy pull you along.

Having a well-behaved dog that walks calmly on lead is essential for stress-free walks and adventures. The first step is to ensure your puppy has a properly-fitted collar and a suitable lead. Retractable leads are not recommended for lead training. Ensure your puppy is used to wearing a collar and understands the concept of the lead (that it is connected to you). You will need plenty of high-value treats and lots of patience for lead walking training.

  • Start training inside, where there are fewer distractions. Walk with your puppy alongside you and give them treats each step you take. To encourage your pup to walk, hold the treats in your hand closest to your puppy.
  • Stretch this behaviour out to a treat for every few steps. Once your puppy understands that they need to walk alongside you, begin to introduce the verbal command of ‘heel’ or ‘walk’. You can support this with 'yes', as it will confirm to your puppy that they are doing the right thing.
  • If your puppy is quite small, you may find yourself bending down to give treats. It’s important that they do not jump for rewards. If your pup is inclined to jump up, drop a treat in front of your puppy and keep moving forward.
  • Keep walking back and forth, increasing the amount of steps between each reward, and ensuring your puppy’s feet never leave the ground when you give treats. Once your puppy begins to walk nicely and calmly alongside you inside your home, you can begin lead training outside.
  • Be patient as you leave your house. Allow your puppy a few minutes of investigation before bringing their attention back to you. Repeat the processes you followed for inside lead walking. There are more distractions outside, but rewards and positive reinforcement will quickly teach your puppy how to walk properly on a lead.
  • If you are walking and your puppy begins to pull, ignoring your treats, stop and stand still. Once your puppy has settled, call them back to you and get them to sit next to you. This corrects the behaviour and, with repetition, your puppy will learn that pulling gets them nowhere. This can be tedious and does take a lot of time, but teaching your pup loose-leash walking is the best for both of you.
  • If your puppy still pulls, despite your best efforts, consider a halti or harness. You can bring your puppy into your nearest Animates, so our team can fit your puppy with the right size and show you how they work. If you find your puppy is persistent with pulling, you might need to consult a professional dog trainer.

Going to puppy school

Tip #5. Supplement home training with puppy preschool.

Your local Animates Vetcare may offer Puppy Preschool for basic training and socialisation. All of the puppies attending preschool are at the same level of vaccinations, so it’s safe for the puppies to interact with each other.

  • Puppy preschool helps you and your pup overcome any training issues you may be experiencing.
  • For help with an older, fully-vaccinated pup, get in touch with your vet or a local qualified trainer to find an appropriate puppy class.
  • The step up from the Animates Puppy Preschool is a basic training class. There are various training schools around the country offering classes that will reinforce ideas learned in Puppy Preschool and allow further development of doggy social skills. Look for a local training school near you that trains using positive reinforcement.
  • Some dog and puppy training schools also offer hobbies, such as agility, flyball and rally-o. You may find that your dog has a real talent for one of these sports.

Controlling chewing and biting

Most pups go through a biting stage, which is hard on your hands and arms. While it’s part of puppy teething, it’s a behaviour you need to get under control. Chewing inappropriate things (like furniture legs and shoes) is another puppy problem, but it can be fixed. Here’s how to stop your puppy biting:

  • When your puppy begins to mouth you, redirect their attention to an appropriate chew toy and provide praise when the pup chews the right thing.
  • Do this each time your puppy tries to chew you or an item that’s not a chew toy. With repetition, the association will start to become clear to your puppy.

Crate training a puppy

Tip #6. Never use the crate as punishment.

A crate is a safe ‘den’ for your puppy. It’s used when you can’t be there to supervise, for quiet rest times and when they need to sleep. Your pup’s crate should never be used for punishment. Think of the crate as the doggy equivalent of a bedroom. As well as protecting the puppy, it will provide you with peace of mind that furniture and rugs won’t be destroyed while you’re out. When your pup goes on holiday with you, their crate is like a home away from home.

Your puppy is never too old to learn to use a crate; however the younger they learn it, the easier it will be.

  • Select a crate that allows your puppy to sit, stretch, lie down, stand up and turn around comfortably. If you buy a crate that’s too big for your puppy, make sure you divide off a section. A too-large crate may hinder toilet training. If you can’t divide the crate to make the usable space smaller, it’s better to buy a smaller crate for your puppy now and upgrade in the future. Crates come in three types:
    • Collapsible crate - made of sturdy wire, often with a metal or plastic base for easy cleaning. The crate folds down onto itself for storage and transporting. You can add a divider into this type of crate, which is helpful if you need a smaller area for a young pup.
    • Soft crate - These crates are made of fabric, so are very comfortable and easy to transport. However, soft crates aren’t suitable for puppies or heavy chewers, as they will be easily damaged by teeth.
    • Hard plastic crate - This type of crate is typically for short-term travel (to the vets) or for airline travel. They are not suitable for day-to-day use.
  • Placement of the crate is important. Position it in a social environment (maybe the living room), but in a quiet corner. This will ensure your puppy feels included in the family, while still being able to rest peacefully.
  • To encourage your puppy to go into their crate, spend time with them near the crate. Once your puppy is comfortable near the crate, use treats to lure them inside. Do this a few times by putting the treat at the end of the crate, so your puppy has to go inside to get it. Don’t shut the door, just reward with verbal praise and a treat.
  • Once your puppy is happy going in and out of their crate (for treats or just because they want to), close the door of the crate (with your puppy inside) for short periods of time. Slowly increase the amount of time the door is shut. Stay in the room. Each time you let your puppy out of the crate, give them praise and a treat.
  • When your puppy is comfortable being shut in, leave them alone in the crate for periods of time, i.e. leave the room. Over time, your puppy will see the crate as a sanctuary.
  • A good estimate of the maximum time your puppy should spend in a crate is their age in months plus one. This means a three-month old puppy can be in there for four hours. You should expect to toilet your puppy once or twice a night as they settle into the routine.
  • Have your crate set up with a crate mat and a comfy bed (a dry bed is a great option), so your puppy can comfortably sit, rest and relax inside the crate. During the day, your puppy can have a water bowl in their crate.
  • Toys and treats that you put inside the crate should be crate-specific and highly-desirable. Ensure they are also suitable for an unsupervised pup.
  • Make going into the crate to sleep part of the pup’s bedtime routine, i.e. cuddles, toilet-time, crate for sleeping.

Crate training troubleshooting

My puppy keeps peeing in the crate
This usually means one of two things: either your puppy is being left in the crate too long or they weren't taken to the toilet before being crated. If neither of these things applies, a vet visit might be a good idea to rule out any illnesses.

My puppy cries in the crate

Common reasons for a crying puppy could are loneliness, toilet, discomfort, boredom or over-stimulation. Here’s how to handle each issue:

  • Toilet: Your puppy should whine when they need to go toilet. Let them out and go straight to the toilet spot. Remember to give praise, because your puppy didn’t go toilet in their crate! That’s awesome! If your puppy doesn’t go toilet, but you’re sure this is why they are crying, put your puppy back into the crate. Letting your pup run around without going to the toilet acts as a reward for crying.
  • Discomfort: Your puppy may cry if they are not feeling comfortable. Is there comfortable puppy bedding in the crate? Has your puppy had enough training to get used to the crate? You can’t expect a puppy to last four hours happily in a crate if you haven’t gradually worked up to that length of time.
  • Boredom: Ensure you have exciting, crate-specific puppy toys to keep your puppy occupied – a mixture of cuddle, teething and boredom-buster toys will ensure your pup doesn’t get bored.
  • Loneliness: Where is your puppy’s crate situated? Is it in a social environment? If your puppy feels like they are missing out, they will cry and whine for attention. Consider moving the crate to a more people-centric room.
  • Over-stimulation: Do you have a lot of people over? Is the TV louder than usual? Your puppy may be over-stimulated. In this situation, consider covering the crate with a blanket or a towel. Remember to ensure there is still plenty of air flow for your pup.

My puppy chews/destroys things
If your puppy chews or destroys things in its crate, it could be bored. Make sure your pup gets lots of stimulation when they are out of the crate. This could be mental stimulation, in the form of training, or physical stimulation, such as walks, runs and games of fetch. Also remember to change crate toys from time to time. For example, you could have two sets and rotate them.