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Puppy training basics

Puppy training basics

Training your puppy is important to help you on your way to a well-rounded, socially robust and happy dog. Persistence, patience and positive reinforcement will ensure your pup is aware of the behaviours you want. We strongly recommend taking your puppy to training classes such as Animates Puppy Preschool, as it will not only help you and your puppy learn the right manners, but it will also expose your puppy to other puppies and dogs, and will help with their social enrichment.

Basics of training

Essential basic training includes sit, stay, leave and come

Essential basic training for your puppy includes things like sit, stay, leave it and come. Teaching these early will also allow you to understand how your dog learns, and will help teach you how to best interact and train with your puppy. When beginning training you need to learn as much as your puppy does; this includes the best way to reward, train and reinforce learned behaviours.

Rewarding your puppy is essential as it teaches them that what they’re doing is the correct thing. Rewards vary; from treats, to verbal praise, a pat or even playtime with a toy, it’s important to ensure you are giving your dog the appropriate reward. Treats can be of both high and low-value; meaning the high-value treats are reserved solely for training and are the best thing ever, while low value treats are for every day maintenance of tricks, or for daily rewards.

Using high-value treats while teaching behaviours or trick is imperative. At the end of the day, your puppy has to want to earn what you’re giving them, so use what works best for you and your puppy. If your puppy does lose interest, mix it up and try different treats with training, other forms of praise such as toys and affection can be included; after all training is a fun and bonding experience. However food does tend to be the best motivator for learning.

Always use hand signals alongside verbal cues

When training, a quick verbal ‘Yes’ followed by a high-value reward will help with the training. Remember that ‘Yes’ means ‘that’s the right thing, you’ve done it right,’ whereas ‘good dog’ is telling them they’re behaving well 'okay' and 'release' are other commonly used words to acknowledge that your puppy has done something correctly. Remember to have one word that is a signal that they’ve done it right and use the other for praise. Always tie in hand signals alongside verbal cues. Dogs are masters at body language and using both verbal and hand signals in conjunction will help to cement their understanding of the behaviour, it also helps when the puppy isn’t near you.

When your puppy is first learning a trick, keep the positive reinforcement to ‘Yes’ and reward with food each time until they begin to understand what you are asking of them. As they become more confident, add in the verbal command, e.g. ‘Sit’ before they sit, and then verbally acknowledge their sit by saying ‘Yes, sit.’ This allows them to tie the action in with the verbal command. This is the same technique that you can utilise in toilet training. From there as their confidence builds with this command, begin to couple their food reward with a pat or a quick play with their favourite toy, but remember to always say ‘Yes'.

Things to consider:

  • Do you have high-value treats ready for training?
  • Remember to differentiate between ‘good dog’, ‘yes’ and 'okay'
  • Keep training short and sweet, 2-3 minutes at a time is perfect for a puppy to learn

Basic commands

There are a few basic commands that every dog should know; come, sit, stay and leave it. Essential learned behaviours can be life-saving in certain situations, and need to be taught to them as young as possible to cement them in your pups mind.

An important first step is to teach your puppy their name

Their name
The first part of any training is to teach your pup know their name. This can be a straight forward task, every interaction you have, say their name and reward them with a treat if they look at you. Repeat this for 2-3 minutes, multiple times a day. Any conversation, any command or general interaction you have should be pre-empted with their name so they learn to associate their name with themselves. Over time your puppy will learn their name and this will help with training.

Come is a very important command for any puppy, and should be taught next above anything else. The challenge with come is that you have to be more exciting than whatever else your puppy is looking at or interested in, which can be difficult with short attention spans.

When you are ready to train ‘come.’ Start by finding something your puppy finds exciting, this could be treats, a toy or it can even just be you. Crouch down to their level, say their name, followed by ‘come,’ in an excited tone and your puppy should come running to you. Once they reach you say ‘Yes, come.’ and reward them with a treat, and a cuddle. Once your puppy masters this inside, try it outside (in a secured area, such as your backyard) where there are more distractions. Remember, the more distractions there are, the more challenging this will become. The aim is to have your puppy want to come to you even when there are much more exciting things happening around them. Remember to take treats and their favourite squeaky toy to the park with you to ensure they are always enticed back to you. Failing to do so could result in a puppy that finds distractions more interesting than returning.

Have your puppy standing, hold a treat above their nose and slowly raise the treat while moving your hand over their head after clearly saying sit. Their head will follow the treat, and their rear-end should follow and end in a sit.

Immediately says ‘Yes’ as soon as their rear-end touches the ground and give the treat as a reward.
Repeat this a few more times, and once you think your puppy understands the connection, add in the verbal cue ‘Sit’ while still repeating the hand actions. Don’t forget the positive confirmation of ‘Yes, sit’ immediately once they sit and follow up with a treat.
After your puppy is consistent with sit, remove the verbal sit and only do it with hand movements or vice versa until your puppy has a solid understanding of both ‘asks’. This is the first step to ensuring they understand what they’re doing. Ensure you say ‘Yes’ each time to confirm they are doing the right thing.

Stay is when you ask your puppy to stay exactly where they are. This typically follows a sit, down or stand, so it becomes a ‘Sit, stay,’ ‘Down, stay’ or ‘Stand, stay’ depending on what your puppy knows. A command that often gets confused with stay is wait, though wait means wait there, until I call you, then you can come, while stay has the implication to your dog that no matter what, they must stay until you are back by their side and release them from their stay. While they seem almost identical, differentiating between the two will help your dog to succeed at whichever command you ask of them.

To teach stay:
Ask your puppy to sit, and reward them for sitting. Then raise a hand in a stop signal, and say ‘Stay’ and take a step backwards, rewarding your puppy with a ‘Yes, stay’ and a treat after each iteration. 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 the distance you are away from them.

Once you are about a metre away begin turning away from them. The biggest challenge is when your puppy knows you’re not looking at them. Repeat these steps until you are able to ask your puppy to stay while walking away from them. Follow the same steps for a Stand or Down stay.

Teaching your puppy to stay is the first step. Teaching them the appropriate release word is the second step, ‘yes’ shouldn’t be your release word – this is a positive affirmation of your puppy’s behaviour and using it for a release word can easily confuse your puppy. Use a word that is easy for you to remember, and easy for your pup to recognise, ‘Ok,’ ‘Go’ or ‘Done’ are options. Once your puppy has completed their stay say ‘Yes, Go’ to break their stay, and encourage them to leave their stay position so they learn to associate the word with being released.

Consistent and regular repetition will help cement the behaviourWhen first asking your puppy to stay outside of home, there are many more distractions so always do it with a long lead that you can grab if needed. Your puppy is young, and although their stay may be good at home, the big world is an exciting place and they can easily forget what they’re doing and go in search of more fun. Consistent and regular repeating will help cement their behaviour.

Other commands to train
A couple of other commands you should consider training your puppy are ‘Leave it,’ and ‘Drop it.’ ‘Leave it,’ will help teach your puppy when to leave things alone, from a broken toy, to discarded food on the ground and is an important command for a well-mannered pup. ‘Drop it’ is another great command in the event your pup picks something up that they shouldn’t have; a sock, a toy you don’t want them having or something from the street, teaching ‘drop it’ will enable them to drop it. Both of these commands are a little more tricky to learn, but both could be life saving when your pup begins walking outside, so we recommend getting in touch with a dog trainer to help with these commands.

Things to consider:

  • All training is typically easier inside at home first, whereas outside or in a new environment it can be challenging due to distractions
  • Always be patient when training your puppy, they’re learning along with you and practice makes perfect
  • Keep positive

Walking on lead

Having a well behaved puppy that walks calmly on lead is essential to stress free walks and adventures. The first step is to ensure you have a properly-fitted collar on your puppy, and a suitable lead. Retractable leads are not recommended while teaching your puppy how to walk nicely on lead.

A well behaved puppy is essential to stress free walks and adventuresEnsure your puppy is used to wearing their collar (for tips see the article on settling in) and understands the concept of the lead (that they are connected to you). You will need plenty of high-value treats and lots of patience. To begin training how to walk nicely on lead, try this inside your house where there are less distractions. Walk with your puppy alongside you and give them treats each step you take, to encourage them to walk, you may need to hold your treats in the hand that they are closest to. Do this for a couple of minutes, then stretch it to everyone few steps. Once they understand that they need to walk alongside you, begin to introduce the verbal command of ‘heel’ or ‘walk’, this will begin the training connection for your puppy that when they walk calmly and nicely alongside you this is good behaviour. You can support this with 'Yes' as it will help confirm to your puppy that they’re doing what you’re asking of them.

If your puppy is quite small, or there is a large height difference between you and your puppy you may find yourself bending over a lot to treat them. At this stage, it’s important that your puppy does not jump for their rewards, so if you are unable to crouch down, drop a treat in front of your puppy and keep moving forward.

After you have worked on this for a while, keep walking back and forth, increasing the amount of steps between each reward, and ensuring that their feet never leave the ground when you treat them. Once your puppy begins to walk nicely and calmly alongside you inside your home, you can begin to do this outside. Remember that your puppy is young, learning and has a world of new experiences in front of them, so training outside comes with other distractions.

Be patient as you leave your house if your puppy begins to sniff around their new environment. Allow your puppy a few minutes of investigation before bringing their attention back to you. Repeat the processes you followed inside, outside. There are more distractions outside but remember that rewards and positive reinforcement will quickly teach your puppy how to behave nicely on lead.

If you are walking and your puppy begins to pull, ignoring your treats. Stop. Stand still, and once your puppy has settled, call them back to you and get them to sit next to you. This is correcting their behaviour and with repetition your puppy will learn that if they pull, they don’t go anywhere and will have to sit next to you. Remember to stop moving each time the lead has tension on it, otherwise you will be rewarding your puppy’s behaviour. This can be tedious and does take a lot of time, but doing so is imperative to ensuring they learn that loose-leash walking is the best.

If your puppy still pulls, despite your best efforts, consider a 'halti' or a harness that may help while you continue your training. Pop into your local Animates with your puppy so our team can fit your puppy with the right size and show you how to use them. If you find your puppy is persistent with pulling, talk to a dog trainer who will be able to work with you to find the best solution for your puppy.

Things to consider:

  • Reward often while walking to discourage your puppy from jumping up
  • Ensure your puppy is only ever rewarded when they are on all paws
  • Consider using a training aid, such as a 'halti' or gentle leader to help with your puppy’s training, if needed

Other things to consider

There are a few other things to consider with your puppy and their behaviour; preschool, training classes, hobbies, other behaviours and crate and toilet training.

Your local Animates or Animates Vetcare may offer Puppy Preschool, which offers basic training techniques and great socialisation for young pups, who are not yet fully vaccinated and so can’t go meet other dogs outside. As all of the puppies are at the same level of vaccinations, it is safe for them to interact with each other. The classes support owners and offer great advice on any training issues you may be experiencing. If your puppy is slightly older and so is fully vaccinated but you’re still interested in going over some basic training techniques, get in touch with the team at your local Animates Vetcare or a local qualified trainer who may be able to guide you towards an appropriate class for you and your puppy.

The step up from the Animates Puppy Preschool is basic training classes. There are many different training schools that offer classes that will reinforce ideas learned in Puppy Preschool and will allow for further interaction with dogs. Look for a local training school near you that trains using positive reinforcement. Remember, if your puppy is excited and happy to learn, it will be a lot easier for you to teach them.

After doing training classes, many schools also offer hobbies such as agility, flyball, rally-o etc. These are great classes that will teach you and your dog the basics in the hobbies, and you may find that your dog has got a real knack with one of these, and it may be something you want to compete in as they get older. Some classes have age restrictions; for example some schools will only offer agility to pups who are over a year old, to ensure they have the right manners and so there will be less impact from running and jumping on their joints. Have a chat to your local training school and find out what interests you.

Teething is another consideration for training and is an important behaviour to redirect in a positive way. When your puppy begins to mouth you, redirect their attention onto that of an appropriate toy, and verbally praise them when they move on. Do this each time your puppy tries to chew you or an item they are not meant to and though it may seem repetitive, the association will start to become clear to your puppy. You may need to play and get your puppy excited about the new toy to stop them going back to the original item. Be patient and use plenty of verbal praise when they choose the right thing to chew on.

Training should happen when your puppy is most receptive and is calm and focused. Training when your puppy is overexcited, distracted or sleepy will confuse the behaviours and can be frustrating for the both of you.

Try not to train when your puppy is overexcited, distracted or sleepyCrates are also a fantastic toilet training tool that is widely recognised and used for puppies (and dogs). The premise behind crates is that they create a safe ‘den’ for your puppy while you cannot watch over them, or if they’re particularly tired and want a comfortable place to sleep. The crate should never be used for punishment. View our article on crate training here for more information.

Keep training periods short, around 2-3 minutes at a time, remain focused and always end training on a positive note. As you bond with your new puppy, you will find what makes them ‘tick,’ which treats work best and when they’ve had enough. The trick to successful training is to consistently repeat and reinforce positively. The more times your puppy gets it right (and gets rewarded) the more likely they are to 'offer' that same behaviour.

Things to consider:

  • Have you booked in to take your puppy to Preschool or training?
  • Are you interested in advanced obedience classes, agility, dancing with dogs or trick work?
  • As your puppy starts teething, do you have ample safe chews and are prepared to help them through this period?
  • Get in touch with a qualified trainer if you have any concerns about problematic aggressive or protective behaviours