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How to train dogs and puppies

Welcoming a new puppy or dog into your home is an exciting time. But they’ll need training to become well- behaved and socialised companions. Find out how to teach key behaviours, from puppy toilet training to recall and basic commands.

Dog and puppy training

Wagging tails and loving licks are always welcome, but dogs can also bring with them less enjoyable behaviour. Chewed shoes, accidents on the carpet and pulling on the lead can be stressful for new dog owners. That’s why the importance of training your puppy or dog can’t be overstated. 

Training your dog is important for lots of reasons:

  • Teaches them good behaviour 
  • Keeps them safe and under control when you’re out and about
  • Strengthens your bond
  • Good mental stimulation 
  • Training is fun and rewarding for both of you.

When training your puppy or dog, keep things fun, interesting and rewarding. Keep training sessions short so your dog doesn’t get bored or frustrated. 

Reward good behaviour, never punish bad behaviour – this will only make your dog fear you. Many learned behaviours take lots of training sessions to perfect, so patience is key. 

With consistency and patience, any new four-legged friend can be taught how to behave around the home and out on walks. Read on to learn how to train a puppy. You’ll have a well-mannered, content pup in no time.

How to toilet train a puppy

Toilet training your puppy is one of the first things you’ll want to focus on and can start from the day you bring your puppy home. 

Puppy toilet training starts with learning the signs that your dog needs to go to the toilet, which include:

  • Sudden, urgent sniffing
  • Moving in tight circles before squatting
  • Fidgeting and looking for a soft surface. 

When you know what to look out for, you can follow these steps:

  1. When you notice your puppy needs to go, take them to the correct place outside. Puppies prefer to relieve themselves on soft surfaces like grass or soil, so try to find somewhere suitable. 
  2. If they have learned to go on puppy pads or newspaper, you can help them associate going outside by putting some on the ground in the right spot until they learn.  
  3. Wait with them until they start to go. You can use a verbal cue like “wee” or “poo,” so they learn to associate the command with the behaviour. 
  4. Once they have finished relieving themselves, reward them with lots of praise and treats. 
  5. Schedule regular toilet trips into your puppy’s routine so they’re less likely to need to go in the house. 
  6. If your puppy starts to go in the house, never punish them. Instead, take them straight to the correct spot and praise them when they go there. 
  7. Over time your puppy will learn to take themselves to the correct spot when they need the toilet. If this is outside, they may learn to get your attention to open the door. Reward them when they do this as well. 

Never punish your dog if they have an accident indoors. This will scare and confuse them, and they won’t associate the punishment with the accident. You can clean the soiled area with a specially formulated cleaning spray that removes odours. This should prevent them from trying to go in the same spot again. 

Clicker training for puppies and dogs

Dog clicker training is a popular training method and can be used to teach a wide variety of commands and behaviours. Simply put, a clicker is a handheld device that makes a clicking sound when pressed. You can train your dog to associate the sound of the clicker with a reward, which makes it a great tool for training.  

Here's how it works. 

  1. First you need to teach your dog how the clicker works. In a calm environment with no distractions, simply ‘click’ the machine and follow up with a treat. It’s important to give the treat within seconds, so your dog associates the click with the reward.
  2. Once your dog understands that ‘click’ means reward, you can start to use the clicker to mark good behaviour. Try simple commands your dog might have already mastered, such as sit or lie down. When the dog performs the desired behaviour, click and reward. Practice this over a few short training sessions to help your dog learn that ‘click’ = reward. 
  3. Use the clicker as part of your training. Now that your dog understands what the clicks mean, you can incorporate it into other training sessions, such as loose lead walking or recall. 
  4. Be consistent. Keep marking good behaviour with a click and rewarding every click within three seconds.
  5. Some people choose a marker word instead of a clicker, such as ‘good’ or ‘yes’. This can be helpful if you’re out and about and don’t have your clicker to hand. Be consistent with the tone of the marker word, and make sure everyone in the family is on board with the marker word. 

Dog recall training

Recall is one of the most important things to train your dog. It keeps them under control and prevents them getting into danger or up to mischief when they’re off the lead. 

It’s best to start recall training as early as possible, even before your puppy is allowed out of the house. 

  1. Start recall training with another person to help, if you can. Head into the garden - or a corridor or big room. Have them hold your puppy’s collar or harness, while you show the pup a handful of their favourite treats. 
  2. Now jog a few metres away, keeping your pup’s full attention on you. Let the other person release them, and as the puppy runs towards you for the treats,  shout your chosen recall command – such as ‘come’ or ‘here’. When they get to you, give them lots of fuss and treats as a reward. 
  3. Practice this until your puppy consistently runs after you while you say the command. 
  4. Next, try standing still at opposite sides of the garden/room. Both of you should have plenty of treats and take it in turns to recall your pup to you. This makes recall into a fun and rewarding game. 
  5. Once they’ve mastered this, try adding extra difficulty to the game. Try recall from different rooms in the house, where your pup can’t see you. This will help teach them to listen for your voice to find you, which could be vitally important if they ever run off when you’re on a walk. 
  6. When you’re ready you can start practicing recall in the park or out on walks. Use a training lead at first so there’s no way your puppy can get into mischief if they decide not to listen. 
  7. Always reinforce recall at every opportunity. Even adult dogs need to keep their recall skills sharp, so try to practice on every walk, and have treats handy to reward them when they come back. 

How to teach a puppy to sit

Sit is the bread and butter of dog training. Here’s how to train your dog to sit:

  1. With your dog or puppy standing, hold a treat near their nose. 
  2. Move the hand holding the treat in an arc over their head. This will make them raise their head and their rear will lower to the floor. When they’re in the sitting position, say the command ‘sit’, then give them the treat and lots of praise. 
  3. Practise this regularly until your dog sits on command. 
  4. If your dog knows they will get a treat for sitting, they will probably start doing it unasked in the hope of a reward.
  5. Once they’ve mastered the basics, try teaching them to sit and stay, using the command from a distance, or adding in other tricks like high five.  

Lead training your puppy

Loose lead walking is important to teach your puppy to walk nicely from a young age. Your dog walking by your side is much better than them dragging you along. It stops them getting into danger, keeps their attention focused on you, and makes your walks together a more pleasant experience for both of you. 

Here's how to lead train a puppy: 

  1. First, you’ll need to get them used to wearing a collar or harness and lead around the house.
  2. Start in an area free from distractions with your puppy wearing their collar or harness and lead. Wait until your puppy looks towards you, and reward with click or verbal cue, then give them a treat. You’ll notice they start to engage with you in the hope of more treats.
  3. Now you’re ready to start moving. Move a few steps away from puppy, and when they start to follow you, mark the behaviour and give them a treat. Keep trying until puppy can walk with you a few paces. The key with lead training is for puppy to keep their attention on you. 
  4. Practice inside. Give your pup lots of treat and praise as they get accustomed to walking by your side with the lead. Whenever their focus shifts, use your cue noise to get them to focus their attention back on you. 
  5. Once you’re confident walking around the house without puppy pulling, it’s time to try outside. First head into the garden, where you’re competing with new smells and sounds for their attention. Reward good behaviour and regain their attention with the noise cue when you need to.
  6. When your pup is ready, try a short walk outside your home. Keep reinforcing positive behaviour and get your pup to focus on you while you walk together. Before long the behaviour will become engrained, and they will learn that the best place to be is by your side. 

Crate training your puppy

Crate training is a great way to keep your puppy safe at home. A crate gives them a safe space to retreat to when they need it – think of it as their den. Below are a few tips to help with crate training:

  1. Make sure the crate is the right size for your growing pup. It should be big enough for them to turn around , lie down, wag their tail and stretch in. But don’t choose a crate that’s so big your puppy has room to make one corner a toilet. Place the crate in a quiet location in your home, away from any draughts and loud noises.
  2. Create a cosy and inviting space. Put a comfy bed or blanket in there, and your pup’s favourite toy. If they’ve come from a breeder, you might have a puppy pack complete with a blanket that smells like their mum. This is a great thing to put in their crate to make it feel safe. 
  3. When you bring your pup home, let them explore their new surroundings, including the crate. Leave the gate open so they can sniff inside if they want to.
  4. Once your puppy has had time to explore the house, introduce them to the crate. Sit down next to the crate and throw some treats inside for your pup to encourage them to enter. Leave the door open at this stage so they don’t feel trapped. 
  5. Once they go inside, continue dropping treats into the crate from above, so your puppy associates the crate with good things. Don’t close them in at this stage. 
  6. Over time your puppy may begin to choose to settle in the crate. Only once they’re comfy and settled should you close the door. If your puppy is napping in the crate, you can cover it with a blanket to make it extra cosy. 

Crate training can help prevent separation anxiety  as it’s a safe space where they can choose to be on their own.  

Frequently asked questions 

What age should a puppy be toilet trained?

You can start toilet training your puppy as soon as you bring them home, from eight weeks. Some breeders even start toilet training the litter before they leave their mother, from six weeks old.

How long should I train my puppy for?

Puppies have short attention spans and will tire of training quickly. Keep training sessions short – ideally five to ten minutes tops. This will keep training fun and engaging. You don’t want the puppy to get bored or frustrated as this will make them harder to train.

What should I teach my puppy first?

Toilet training and basic commands like sit are best to teach puppy first. You can also start crate training straight away. Some breeds of dog will pick up training faster than others, so take things at your pup’s pace. The key is patience and consistency – you can’t rush puppy training.


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