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How to train your puppy

How to train your puppy

Training is an important part of your puppy’s development and should become part of your daily routine with your dog. You will be taught the basics at puppy school to continue to work on at home and on walks. Here’s how to train your puppy.

Puppy training schedule

Some skills can be learnt at any age but some are time-sensitive and need to be taught during your puppy’s socialisation period (between 4-16 weeks). Early priorities should be handling, getting them to respond to their name and enjoying the company of other people and dogs. Use food and toys to teach your puppy essential life skills and reward the behaviour that you want to encourage. This is a great way to form a great relationship with your dog, create trust and build positive associations.

Puppy training at home

You can start puppy training from the first day you come home. This includes house training your puppy, and maybe crate training them to sleep at night. You can also introduce some basic dog training techniques – such as teaching a puppy to sit – from when your puppy is about 8 weeks old. The key is lots of praise and reward, and never punishment. Watch this short video from Dogs Trust Dog School about how to train your puppy to sit and lie down. 

Start teaching your puppy to walk on a lead in the house and the garden. This will help them to get used to the lead before you venture out into the big wide world with lots of distracting sounds, smells and sights. Take time to get your puppy used to wearing a collar or harness. Reward with treats each time you put it on off your puppy so that they learn to enjoy the experience.

There are lots of free puppy training videos to watch online – take a look at Blue Cross and Dogs Trust Dog School for some great puppy training tips.

Read this story: Training my dog the positive way

Clicker training your dog

Clicker training is a type of reward-based training that helps dogs to learn positive behaviours by using the click to tell them when they have behaved in a way you like. First, you pair the noise of the click with food so that your puppy associates the click with something pleasurable. You can then use the clicker to ‘mark’ behaviours you like, and follow it up with a treat. Clicker training helps your dog to learn exactly what it is that they did right, and they are then more likely to repeat that behaviour to gain further rewards.

You don’t need to be a dog trainer to clicker train your puppy. There are many resources available online to help you learn about clicker training. It’s also a great way to bond with your puppy. We recommend the book, Clicker Training for Dogs* by clicker training expert, Karen Pryor

Clicker Training for Dogs* by Karen Pryor

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Karen Pryor i Click Training Clickers

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How to get started with clicker training

  • Buy a dog clicker*, and either make or buy your puppy some of their favourite treats.
  • Before you start training, you will first need to teach your puppy to associate the sound of the click with getting a reward. Start by spending short amounts of time every day for a few days with your puppy, clicking the clicker and then giving them a reward. It’s really important that your puppy gets a treat every time you click, even if you – or another family member – use the clicker by accident. 
  • Once the association between the click and reward has been made, you can start to use it for basic dog training, such as teaching your puppy to sit. 
  • First, you will need to use the clicker to shape the desired behaviour. If you want to teach your puppy to sit, you can use the lure technique. This involves using a treat to guide your dog to perform the desired behaviour. Begin by holding a treat in front of your puppy’s nose and letting them sniff it. Then move your hand from their nose, over your puppy’s head and towards their tail. As your puppy lifts their head to follow the treat with their nose this action should lead to them putting their bottom on the ground. As soon as they do, click and reward. Repeat this a few times so that your puppy learns the association between sitting, hearing a click and getting a reward. 
  • The next stage is to introduce a cue word, e.g. ‘sit’. Continue to use the lure technique with the command word. Follow up straight away with a click and reward when your puppy sits down. 
  • After a few successful attempts, try using the command word without the lure technique. Click and reward as soon as your puppy sits down. 
  • Eventually, once your puppy has successfully learned the behaviour you can start to reduce the use of the clicker – and the treats – and just use your cue word. You should continue to praise your puppy with your voice and and give them a treat occasionally when they perform the desired behaviour.

Puppy socialisation

Between the ages of 4-16 weeks, puppies are at their most inquisitive and receptive to new experiences. At this age you need to expose them to lots of different things that they may be scared of if they only encounter them for the first time in adult life. This includes people, sounds and objects. Loud noises such as fireworks are one of the most common fears experienced by dogs. Get your puppy used to different sounds and help them to not be scared of loud noises. For socialisation to be successful, your puppy must enjoy the experience. Take your time with the socialisation programme and use food or toys where possible.

Puppy socialisation list

Your dog’s breeder should have started puppy socialisation training with your puppy. If you used the Puppy Contract when you got your puppy, it should contain information about the sounds and experiences to which they have already been exposed. Now it’s over to you to continue with the puppy socialisation plan.  This includes: 

Handling puppies 

Every day, spend time getting your puppy used to being handled, brushed, having their paws touched and teeth checked.

Introducing puppies to new people

Introduce your puppy to people of different ages, gender and ethnicity. Make sure you expose your puppy to people wearing hats, glasses and using walking sticks. These are the sorts of things your puppy might encounter and be scared of when out walking. Don’t force your puppy to interact with other people, just encourage them to approach and investigate.

Getting puppies used to household noises

Introduce your puppy to household sounds. This includes the washing machine, dishwasher, tv, doorbell and doors opening and closing. Introduce very loud household sounds, such as the hoover gradually. Let your puppy see and sniff a hoover first and then move it around without switching it on a few times before you switch it on. Imagine how terrifying it must be as a small puppy the first time they see a hoover coming towards them!

Getting puppies used to outdoor noises and experiences  

Your puppy will also need to be exposed to outside noises such as traffic, planes, cyclists, runners. This isn’t that easy as puppies must also be protected from disease until after they have had their second vaccinations. To overcome this, the Dogs Trust has produced a helpful sound therapy programme for dogs. The programme includes household sounds and outdoor noises, including fireworks, as well as the other sounds, such as a baby crying to help prepare dogs for the arrival of a new baby. You can also carry your puppy outdoors in your arms or watch the world go by from the safety of the car.

Introducing puppies to other dogs

Puppies need to learn how to behave and be confident around other dogs. Contact your vet or local trainer to find out if they are running any classes for puppies to play together. Ensure these are well managed, have plenty of space, the puppies are well matched in small groups and the environment is safe.

Recommended reading

Life Skills for Puppies*,
written by Helen Zulch and Daniel Mills,
is must-read book for new puppy owners.
It will help you to incorporate
teaching into the every day interactions
you enjoy with your puppy.

Puppy training classes

It’s a good idea for you and your puppy to attend puppy training classes. It’s much easier to train puppies and establish positive behaviours when they are little, than undo negative behaviours. This includes pulling on the lead when out walking and not coming back when called.

Read this story: My dog eats everything, literally!

A quick search on Google will return plenty of options for local puppy training classes. But when is the right time the start puppy training classes and how do you do you choose the best puppy trainer? Here’s what you need to know about puppy school:

What age can puppies go to training classes?

After your puppy has had their second vaccinations, they will be ready to go to puppy classes. These are run by dog trainers or behaviourists as a short course. They cover basic dog training such as sit and stay, come when called and walking on a lead. A good puppy class will help you to build your puppy’s confidence and develop their social skills. They will also teach you how to train your puppy’s training at home to prevent problem behaviours from occurring.

Choosing a good puppy training class

You’ll want your puppy to be in the best hands when it comes to training. Finding an Animal Behaviour & Training Council (ABTC) accredited dog trainer is key. Many ABTC accredited dog training networks run local puppy training classes. These include:

How much do puppy training classes cost?

Puppy training prices tend to be in the range of £50 – £100 for a 5 – 10 week course. 

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