Training a Puppy

Training a puppy can feel overwhelming. Here’s a guide to help keep things simple.

Created: 14/12/2021 Updated: 14/12/2021 - Shelley Audis-Riddell

behaviour, Behaviour & Training, puppy, training

Encouraging eye contact

For a successful bond and relationship with a puppy we need to teach them to pay us attention and offer us plenty of good eye contact. Puppies naturally offer eye contact more than adult dogs. It's important to encourage this at an early age so that you teach your puppy to pay you attention. This will help training a puppy easier.

Teaching your puppy good eye contact:

  • Place a tasty treat in your forefingers.

  • Let your puppy smell the treat by placing it towards their nose.

  • Then raise the hand with the treat to your chin and say your puppy’s name.

  • Wait until they give you good eye contact and reward them with the treat in your hand.

  • Repeat the exercise until your puppy responds well.

Building your puppy's focus:

Once your puppy is responding well by looking at you when you say their name, you can start to build up the amount of time you hold your puppy's attention for. Start small, and increase gradually,

making sure you reward each time.

How to teach your dog to sit

  • Hold a tasty treat between your fingers and let your dog have a smell of the treat.

  • From your puppy's nose, move the tasty treat held in your fingers, backwards over your puppy's head.

  • Your puppy will follow the direction of the treat until their bottom meets the floor.

  • Reward as your puppy’s bottom meets the floor.

  • Repeat the 'sit' command until your puppy predicts your movement and sits. At this point, add the word 'sit' just before your puppy sits.

Tri-coloured border collie puppy sitting nicely on the grass

Training a puppy to stand

  • Start from a sit.

  • Let your puppy smell you have a treat held between your fingers.

  • Slowly pull back the hand which has the tasty treat in it, until your puppy stands.

  • Reward as soon as they stand.

  • Repeat the stand command until your puppy predicts your movement and stands.

  • At this point, add the word 'stand' just before your puppy stands.

How to train a puppy to lay down

  • Start from a sit.

  • Let your puppy smell you have a treat held between your fingers.

  • With the treat under your puppy's nose, slowly bring your hand down to the floor.

  • Do this in a straight line to the floor.

  • Hold the treat at the floor and as your puppy lies down, reward.

  • Repeat the 'down' command until your puppy predicts your movement and lies down. At this point, add the word 'down' just before your puppy lies down.

Be careful not to pull the treat backwards from your puppy when teaching the 'down' command. Pulling the treat backwards rather than downwards, will encourage them to stand. Some puppies may be reluctant to lie down on a hard or cold floor. If this is the case with your puppy, try teaching them 'down' on a warm and comfortable surface.

small white puppy lying down thumb

Dog recall training

Letting your puppy off the lead is a big step to take and should only be considered when your puppy is recalling well. Introducing recall training in the early stages of your puppy's life will build on the positive control and bond you have with then. It's important that you only allow your puppy off the lead in a safe area and where you know you have control. The level of distraction around your puppy will greatly affect their response when you try to recall them.

  • Start 'recall' off in a simple and easy way for your puppy.

  • Ask a helper to hold your puppy.

  • Let your puppy smell you have a tasty treat in your hand.

  • Take a few steps back, kneel down, open your arms and call your puppy to you.

  • Introduce a recall word such as 'here' or 'come'.

  • Once your puppy reaches you, pop your finger under the collar below your puppy's chin, then reward.

  • Holding your puppy's collar will teach your puppy to wait for their reward and stop any dashing off.

  • Build on 'recall', by calling your puppy when they are busy. This starts to teach them that they have to recall when they are busy.

Introducing distractions

It is important when learning a 'recall' command, that the level of distraction during training is minimal at first and only increased very slowly. At the start, you need to ensure that you only recall on a walk with limited distraction and at a close distance. Some examples of when your puppy may not recall are when interacting with another dog, chasing something or sniffing.

If you call your puppy and he doesn't return to you, try approaching your puppy with a treat in your hand, let them smell the treat and then take a few steps back. Encourage your puppy to follow you back and reward. Try not to get into the habit of repeatedly recalling your dog while they are distracted.

During recall training a fantastic support is a recall lead. This is a 10 metre long line which clips onto your puppy's collar. It allows you to build on your puppy's recall whilst having control of their movements, ensuring successful recalls.

Puppy running away through woods with lead trailing behind

Training a puppy a reliable ‘drop’ command

Puppies explore their environment by sniffing, licking, chewing and mouthing objects. A commonly reported problem with puppies is that they like to pick novel and interesting items.

It's important that you are able to take items from your puppy positively and calmly. Forcefully taking something from your puppy can be worrying for them. You will need to build trust and understanding around the command so that your puppy will drop items readily.

  • You can practise training when your puppy is playing with a toy or chewing a chew.

  • Whilst your puppy is playing with their toy, gently hold the toy and present the treat in your other hand.

  • Pop the treat under your puppy's nose and lure their head from the toy.

  • Slowly move the toy away in the opposite direction and reward your puppy with the treat.

  • As your puppy predicts the command you can add the word 'drop' just before they release the item.

Training a puppy a reliable 'leave-it' command

'Leave-it' is a useful command to have in place to teach your puppy that you do not want them to go near something. This can be a particularly important command if your puppy likes to pick items up in the garden or on a walk. A 'leave-it' command is a positive way to communicate to your puppy what you would like them to do, rather than having to use a negative 'No'.

  • Hold a tasty treat between your forefingers with a tiny bit showing.In your other hand, hold a treat and place your hand away from your puppy.

  • Show your puppy that you have a treat between your fingers by lowering your hand to them.

  • At the same time say 'leave-it'.

  • Your puppy will nibble, paw and lick to try and get to the treat.

  • Try to stay relaxed, and don't move your hand away at this stage.

  • As soon as your puppy moves its head away from your hand (this only needs to be a small movement), reward with the other hand.

  • As you repeat the training, your puppy will leave the item increasingly quickly as they learn what is needed to get a reward.

  • You can develop training by asking your puppy to wait until you reward them and ask them to leave other items such as toys and chews.

Young puppy stealing a blanket off the sofa

Preparing your puppy for ‘walkies’

Your puppy will only be able to go out for walks a week or so after their second injection. By then, most puppies are ready for the great outdoors and so are their owners! It is good to prepare your puppy for walks before they are allowed out. By law, dogs must have an identification tag on their collar, as well as being microchipped.

Collar & lead training

Introduce short spells when your puppy wears its collar. Puppies behave differently during this part of training: some are not phased by the collar, some scratch, some will rub their neck and some may freeze. Keep your puppy distracted about the collar by providing a game, introducing a training session or giving them a toy or chew to play with. Start with short spells and gradually increase the amount of time your puppy keeps the collar on each day.

Once your puppy is happy with the collar on, you can introduce them to the lead. Introduce the lead as you have done the collar, using short positive sessions,distraction,and reward for good behaviour.

Once your puppy is happy to have the collar and lead on, start heel training in the home to prepare your puppy for the great outdoors. It is important to be armed with your puppy’s favourite treats so you reward all good behaviour.

Decide with your family which side you are going to walk your puppy on and stick to it! This will provide consistency with your training. You may need to use a treat to guide your puppy to the preferred side, until he/she learns. It is important to remember that good heel work means that your puppy’s lead is slack when walking.

Only start walking when your puppy is calm and the lead is slack. Start to walk forward; with every 3 or 4 steps you should reward your puppy’s behaviour with a treat. If your puppy pulls on the lead you should stop walking. Lure your puppy back to your side with a treat, reward and then set off walking again.

Young dog enjoying a walk on its lead

Training a puppy should always end on a positive!

The training methods in this puppy training guide are supported by reward based training. Positive reinforcement increases the likelihood of a behaviour being repeated. Rewarding your puppy for good behaviour and training is essential for their development. The treats you use in training need to be something your puppy wants to work for.

Each puppy has its own preference over rewards which motivate them. For most puppies, smelly, meaty, soft treats work really well in training. OSCARS' Behaviourist recommends the following three OSCAR treats for training your puppy

  1. Chicken with Yoghurt Treats

  2. Chicken Liver Training Treats

  3. Venison Soft Sausages

When training your puppy with treats, it's important to consider the amount of extra protein and calories they will be getting per day. Your puppy's dry food intake should be altered to allow for extra treats you will be feeding. If you have any questions over the amount you should be feeding your puppy, please speak to your OSCAR Nutritional Advisor.

Do you need further advice?

If you need any further advice, please contact the OSCAR Helpline Team on our freephone number 0800 195 8000 or email helpline@oscars.co.uk.