Beginners Guide to Puppy Training

Danielle Petch
A small white dog running through a field

Bringing a puppy home for the first time is an exciting and wonderful moment for any pet parent. It’s important to remember that amongst all of the excitement, puppy training is an important part of your first few weeks and months together, and is crucial to your new dog’s development. 

While it may seem daunting at first, puppy training can be fun for both you and your pup when done right. As well as teaching your puppy basic commands, puppy training can be a great way to bond with your puppy, and begin the foundations for a loving and strong relationship together.  From leash training to socialisation, our ‘beginners guide to puppy training’ is here to help you give your puppy the best possible start in life.

When can I start my puppy training?

You can begin your puppy training right away, once your pup has settled into their new home. While puppies begin learning from the moment they are born, often the sooner you begin your puppy training, the better. 

Puppies learn at different stages of their lives, but puppies can begin to learn basic commands (such as ‘sit’ and ‘stay’) as early on as 8 weeks old. We’ll go more into basic puppy training commands further below. 

Between 8-12 weeks is also a great time to begin socialising your puppy with other fully vaccinated dogs (remember, your puppy won’t have had its full vaccinations yet), and to begin leaving them alone for short periods of time to prevent any separation anxiety-related issues further down the line.  

Puppy training through positive reinforcement

There are many methods of puppy training, but almost all professionals and veterinary experts agree that positive reinforcement is the best way to gain results and ensure a happy pup and a happy owner. 

Positive reinforcement training includes rewarding your dog for following a command, and can be anything from a tasty treat to their favourite toy. Dogs then associate the act (or command) with a positive outcome, making them more likely to do it again in the future. 

Trusted tip: if you choose treats to train your puppy, make sure to factor this into your puppy’s diet to ensure they don't put on any extra weight.

Why negative reinforcement doesn’t work

Negative reinforcement should never be used in puppy training. Not only is this method ineffective, but it will also cause your puppy to become frightened of you, potentially causing further issues around aggressive or nervous behaviour.

By focusing instead on rewarding your puppy’s good behaviour using positive reinforcement, they’re much more likely to remember it. Instead of punishing bad (or unwanted) behaviour, many experts suggest ignoring it completely — when your dog sees that it garners no reaction, they’re less likely to do it in the future. 

A puppy on a lead sitting at his owner's heel

Walkies! Leash training and car journeys

Taking your new puppy out for a stroll can be one of the most exciting things about having a new puppy, and getting your dog to walk on a leash is an important part of puppy training.

Choosing the right lead and equipment for your first walk together is a great place to start, and puppies in particular will benefit from a harness for a more comfortable, more controlled walk. 

Location is another important element, and you may find it useful to practice using a leash on your dog a few times in the garden, or somewhere quiet where your puppy is less likely to be distracted. With a pocket full of treats at the ready, you should aim to keep a loose leash, continuing to walk and praise your dog whenever the leash remains loose. 

Remember, it’s okay if your dog walks a few steps away from you, but the moment the leash gets tight, or if your dog pulls in a different direction away from you, try to encourage them back to you, giving praise when they do. This should train your dog to associate being near you on a walk as a good thing!

If you’re planning a journey a little further from home, we recommend reading our recent blog post on travelling with pets.

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Basic commands to teach a puppy 

Whether you want your puppy to sit, stay, come, or play, learning basic commands is not only a great way for your puppy to begin their training, but these are key commands that you’ll use throughout your puppy’s life. 

Similar to leash training, basic commands, such as ‘sit’, ‘lie down’ and ‘stay’, can be easily achieved with a little patience and some positive reinforcement. 

The American Kennel Club have a great guide to teaching your dog basic puppy commands, which include tips on how to train your puppy to sit, stay and lie down, as well as teaching them to come when called.  

How to socialise your puppy

Socialisation is an important part of puppy training. Getting them used to other people and other dogs makes our pups more friendly and well-behaved, and less prone to fear. 

Once your new puppy has been fully vaccinated, you can begin taking them out and allowing them to socialise. Letting your puppy meet and play with other dogs in a neutral area, such as a park, is a great place to start. You can also carry your dog around in outside spaces to introduce them to new people and new locations.

Puppy classes are another great way to socialise your pup. As well as helping to boost their confidence and make new pup pals, it can be a great place to put into practice those basic puppy training commands.  

A puppy sitting in a field, looking up at its owner

Do’s and don’ts of puppy training

We already know that patience, positive reinforcement and consistency are key when it comes to puppy training. But for a handy list of the do’s and the don’ts, look no further. 

Do…

  • Train in short sessions: 10-15 minutes per session should be more than enough, and will avoid over-exerting your puppy
  • Stick to teaching one command at a time to avoid confusion
  • Say your commands clear, consistently, and just say the command once — repeating command words won’t necessarily improve results, and you could risk your puppy tuning you out
  • Choose a time and location to train your puppy where you’ll have no distractions
  • Be patient, kind and considerate — remember, it’s hard work being a pup!

Don’t…

  • Force your pup to train — it’s better to come back to it when they are more engaged and more likely to be in the mood for training
  • Get frustrated with your pup — remember, positivity and patience is key
  • Let your puppy get bored — keep training fun and engaging. if you notice your puppy becoming bored, it’s best to switch activities or come back to it later
  • Use negative reinforcement — it will only make your puppy nervous or frightened, and may lead to aggressive behaviour.

Finding a puppy training class

Puppy training classes are great if you need further support training your puppy, or if you wish to teach your puppy more advanced training. 

The help and support of a dog trainer can be very useful, particularly for new pet parents. And, as an added bonus, your dog will get to socialise with other dogs in the class.

If you’re looking for a local puppy training class, you can start by asking around at your local vets, or by looking online. Make sure to only book in with a registered and reputable dog trainer — you can search online using the Kennel Club website to find a puppy training class near you. Most will be happy to meet you beforehand, or let you sit in on a class, so you can make sure it’s right for you, and your pooch. 

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New to pet parenting? We have lots more answers to common pet owner queries over on our blog, so make sure to have a sniff around!

If you’re planning a trip soon and you’re wondering what to do with your pets, why not look into the wonderful world of in-home pet sitting? With TrustedHousesitters, you can find thousands of verified and reviewed in-home pet sitters who won’t charge to keep your pets safe and happy at home, whenever you’re away. Find out more about how our pet-loving community connect to keep pets safe and happy at home by visiting our how it works page. 

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