Educating your puppy in 8 lessons

Like children, puppies learn at different speeds, and so as a pet parent you need to respect the individual pace of development and the fact that your puppy is still very young.

1. Learning his name: Never scream your puppy’s name – he has a very acute sense of hearing and shouting will just stress him. Instead, say his name slowly and clearly to catch his attention and associate his name with each command.
The first thing a puppy needs to learn is his name, and the shorter it is the easier it is for the puppy to remember.

  • Call your puppy by his name right from the outset.
  • Before you call his name, do something nice with him so that he is encouraged to do what you ask.
  • When he comes to his name, give him lots of love and petting.
  • If he doesn’t come straight away, don’t tell him off–he’ll be even slower next time!

2. ‘No’: Make sure your commands are consistent: what you say ‘No’ to one day must not be allowed the next, either by you or anyone else in the family.

  • ‘No’ needs to be associated with anything forbidden, whatever it is.
  • ‘No’ must be totally categorical, and be said very clearly whenever you see your dog do something he shouldn’t.
  • The tone of your voice should be sharp enough to make the puppy stop as soon as you say ‘No’.

3. House-training: If your puppy has an accident indoors in your absence, don’t tell him off! Scolding is only effective if you actually catch your puppy red-handed.

  • Take your puppy out frequently, ideally every two hours throughout the day. If you take him out less often, he will become house-trained more slowly.
  • Make sure you take him out straight after every meal, on waking up and after playtime.
  • Give him lots of praise– verbal and petting – when he performs outdoors.
  • If you notice him going round in circles indoors, wait until he starts doing his business and then pick him up with a firm ‘No’ and take him outside. When he has finished outside, give him lots of praise and petting.
  • Finally, don’t forget that wherever you are – city, country or seaside – you must pick up after your dog!

4. Sit. Lie Down. Stay: These three commands are learnt in order, so you need to make sure that the first one is totally understood before moving on to the next. Your puppy should also be on the lead while you are teaching these commands.

  • Sit: While giving the command ‘Sit’, push down on the puppy’s haunches with one hand, while keeping his head up with the other. As soon as he is sitting, give him lots of praise, using his name, with patting and stroking too.
  • Lie down: Start by asking your puppy to sit, then crouch down next to him. Pull his front paws forward gently while saying ‘Lie Down’, and once he is lying down again give him lots of praise and love.
  • Stay: First get your puppy to ‘Sit’ and then add ‘Stay’ to command. Move a little away from him, and if he gets up or follows you, say ‘No’ and return him to the sitting position, repeating ‘Sit – Stay’. As he gets more used to this command, you can move further and further away from the puppy, although he should be on a leash or tether throughout this learning phase.

5. Walking on the lead: Never, ever hit your puppy with the lead: it should be a symbol of ‘Walkies’, and therefore synonymous with joy, not punishment.

  • First of all, get your puppy used to wearing a collar, and then put the lead on him at home, just for a short time a couple of times a day.
  • The next step is teaching him to walk on the lead outdoors. First, make him sit next to you (either on your left or right side, whichever suits you best, but always stick to the same side), then give the command to ‘Come’ and start walking.
  • Keep the lead loose and move forward at your own pace: the puppy walks near you, his head level with your knees and the leash remains loose.
  • When you stop, tell him to sit and reward him with petting.
  • If the puppy pulls, say ‘No’ while giving a sharp pull on the lead at the same time.

6. Calling your puppy: If your puppy does not respond to Here, walk away in the opposite direction or hide: he will be very worried about finding himself on his own and will come back to you very quickly!

  • Start by associating calling your puppy with meal times. Ask one of the family to keep the puppy away while you’re preparing his meal, and then call the puppy by his name and say ‘Here’.
  • Gradually, through lots of praise and petting, the puppy will learn that when he hears the command ‘Here’ he has to come straight back to you.
  • Do lots of practice of the ‘Here’ command indoors, before moving on to an outdoors training session, during which it is a good idea to have the puppy on a very long lead or tether.

7. Home alone: As much as you can, try and avoid leaving your puppy alone before the age of four or five months; otherwise you run the risk of creating a real anxiety crisis for the young dog.

  • Use the times when he is tired to get him used to being alone.
  • At the beginning, leave the room for just a few minutes. If the puppy cries, come back to him, tell him to be quiet and go out again. When you come back, praise him if he has kept calm.
  • Gradually, you can extend the length of time you are out so that the dog accepts your absence as quite normal and doesn’t expect either elaborate farewell rituals or exuberant reunions.

8. Meal times: Titbits or table scraps will upset the nutritional balance provided by the food you’re giving your puppy. Given too often or regularly they are also bad for his health, encouraging weight gain as well as teaching the dog to beg while the family is eating.

  • Growing puppies need to eat more often– so, until six months of age feed him three times a day, then move to two meals a day.
  • Always feed him at the same time, from the same bowl, and in the same place, which must be as far away as possible from his sleeping area. Always make sure he has a clean bowl full of fresh water.
  • Feed the puppy after the rest of the family – this helps him understand who is ‘boss’, because it mimics pack behaviour.

General recommendations

  1. Play: Use games as a way to make sure he enjoys learning, through short sessions that are easy to remember and fun for the puppy.
  2. Step by step: While very young, the puppy has a limited ability to concentrate, so a session longer than 3-5 minutes will tire or bore him. You can extend the training sessions gradually, so that by around six months old, the puppy will be able to concentrate, and so learn, for about 30 minutes a day. However, it is really important to make sure that the puppy is fully socialised from an early age by exposing him to all sorts of experiences: going out in the car, meeting children, adults and other animals and so on.
  3. Reward and restraint: Training your puppy is the result of both reward and firmness. Establish a climate of trust and patience with him – along with firmness when necessary.
  4. Rewards: Rewards increase motivation and make the training process easier. To be effective, the training has to give the dog pleasure – for example, you should praise him with petting and a warm tone of voice. Keep the use of treats to a minimum, otherwise you run the risk of early weight gain for the puppy.
  5. Language: Tone of voice is more important to a puppy than the actual words, so suit your tone to whether you are praising, commanding or scolding your puppy. However, you should also make sure that the commands you give (sit, stay, etc) are simple, short and often repeated. Gestures are also a useful way of helping your puppy understand you.