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Guide to training a puppy

Bringing a new puppy home is hugely exciting. But to make sure both you and your new dog are happy, it’s important to introduce good habits from the very beginning. To help get you started, here are our top tips on how to train a puppy.

Bringing a new puppy home is hugely exciting. But to make sure both you and your new dog are happy, it’s important to introduce good habits from the very beginning. To help get you started, here are our top tips on how to train a puppy.

Written by
Anna McEntee
Home, pet and travel insurance expert
Last Updated
7 min read
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Why is training important for puppies? 

A well-behaved dog can bring a lot of joy to your life. And by training your puppy from an early age, you’ll help to avoid any potential problems later on. 

Learning the most basic commands – such as sit, wait and heel – will give your pet the freedom and safety to enjoy life at home and off the lead, when out and about. It will also help build a strong bond between you and your puppy.

Puppy training tips

Puppy training can take a little time to master, but the rewards are worth it. Here are a few key tips to get you started: 

  • Start your training in a quiet place at home and in the garden, to avoid distractions.
  • Be patient and positive.
  • Keep training sessions short and fun.
  • Avoid punishments – ignore unwanted behaviour and teach them a positive action instead.
  • Reward good behaviour with your puppy’s favourite treat or toys and verbal praise, so they’ll be eager to repeat it.
  • Never force your puppy to obey. Instead, show them what to do – dogs are intelligent animals and it won’t take them long to understand.
  • Be consistent in your commands and routines.

How to teach your puppy to sit 

A good place to begin with your training is by teaching your dog to sit on command. This will enable you to control them more easily when doing everyday things like putting their lead on, waiting to cross the road and greeting people who don’t want to be jumped on. Follow these steps: 

  • With your dog standing up, dangle a tasty titbit in front of their nose.
  • Slowly lift the treat above your pup’s nose. As the dog tilts their head up to follow the food, their bottom will naturally lower to the ground. As soon as your dog sits, praise them and let them scoff the treat. 
  • Repeat this process a couple of times with the treat. Then remove the food and only use your empty hand, but continue to reward your pup for sitting.
  • Once your dog understands the hand gesture to sit, you can now add the cue word ‘sit’ to the routine. Be careful not to say it before your dog moves to sit or they might associate it with the wrong movement.

How to teach your puppy to lie down

The next command to teach your dog is ‘lie down’. This will come in useful when you want your pet to settle on the floor, either at home or while out and about. 

  • With your pup standing up, hold a treat to their nose and slowly move it down towards the floor.
  • Your dog should follow the treat into a lying down position. Praise and reward them with the treat when they touch the floor.
  • After a few attempts with the treat, bring your empty hand to the floor and give the reward after your dog lies down.
  • When your puppy has got the knack of following the treat into a down position, you can start to say the word 'down' as you move your hand.

How to teach your puppy to stay 

Once you’ve taught your dog to sit and lie down on command, you can train your puppy to stay in one place. This can be handy for keeping your pet safe – while you’re cooking or attaching their lead in the back of the car, for example. 

  • Ask your puppy to lie down and give them a hand signal to stop, with your palm facing the dog. 
  • Say the cue word ‘stay’ and wait a few seconds before rewarding your puppy with a treat. Make sure you reward your dog while they’re still lying down. If they move, don’t give them a treat.
  • Steadily increase the length of time you wait between treats, so your dog stays in the down position for longer. 
  • Once your pup can stay for several seconds, the next step is to increase the distance between you and your dog. To begin with, take one step back before giving them the treat and then slowly walk further away.
  • Practise in different places, including around the house, in the garden, in the park and at a friend or relative’s house.

Puppy toilet training

You’ll want your puppy to get the hang of toilet training as soon as possible. House training a puppy should be a simple process, if it’s done properly. Some dogs learn in a few days, others take a bit longer. Remember, small accidents are inevitable, so it’s important not to rush it. 

Puppies only have little bladders, so they’ll need to pee every hour or so in the beginning. They’ll also go after meals and when they wake up. Tell-tale signs that your puppy needs the toilet include: 

  • sniffing 
  • fidgeting 
  • circling before squatting 

If you spot these signs inside your house, gently interrupt them and take them outside.

Puppy toilet training tips

  • Take your puppy outside first thing in the morning and every two hours throughout the day. You’ll also need to take them out once during the night, at first.
  • Use the same word every time, such as ‘toilet’ or ‘quickly’, so your puppy associates these with going to the loo.
  • Each time your puppy goes to the toilet outside, reward them with verbal praise and a treat.
  • Always accompany your puppy outside and encourage them to go in the same place.
  • Crate training can be a quick and effective way to house train your puppy. The crate also makes a cosy den for sleeping in at night.
  • Puppy training pads are another good way to help house train your dog. The specially scented pad encourages your puppy to relieve themselves on the pad instead of your floor.
  • If accidents happen, don’t punish your dog. Clean up and keep calm. They’ll learn eventually.
  • Once you’ve lead trained your puppy, you can get them into the habit of going to the toilet during your daily walks. Just remember that you’re legally required to clean up after your dog has fouled in a public place.

Controlling your puppy’s diet 

Puppies have undeveloped digestive systems, so they can’t handle a lot of food, however keen you are to build them up. It’s recommended you give them three small meals a day. Overfeeding can cause diarrhoea , which will only make the job of toilet training that much harder. Try to use good quality puppy food as it’s less likely to disagree with your dog. 

House training will be easier if you stick to the same routine of feeding and exercising each day.

Puppy training classes

It can be useful to have a helping hand with training. Once your puppy’s fully vaccinated (between 12 and 16 weeks old), you might want to consider puppy training classes. The Kennel Club Good Citizen Dog Scheme and The Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) run training clubs. Classes are also a great way to get your puppy used to other dogs and people.

Protect your puppy with the right insurance

A new puppy will quickly become a cherished family member, so you’ll want to make sure they’re protected if they get sick or have an accident. Pet insurance could help cover the cost of vet fees and treatments if the worst does happen.  

Looking to compare pet insurance? You can get the right insurance at the right price with our comparison service. Just answer a few questions about you and your dog, and we’ll send you a list of suitable quotes from a range of trusted UK pet insurance providers. 

Frequently asked questions

What is the first thing you should teach your puppy?

You can start training your puppy from the moment you bring them home. Although young pups have short attention spans, they’re capable of learning simple obedience commands like ‘sit’, ‘down’ and ‘stay’ from as young as seven or eight weeks old. But perhaps the first thing you need to teach them is their name, along with where their water bowl and bed are located.

What should you not do when training a puppy?

Despite your best intentions, it’s easy to fall into some common traps when training a new puppy. The key is not to overload your pet with too much information to begin with and keep training sessions short and fun. Don’t overuse commands as they can lose their meaning, and try not to become impatient with your puppy as this creates a stressful environment for your dog, making them reluctant to obey commands.

How long does puppy toilet training take?

It can vary from dog to dog, so don’t get too worried if your pup doesn’t get the hang of it straight away. There are several factors at play, including the dog’s age and background, as well as your teaching methods. Some only take a few days to develop good toilet habits, while others may take several months. With patience and perseverance, though, most dogs can learn.

Why is my puppy still having ‘accidents’ in the house?

Just when you think you’ve cracked puppy toilet training, you might experience a setback. It’s quite common to uncover little accidents behind furniture or in rooms that puppies don’t normally go in. This can indicate that they’ve just got confused about their boundaries. If an accident does happen, simply clean up the mess calmly with a warm solution of biological washing powder so it puts them off using the same area again.

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