Training puppies is about keeping your little guy safe and well adjusted as he grows into a healthy adult. Adorable tricks are fine for entertaining friends and family, but it’s more important your puppy learns the four essential commands first.
Remember: Always use positive reinforcement when training, not negative correction. You want your pup to associate the new command and behavior with good feelings from positive attention and treats. Raising your voice and responding negatively can cause him to feel fearful and anxious, which are not conducive to learning.
Your puppy needs to learn that specific words you say are tied to specific actions. “Sit” is one of the most basic and important commands so it’s a wise place to start training.
Hold a treat close to your puppy’s nose and move it from side to side, allowing him to follow the treat with his head. Raise the treat above his head so his hind legs will naturally lower him to the ground.
As this happens, say the word “sit” and reward him with lots of praise and the treat. Once your pup masters this command, remove the treat from the equation and repeat “sit” until he has the action down pat.
Pro tip: Many pet parents use a hand gesture to maintain a visual cue once the treat is gone. If your puppy has trouble following the command without a visible treat, start over using a gesture as well.
The “stay” command is important to teach patience and restraint but it also serves as a good foundation for another command, “come.”
Face your puppy and tell him to sit. Place the palm of your hand near his face, say "stay" while stepping back. Repeat this until he understands, rewarding him every time he stays even if it’s only for a few seconds.
As your pup catches on, move farther back so he gets used to the greater distance between the two of you.
Pro tip: This is a self-control issue for canines so don’t be discouraged if it takes a while. Curious puppies aren’t known for extreme restraint so be prepared for lots of do-overs and have lots of valuable rewards on hand.
The “come” command is useful as you get to know your pup and he gets to know you. It’s an especially important command for him to master if he ventures away or escapes his leash.
First, leash your pup in a quiet, low-distraction environment. Indoors works best but a quiet and enclosed area outside works well too.
Hold the leash and kneel down two to three feet away from your puppy. Tug the leash gently while saying, “come.” When your best pal gets to you, reward him with lots of praise and a treat. Repeat this step a few times before removing his leash.
Pro tip: The leash is there only as an initial guide to initiate the command. If you rely too heavily on your puppy’s leash, he might associate the word “come” with being pulled or punished.
According to the American Kennel Club, “heel” is meant to keep your dog walking by your left side and a squeaky toy is the perfect lure.
Stand next to your puppy with a small amount of slack on his leash. Put the squeaky toy in your right hand and cross your right arm over your body so the toy sits above his head.
Squeeze the toy to draw his attention and begin walking forward. If your pup pulls ahead or falls behind, simply say, “heel” and give the toy a squeak to bring his eyes back to you and the toy. Praise your puppy every time he comes back and “checks in” with you and the toy.
Pro tip: Many trainers substitute other words for “heel.” Whichever word you use, be consistent throughout the training.
Be patient as your pup learns these important commands. Remain calm, confident and be ever-ready with praise, belly rubs and healthy treats.
Remember, there are many different training styles so find the best one for you and your little guy. As always, ask for professional guidance when needed.