Black dog being trained with ball

Dog and puppy training

There are huge benefits to training your dog. No matter their age, even teaching your dog a few basic commands can make a big difference to you both.

You may have big ambitions to teach your dog lots of skills and tricks, or you may just want to ensure they come back when called. Whatever your training plans, there are many advantages:

  • Having your dog respond to requests (such as stay, sit and come) when you need them to, can help make walks more enjoyable
  • Dogs enjoy training. The mental challenge of learning new things can be stimulating and a good use of their energy.
  • A dog that walks on a loose lead is far more enjoyable to walk 

How dogs learn

Dogs learn by association. If your dog does something and is rewarded, the action is much more likely to be repeated.

During training, this means you need to let your dog know when they have done something you like by rewarding them. For this to work well, the reward needs to happen immediately after the action. This encourages them to repeat the behaviour. Once they understand what you’re asking of them, you can begin to pair the action with a cue (for example, “sit”).


Blue Cross recommends positive reward based training methods. We do not use or advise aversive equipment or methods – dogs learn best when they are not stressed, worried, uncomfortable or scared.

What rewards should you use?

Before you begin training, you’ll need to find out what motivates your dog, as this will be the reward during training. Most dogs find food very motivating, but you can also use toys or verbal praise and fuss. When training a new skill, it’s easiest to use food to help your dog concentrate.

The food you’ll use will depend on your dog. Some dogs may need a tasty new treat, such as small pieces of ham, cheese or chicken. Others may work for their ordinary kibble if they have a good appetite.


Depending on how much training you do or how active your dog is, you may need to adjust their food portions to ensure they do not become overweight.

Using a reward marker

When training, it’s helpful to use a reward marker. A marker is a signal to your dog that what they did at that moment was correct.

Verbal markers (such as “yes” and “good”) are commonly used, as well as mechanical markers such as clickers. If your dog is deaf or hard of hearing, a visual marker can be used, such as a thumbs up.

To help your dog understand what the marker means, you’ll need to pair it with a reward (such as food or toys). The aim is for the marker (verbal, sound or visual) to indicate that a reward is on its way. This really helps with training, as you can be more precise and also mark behaviours when your dog is further away from you.

How to pair the marker and reward

Start by saying “yes”, pressing the click, or giving a thumbs up for deaf dogs and give your treat immediately afterwards. Repeat this plenty (around 20 times) to begin with. Your dog will quickly learn that the marker predicts the reward. Once your dog has learned this, you’re ready to start training.


The reward marker should not replace the reward when training. It’s simply a tool that helps to make your training more precise, especially when your dog is learning something new.

Things to remember when training your dog

  • Training together should be fun. If you’re teaching something that your dog finds difficult, pause on a good note and try again later – it can be easy for you or your dog to get frustrated during training. Use the time to figure out what the problem was so you can make it easier for you both next time.  
  • Keep sessions short (about two to five minutes) and practice whenever you can. Little and often is best.
  • Practise in different areas, for example in the house, out on walks and in the garden. Remember to keep distractions to a minimum in the early stages of learning anything new. 

How to teach your dog recall

Recall is one of the most important things you’ll teach your dog. If you let your dog off lead, teaching a recall is important. But even if you do not let your lead off lead, recall is still useful. If you drop the lead by accident or a door is left open, a good recall may prevent an accident from happening.

It’s best to start recall training as early as possible, but it’s never too late to teach this to your dog.

More on recall training 

How to get your dog to sit

  1. Get your dog into position with a treat just above their nose, then move your hand over your dog’s back.
  2. As your dog’s head tilts up and back, your dog will sit. As your dog sits, say “yes” or click and give them a treat. If the reward is held too high or moved too quickly, your dog may jump up or back away.
  3. Once your dog understands that this is the position they need to be in to get a treat, they’ll do this when your hand lures them into position. When your dog is doing this reliably, introduce the word “sit” the moment their bottom touches the floor. Remember to mark and reward as before.
  4. Practice sit regularly and in different situations – at kerbs, before you open the door, or before greeting people they want to say hi to. Remember to reward heavily, especially when they’re able to sit even in exciting situations such as this.

How to teach your dog the down position

Once your dog is confidently sitting on command, it’s easy to guide your dog to the down position.

  1. Place your hand just under the dog's chin near to the chest. Then lower your hand to the floor.
  2. When your hand is on the floor, slowly draw your hand forward and the dog will follow it into a down position. As your dog lies down, mark the behaviour and reward.
  3. As with sit, you can introduce the word when they are reliably offering the down position when you lure them into position.

How to teach your dog to wait or stay

When you have taught your dog to sit and lay down on command, you can extend these exercises to include the dog staying in one place. Ask your dog to sit or go down. Then, instead of giving the reward straight away, wait for a few seconds and say “wait” or “stay”. Reward your dog after this cue.

How to train your dog to walk on a loose lead

Before you begin training, decide which side your dog will walk on and how far in front your dog is allowed to go.

Most dogs that pull have learned to do so over time. The longer they’ve been doing it, the harder it will be for them to learn to walk by your side, so lots of patience will be needed.

  1. Ask your dog to sit before you start walking. This will help them start training calmly.
  2. Start walking slowly. As you walk, give your dog lots of verbal praise and a reward for walking next to you.
  3. If your dog pulls ahead, simply stop walking. Encourage your dog to come back to you with a reward, and start walking again once you’re ready.

This method helps your dog to understand that pulling ahead means the treats and walks stop. When they walk calmly alongside you on a loose lead, they’re able to keep moving forwards and are given lots of praise.

Further training

When your dog has learned the basics and learned to work for rewards, you can teach lots of fun and useful things such as go to bed, settle, retrieve and tricks.

You may also want to consider taking part in a dog sport such as agility, scent work or flyball. Even if you do not want to compete in a sport, it's a good idea to keep training your dog regularly – it’s great fun for you both and you’ll be surprised what your dog is capable of learning.

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• 22 May 2024

Next review

• 21 May 2027

Claire crouching next to her white staffie dog
Approved by
Claire Stallard

Animal Behaviourist ABTC-CAB