Giving your puppy an education

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As well as socialising your puppy, you’ll want to spend lots of time teaching them how to behave appropriately, both inside and outside your house. Dogs that are well behaved are a pleasure to be around and they’ll often be able to join you on days out. They’ll get to enjoy the freedom of going off lead if they have a reliable recall and if they walk nicely on the lead, then you’ll also love taking them on long walks!

Basic training

Although you can teach puppies and dogs a great deal (the list is endless!), the most important are the basics, some of which may even save your dog’s life one day:

  • Recall
  • Sit
  • Stay or wait
  • How to walk on a loose lead
  • How to ‘leave’ or ‘drop’ it

It’s never too early to start training your puppy as they are learning all the time. We have some great advice in our 'Training your dog section', which also applies to puppies, but here are a few tips:

Keep sessions short. Puppies, just like young children have short attention spans and tire easily
Make learning fun and exciting. Dogs who enjoy learning new things are much keener students than those who find learning stressful or scary. Don’t be disappointed if your puppy gets it wrong or tell them off – just think of ways to help them get it right next time!
Dogs learn by association and tend to repeat the things they find rewarding. Reward good behaviours using praise, titbits or toys (whatever your puppy enjoys the most) and you should see that your dog will repeat them more frequently. You can ignore some behaviours you don’t want your puppy to repeat, but this might not be sufficient enough to prevent the behaviour from happening – so teach an alternative behaviour instead.

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The majority of dogs love to play. It’s lots of fun for them and it’s also a fantastic outlet for their natural behaviours – dogs who don’t have the opportunity to play safely might find their own ways of meeting this important need which can be problematic and sometimes dangerous.

Playing with your puppy regularly will also teach you about your dog’s personality, their preferences for games and also strengthen the bond between you.

We have some great advice in our ‘How to play with your dog’ section, which applies to puppies, but here are a few other tips:

Take lots of breaks as puppies tire easily. You don’t want to them to overdo it physically, especially when they are still growing. Puppies and adult dogs will often not realise they are over doing it, as the excitement of play will often override any feeling of discomfort or tiredness
Some puppies get overstimulated and boisterous during play sessions – intersperse play with calm training (using food and praise), so they get used to ‘switching off’ regularly
Teach your dog to let go of items when asked to. This is a really important skill and helps to keep play safe!

Exuberant puppies

All puppies can be excitable, lively and boisterous. However some are more so than others – these puppies may play-bite more often or harder, or they might constantly be looking for something to do, often getting themselves into all sorts of trouble! Your puppy won’t always be this much hard work, but they will need lots of your patience and guidance to help them (and you!) get through this sometimes challenging time.

Important things to remember about puppies:

  • Puppies’ moods and activity levels change throughout the day
  • Puppies have short attention spans and they are easily frustrated
  • Puppies need to sleep a lot – its hard work being a puppy!
  • They are learning all of time
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How to set your puppy up for success

Try to manage your puppy’s environment so that they are far more likely to develop habits you want than habits you don’t want. An example of this is when you’re not able to actively supervise - pop them behind a stairgate with a chew or stuffed Kong or in a crate (if they happy using one). A puppy who has free run of your house unsupervised is much more likely to get into mischief and develop behaviours you don’t want (eg raiding the bin, chewing electrical wires or your socks).

When your puppy is in an excitable mood, try to channel their excitement into a play or training session. This will help provide them with the mental stimulation they need. Clicker training is great for bright puppies and something you can both have a lot of fun doing. Playing scent games is a fantastic outlet for all dogs (see ‘How to play with your dog’ leaflet) and you’ll be really tapping into their amazing ability to track with their nose.

Encourage cooperative behaviour and self-control before you train, play with or feed your puppy - this helps teach them that all good things come to those who wait calmly. Ensure that your puppy gets lots of quiet time. Puppies need to sleep and rest a great deal, and a tired puppy can be irritable or overstimulated, just like a person can be. Make time in the day for your puppy to have regular breaks, with a chew and a comfortable bed. If your puppy finds it difficult to switch off, then popping them behind a stairgate or in a crate should help with this.

‘Puppy proof’ your home to make sure your puppy doesn’t get the opportunity to pick up too many items that you’d rather they didn’t. Puppies are naturally curious so don’t punish them when they do pick up things you don’t want them to (this may frighten them and cause defensive behaviour which should be avoided) – calmly remove the item from your puppies mouth and reward them with a titbit for releasing. Avoid chasing your puppy in this situation, as most puppies will think this is a fun game – they may learn to enjoy stealing as it results in lots of attention from you. Provide lots of  items that you are happy for your puppy to explore and pick up and it’s a good idea to teach an ‘off’ or ‘leave’ command which you’ll be able to use for the future (see ‘How to train your dog’ leaflet).

Avoid punishing your puppy for mischievous behaviour. Quite often they won’t understand what it is they are being punished for, only that you get angry sometimes. This won’t be good for your relationship as your puppy might begin to fear you. It’s much better to show your puppy what it is you want them to do and manage carefully the things you’d rather they didn’t.

Jumping up

Jumping up is a very natural behaviour for puppies. Most just want to say hello and they quickly learn that this is a great way to get attention! Many people don’t seem to mind a small and cute puppy jumping up so it’s easy to see how this can become a strong habit for the puppy. It’s only when the puppy gets bigger that it can be an issue, so the best advice is not to encourage it in the first place. Try to give your puppy lots of praise and attention when they have all four feet on the floor when greeting you, and ask anyone interacting with your puppy to do the same. Turning your back on a puppy can lessen the jumping up, but it may also cause them to become frustrated. Teaching them an incompatible behaviour (to jumping up), such as a good ‘sit’ is often easier for the puppy to understand. Try practicing this simple ‘greeting exercise’ at home:

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  • Make sure your puppy already knows how to ‘sit’
  • Put your puppy on a lead (to prevent them from approaching the ‘greeter’)
  • Ask someone your puppy knows well to approach and ask your puppy to ‘sit’. If they do, praise them. If they remain sitting, then the person can move forward and say hello
  • If they try to jump up, then the lead will prevent them from doing so – but also ask the ‘greeter’ to move away. Your puppy may become a little frustrated by this, but wait for them to calm and ask again for a ‘sit’. If they do, then the ‘greeter’ can move forward again and say hello
  • Use praise and encouragement if your puppy remains either sitting or with all four feet on the floor during the interaction (it’s okay for your puppy to break their sit at this time as they will naturally want to engage with the greeter). If they jump up at any point, then the greeter must move away the same as before

Repeat regularly throughout the day and your puppy should quickly understand the ‘rules’:

  • Respond to request by owner to sit = puppy is praised and person moves forward to say hello
  • Stay sitting or standing during greeting = person continues to move forward and greets puppy
  • Attempt to jump up = person moves away (the opposite of what the puppy wants)

Puppy biting

Why do puppies ‘bite’ and what is ‘bite inhibition’?

Puppies investigate the world using their mouths so it’s perfectly natural to expect them to nibble and bite fingers and hands when they are young. Puppies need to use their mouths and teeth a great deal to find out how this important part of their anatomy works. Puppies will also play with other puppies using their mouths so puppy biting also occurs when they are trying to elicit play from other dogs (and later people). It’s also important to remember that puppies will be experiencing some discomfort during the teething period, so make sure that you provide them with lots of chews at this important stage (see ‘puppies and chewing’ leaflet’).

One of the reasons that puppies have needle sharp teeth is that it is very easy for them to bite too hard when interacting with either their mum or siblings (or us). Feedback from others they interact with is extremely important as it will help the puppy develop something known as ‘bite inhibition’ – in other words the puppy will learn how to control the pressure of their bite.

Learning through play

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In the litter, puppies will use their mouths when playing with each other and their mum and if a bite is too hard the bitten puppy or mum will yelp and stop playing with the ‘offending’ puppy (or they will get told off by mum!). The puppy then learns an important lesson - hard bites stop play. Over time and whilst continuing to receive this important feedback during play, puppies begin to slowly inhibit their bite, in other words, their bites become much lighter and more controlled.

Once you get your new puppy home, you’ll have to continue helping them further develop their bite inhibition, particularly as human skin is much more delicate than a dog’s!

How do you teach bite inhibition?

The best way to teach a puppy bite inhibition is in two stages.  Stage one is teaching them not to bite hard, and stage two is teaching them not to bite at all. The reason for doing it this way is so that you can give your puppy as much information as possible about their bite - they learn firstly that humans are quite delicate and they shouldn’t bite hard as this stops play, and secondly that they shouldn’t touch humans with teeth at all, unless allowed to in a game of rough and tumble!

First target hard bites that really do hurt. When your puppy bites hard, exclaim a genuine ‘ouch!’, look ‘hurt’ and stop interacting with them straightaway. Avoid using a high-pitched squeal or similar noise as this does tend to excite puppies which can often encourage more biting.

Once the puppy has stopped biting, praise them calmly and give a gentle fuss (if this doesn’t excite the puppy). If you were playing at the time with a toy, continue your game. Keep doing this consistently every time and your puppy should eventually stop biting hard. Remember for this to work effectively, everybody in the family needs to practise this, including visitors to your home.

The rules are simple – puppy bites hard, give the feedback ‘oops’ and stop interacting briefly. Gentle praise for removing teeth and interaction continues.

What if this doesn’t work?

If your puppy ignores you and carries on biting you hard, then after the feedback (‘ouch!’) and stopping the interaction, get up and walk away, completely ignoring the puppy for a little while. This sends a very important message to your puppy – if you play too hard, then I’m not playing anymore! Go back after approximately 15 seconds and continue the interaction as before.

For persistent biters you may have to attach a houseline to them so that you can easily lead them to another room (behind a stairgate is a good idea). After your ‘ouch!’, calmly pick up the end of the lead and take them your chosen area. Leave them here for no longer than 30 seconds, usually until they are calm enough to join you again (any longer and your puppy won’t make the connection). Ask the puppy for a sit or some other known behaviour and resume interaction, repeat if your puppy bites hard again.

Note: Do not use your puppy’s crate (if you use one) for this training as this should be a safe place for relaxing.

Your puppy should eventually learn that hard biting stops play. Ideally your puppy should learn this by three months of age. Then once the bites no longer hurt, target the bites that don’t hurt, in the same way as above. Carry on doing this until the pup is not biting anymore and just mouthing (ie you cannot feel teeth).

The last thing to teach is that puppy should not mouth people at all (unless requested in a game of play-fighting; it is a personal choice whether to play rough with your dog). If you do decide to play fight with your dog make sure that it is yourself initiating the game, not your dog – this will prevent them from attempting to start these sorts of games with people who don’t wish to play like this! If mouthing gets too hard, make sure you follow the same training as before with the same ‘ouch!’ and stopping play for failure to comply with the rules.

Maintaining your training

Make sure you continue to give your dog regular feedback on their mouthing if and when playing rough, when giving treats and when playing with toys. This is especially important when playing games with tug toys - this often gets dogs very excited and they may sometimes forget themselves in the moment! You can also then teach an ‘off’ or ‘leave it’ command which tells puppy to move their mouth away from whatever it is – be it a toy, a hand or trouser leg.

Behaviour around food

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Food is extremely important to your puppy! Dogs have evolved from a species that hunts and scavenges for survival, so they come pre-programmed with a strong desire to seek out food where ever it may be. There will be a huge variation in appetite and ‘scavenging’ behaviours which will depend on various factors such as genetics and very early puppyhood, but what it certain is that for most dogs, eating is one of their favourite pastimes!

Managing your puppy’s environment

Using their incredible sense of smell, puppies will naturally be drawn to bins, cat food (if you have one), dropped food and so on. Try and keep temptation out of your puppy’s way as you’ll not want them to develop a habit of raiding bins or stealing the cat food – remember that dogs repeat things that are very rewarding so if your puppy is very successful at acquiring food other than what you give him, he will get very good at it! It’s also very difficult to teach your dog not to take food when you are not there (as for a dog there is no such word as ‘stealing’ – they are just doing what comes very naturally to them) and they may end up eating or choking on something that is very dangerous.

Food manners

It’s nice to have a dog that sits calmly before their dinner is given or a treat is offered, so once your puppy has mastered a ‘sit’, always ask for one before you give food. This way your puppy’s default behaviour when being offered food is to sit calmly. It also reinforces the important lesson that all good things come to those who wait patiently!

Being relaxed around food

It’s important that your puppy feels relaxed when eating – be this his dinner or a nice tasty chew. In the past it was popular advice to regularly take food off a dog once they were eating and it was thought that this would make the dog ‘safe’ around food. Unfortunately the opposite is true as all this says to the dog is that you can’t eat safely in the presence of people! This makes dogs very uneasy and worried, and some might begin to defend their food and themselves using aggression. This is the opposite of what owners really want, so the best advice is to not take food away from your dog at all. As most people tend to feed their dogs in the kitchen (which can be a hive of activity in some homes), you could occasionally drop something exceptionally tasty in your puppies bowl as you pass – this will help your puppy feel VERY happy about people being near him. While he is eating his meal, simply approach your puppy normally and drop a piece of cheese or chicken (whatever your puppy loves!). You’ll soon see the effect of this as your puppy will begin to wag his tail whenever you pass his bowl in anticipation of occasional ‘extras’. There’s no need to do this at every meal or every day, just occasionally which will help reinforce the message that eating in the presence of people is nothing but a good thing.

What about chews?

You’ll want your puppy to feel very comfortable tucking into a chew when they’re around people, so try not to bother them when they’re engrossed in it – this way they’re very unlikely to perceive you as a threat for something that’s really important to them. As with the food bowl exercises, occasionally give them something extra delicious while they are eating their chew – this way your approach and presence is nothing but positive.

What if my puppy is eating something that is dangerous?

At some point, your puppy is likely to pick up something that you either don’t want him to have or is dangerous. As your puppy shouldn’t be concerned about you approaching him (as you’ve made him feel very relaxed about eating and chewing already), simply walk up to him calmly and offer him a mouthwatering treat in exchange for the item. He’ll be used to taking things from you at this point, so it shouldn’t be a problem for him to leave the item in exchange for something delicious.

Tip – teach you puppy to retrieve. If this is taught well, eventually you’ll be able to ask your puppy to bring anything to you, including items you didn’t want them to pick up in the first place!

Preparing your puppy for being handled at the vets or groomer

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Most puppies enjoy being touched, handled and stroked by those that they know well. However when your puppy visits the vet or groomers for the first time, they will have to be handled by a stranger in a new environment and all this has the potential to be a bit overwhelming and scary. It’s not uncommon for dogs of any age to be frightened of going to the vet or groomers, but there is a lot you can do to help prepare them for these situations. As well as ‘puppy’ visits to the vet or groomers (see information in the ‘socialising your puppy’ leaflet), you can teach your puppy all about how they are likely to be handled during an examination or grooming session. It will be quite different from how you usually handle your puppy, but it doesn’t have to be scary!

It’s a good idea to use the same mat or piece of vetbed for this training – this way your puppy will understand what is going to happen and what is expected of them. It also lets them know when the training begins and when it ends.

  • Prepare some tasty treats and lay your mat on the floor
  • Encourage your puppy over to the mat and ask them to ‘sit’ on it (if they know how to). If not, reward them by giving them some treats for just being on the mat.
  • Restraint training. Hold your puppy gently in a ‘hug’ (close to your body) and give them a treat. If they wriggle wait for them to stop wriggling, praise and give a treat. If your puppy wriggles a great deal, becomes worried or very frustrated, don’t hug at first – instead place a hand on them, praise and treat and build it up slowly from there.
  • Once your puppy has got used to being held for a few seconds at a time, carry on building the time that you can ‘restrain’ your puppy for – this training will help prepare your puppy for being held ‘still’ which will be necessary for procedures like injections and so on. Make sure that you reward you puppy heavily with praise and treats!

Once your puppy is used to being still for this handling, you can then start to work on other areas likely to be examined at the vet:

  • Legs, tummy, feet, tail, head, eyes, ears
  • Left up the lips to examine the teeth too – many dogs find this difficult so help your puppy feel comfortable with this by taking it slowly and use lots of treats
  • Carry out similar training during grooming sessions, particularly if your dog is either long haired or will need clipping (you can also desensitise them to clippers by pairing firstly the sight and then the sound of them with some tasty treats)
  • Remember to take things slowly, praise and reward generously and take regularly breaks. If at any point you puppy looks worried or panics, then go back to the stage your puppy was comfortable at and begin again.
  • Keep sessions short (no longer than a few minutes at first) – remember puppies tire and get bored easily!
  • It’s a good idea to keep up this training regularly throughout your dog’s life to remind them that being handled in this way is a positive thing

Remember the puppy phase won’t last for ever and once your puppy learns how to fit in to your life (with your guidance!), things will gradually become easier. If you have any problems with your puppy, then please don’t hesitate to contact the centre where you rehomed your puppy from and we will do our best to help you.

Puppy training
— Page last updated 10/12/2018

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