Obedience training for puppies

Here are some helpful tips from our partners in pet nutrition - Eukanuba on how to train your puppy.

Your authority will be questioned

A four - to six-month-old puppy wants to cut the apron strings from mum. In the wild he'd be out of the den and exploring the surrounding countryside, learning how to hunt small animals. He'd be growing in strength and skill every day, becoming increasingly independent.

In a domestic setting puppy will be experiencing similar natural urges. His instincts will compel him to test your leadership and he'll try and to dominate those around him - you, the children, cats, everyone. But especially you. He might also choose this moment to ignore recently learned commands or misbehave for the attention it earns.

Show him who's boss

In the face of this behaviour you need to be firm and patient, then firm and patient some more. Reinforce commands and give him some puppy-style tough love by ignoring his need for attention (albeit only for a short period immediately after an incident).

Continuously reassert your role as pack leader. If you don't want him getting comfortable on the sofa, don't let him. He won't get it later if you suddenly start changing the rules. So move him, every time, until he doesn't even bother trying. And to prove that you love him really, reward good behaviour with praise and perhaps a healthy treat. Positive reinforcement does help learned behaviour become habitual, after all.

Teach him to play nicely

It's possible that puppy may test the boundaries by giving you a little nip, so any game which encourages him to bite is obviously a bad idea (bites hurt, irrespective of the biter's cuteness). The rule of thumb is no wiggling fingers in front of puppy in a provocative fashion.

There may also be times when he tries to get physical. He wants you to tug on a toy he's picked up, so you tug. He pulls harder, egging you on. Should you respond? Afraid not… rough and tumble at this age will probably end in tears and is, therefore, a bad idea. When it comes to physical play, if you're in control and everything is reasonably calm, then okay. But if rough begins to outweigh tumble it's time to stop. Aggression is only a growl away.

Take the lead

It's so easy for a puppy to dash out into the road when not on a lead. We've seen it happen and although (thank goodness) the puppy wasn't hurt and no one was injured, the dog, his owner and the driver of the car that had to stamp on the brakes were all pretty shaken by the fact they were inches from disaster.

So it's essential that your basic puppy training includes walking on a lead. Start indoors where he is comfortable and you can control the surroundings. Place a few healthy treats in a bowl on one side of the room, and from the other, let him walk next to you on his lead, towards the bowl. Next, try walking with a treat in your hand and your puppy alongside you on a loose lead, using the treat as a lure.

Gradually build up this process; avoid pulling on the lead as he may resist and you'll quickly end up playing tug of war with him. Once comfortable indoors, begin training him to walk on a lead in the garden, if you have one. Remember to be patient and to praise him when he gets it right. You know that walking on a lead is nothing to worry about, but he won't, until he's shown otherwise.

Leaving him home alone

Imagine the day when your puppy is left home alone for the first time. The big sad eyes, the whining, the lonely staring out of the window - and that's just you. But it doesn't have to be that way, for puppy at least. With some careful preparation you can alleviate the symptoms of separation anxiety (which can be anything from whining to chewing the leg off your favourite chair) such that it's really not a problem at all.

The key is to gradually build up puppy's experience of being away from you. Start by leaving the room for a few minutes at a time. Extend the periods of time you are gone. Then (deep breath) step outside on your own for a couple of minutes. As long as he's not distressed to begin with he should be quite happy pottering around, happy in the knowledge that you'll be back soon.

When, after a week or two of trial separations, you decide the moment has come to leave puppy for an extended period, make sure that he's been out for a wee, he's got water to drink and a bed to lie in. Leave him and try not to worry - he'll be a lot happier about the experience than you will!

And so to sleep

While all this boundary testing is going on your puppy will need sleep - and lots of it. You'll already know how much time he loves to spend with his eyes closed, of course, but this extended play will tire him out even more, so let him sleep.

If you do need to encourage him to nod off, try the following:

  • Calmly put him in his bed and stay with him for a couple of minutes while he settles
  • Leave the room and close the door. If he whines or makes a fuss, steel yourself and leave him be. He should drop off soon enough if he's tired
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