Obedience training! The name gets a bad rap in some circles not gonna lie, but all it’s about is your puppy having a good foundation to become a polite, well behaved dog in society.
You may have noticed that dogs don’t really speak English per say, which can make it tricky to communicate. But obedience training, through routines and making clear what’s established from them, can truly help with communicating and getting on the same page.
Getting in the right frequency.
Whatever analogy works for you.
What is obedience training?
Obedience Training is a selection of foundational behaviours you will want to teach your puppy.
There are many you can choose to focus on; they’ll mostly depend on what you need, but here’s what we think are good starting points for an obedient puppy:
- Their name
- How to come when you call them (Recall)
- How to walk nicely on a lead
- How to give up items willingly (drop)
- How to teach your puppy to settle (or relax on a mat)
Sidenote: If you were thinking of competitive obedience training – we have a book recommendation here. It’s also hilariously titled. Bet it’s to compensate for the seriousness of competitive obedience training.
Things you need before you start obedience training
There’s a couple things you need to make obedience training for your puppy feel like a breeze:
- A treat pouch: So you have easy access to their training rewards (we like these).
- Soft yummy treats: Make sure to get your puppy’s favourites – it never fails. Our blog about best treats can give you some good ideas on which to get.
- A narrow training lead: One that won’t be too heavy on your puppy and will be comfortable for you to hold is ace. Our reviews here can help you pick one out.
- A soft harness: Get one that doesn’t tighten on your puppy! Our faves are Perfect Fit by Dog Games or Ruffwear. If you’re worried about your puppy growing quickly, the Puppia Sport Harness is worth a look at too – and won’t hurt your wallet.
- A long recall line: These are great for making sure your puppy stays safe when practicing them to come back…and not go the opposite way.
- A stuffed puzzle toy: We love the West Paw Toppl…so do the ZigZag dogs!
When can I start training my puppy?
Without a doubt, start straight away as soon as you bring them home. Puppy brains are like sponges when they’re young, and always eager to learn!
What should I start with to teach my puppy obedience training?
First, focus on things that are going to matter to you and your lifestyle. Remember to use the reward based positive reinforcement training so that your puppy enjoys it – nothing like training for the military under your watch!
We’ve detailed some easy exercises to start your puppy’s obedience training off here. Otherwise, you can also find lots of exercises in our ZigZag puppy training app.
How to teach your puppy their name
Your puppy should know their name and respond to it with joy! Also, it’s kind of awkward if they don’t respond…and you’re sprinting across the park yelling “Charlie!”…gonna get the stares for sure.
Luckily for you – teaching them their name is easy peasy. Here’s how you do it:
- Say their name in a happy jolly tone and reward with a treat.
- Repeat 5 times, and take a break.
- Practice this 2 or 3 times a day so they get the hang of it
How to teach your puppy to sit
Teaching your puppy how to sit is probably one of the first things you’ll try to do. Not only do they look incredibly cute doing it, but it’s actually quite an easy trick for them to pick up.
How to prepare
- You’re going to introduce a word that tells your puppy they got it right – something short and sweet like ‘good’ or ‘yes’ should work (although nobody is going to stop you from using ‘cheese’).
- Keep using this word when they do the right thing, and then follow it up with a food reward.
PRO TIP: Remember that the stinkier the treat, the better. In puppy logic, stinky means yummy.
How to do it
- Start at home – where there are no distractions, or at least much less than in the outdoors.
- Pop the treat on their nose, and slowly take it up to your waist.
- They should follow the treat and pop their bottom on the floor
- Say your marker word ‘good’ and reward
PRO TIP: Finish your training session with some play to help them associate it with fun times. Also, keep in mind that a puppy’s attention span runs short, so try to keep the training sessions on that end as well – a break after 5 sits will always ‘sit’ well.
Recall – How to teach your puppy to come back when called
Trying to get them to know their name is quite a simple task. And you can look forward to walks in the park actually being a walk in the park once your puppy gets the hang of it.
PRO TIP: When it comes to teaching recall, safety comes first! Well, it should always come first, but in this case, we like to emphasize it. A 5 or 10m recall lead connected to a harness is great to use if you’re not too keen on letting your puppy off the lead yet.
How to do it
- You’ll need treats and a cheerful voice for this one.
- Call out your puppy’s name in high spirits and cheerfully once, and not too loudly.
- When they look at you, drop the treat on the ground near you
- You don’t need to reach out or grab your puppy when they come to you just yet – you’re just teaching your puppy to ‘hang out near you’. ‘Near you’ is the ‘cool zone’ where all the good stuff happens – like treats getting dropped on the floor.
- Do these exercises before meal times so your puppy is more motivated. Sounds like you’re bribing them with food, but really you’re….ok maybe you are a little, but it works!
- Practice this 5 times a day and in 3 different places in your house and garden to get them used to coming to you in all settings.
How to teach your puppy to lay down
Laying down is a common obedience exercise for training your puppy. Perfect when they’re standing in front of the telly blocking your view.
How to do it
- Let’s make it easy for them. Start this exercise with your puppy sitting and have them on a non slip mat or carpet.
- Hold the treat on your puppy’s nose and take it under their chin towards their chest.
- Slowly take your hand down to the floor so that you end up with the treat between your puppy’s paws.
- Once you see your puppy’s elbows go down on the floor, and they are lying down you can give your marker word ‘good’ and give them the treat. Good job!
- Repeat this 5 times in a row to make sure it stays in their head and then take a break.
When you hold the treat, think about positioning your hand as if you were throwing a ball underarm – it will make your puppy’s nose go over the top of your hand rather than trying to sniff underneath it, which will make them want to bend down.
If your puppy starts to go a bit ‘frog like’ (where their front paws end up between their back legs), try the same exercise but have them start in a stand position – you’re looking for them to fold back, almost looking like a sphinx. Meow.
How to teach your puppy to wait or stay
Learning to wait. What an adventure for something so…still.
In a puppy’s world, waiting means not moving when we move away. But teaching them to wait will also be useful for getting them to wait at doors, at the zebra crossing, or before you let them out of the car, or in their crate. Unfortunately, using it for teaching them to wait on tables is way past their learning capabilities.
There are two aspects to teaching your puppy to wait:
- Duration: How long can your puppy wait for.
- Distance: How far away from your puppy you can get, and still manage to make them wait where they are.
(Actually, there is a third aspect – Distraction but you’ll use that when you start working outside and in different environments, for now let’s just focus on Duration and Distance)
First, we’ll work on duration.
- Ask your puppy to sit exactly the same as you have (probably) done many times before.
- Don’t give your marker word (good or yes) immediately. Instead, count to 5 in your head before marking and rewarding.
- Smile while you’re counting – not only will you look dashing, but it will let your puppy know that they are doing it right. To them, if you’re happy, it means they’re doing something right.
- Repeat this about 6 times in each session. Over the next two days build up the time to 10 seconds – remember that you’ll need to keep practicing about 5-6 times per day in order to build that time up!
Now, let’s practice distance.
- Ask your puppy to sit as you did before.
- Give your puppy a cue with your hand which means ‘wait’ – we typically use a flat hand like a stop sign. Or a flat hand like paper when playing rock, paper, scissors.
- Take a half step backward with one foot – and immediately return and reward your puppy.
- PRO TIP: If your puppy moves, it’s okay to break the exercise down further. Stay on the same spot, but just slide one foot away and back (as if you were line dancing).
- Now, try the same exercise but move to the side
- Repeat about 6 times.
- PRO TIP: Your puppy will likely start wiggling if you leave them waiting for too long. Let’s trick them into thinking they’re doing a fabulous job by rewarding them a few seconds before you think they’ll move so that we get lots of easy wins. This will help them get the point of waiting!
By the way, make sure you practice this on a non-slip surface – it will be hard not to move if their bums are sliding back!
How to teach your puppy to walk nicely on a lead – (and not pull your shoulder out)
We’ve written a full and exhaustive guide on lead walking here – it’s got pretty good stuff, and will guide you straight through to days of walking peacefully on the street. No more yanks and pulls!
In the meantime, here’s a quick exercise to get you going in the right direction before your puppy can go out.
By ‘naked’, we mean your puppy without a lead or harness. Please don’t rip your clothes off.
You’re going to start training them inside the house, teaching them that being somewhere next to you is the right place to be.
PS: I tend to train them to stay on my left side – obedience style. Old habits die hard, and this is how I learnt to train dogs in the olden days! If you’d rather walk your puppy on the right, that’s completely fine.
- Have some treats in your left hand, and your puppy on the left side of you. Pop them on your puppy’s nose.
- Now, slowly walk forward a couple of steps with your puppy’s nose sniffing the treats in your hand. Are they following the treats? What a good dog!
- Do this a few times to make sure they get the point of following the food in your hand and walking with you.
- Once they have the hang of this, keep walking and bring your treat hand up to your waist as you’re moving forward
- Your puppy should follow you – reward them with your ‘good’ marker and give them a treat.
All we’re looking for in Step 1 is to get the following right. We want our puppy to act like a little shadow.
By using treats, we’re teaching our puppies that ‘next to us’ is the ‘reward zone’ , so that it’s understood as the best place to hang out. Just like we find the kitchen the best place to be at parties.
Try to reward your puppy WHILE you keep moving – we don’t want them to learn that we’ll always stop to give them a treat because it can make them stop more on walks.
How to teach your puppy to drop things
I like to teach a drop alongside a fetch – it’s usually quite fun for most puppies and also turns the drop exercise into more of a fun game for both of you!
How to prepare
Have two identical toys that are soft, easy for you to throw and easy for your puppy to pick up and carry.
How to do it
- Gently throw or roll your puppy’s toy.
- When your puppy picks it up, move a few steps backwards to encourage your puppy to follow you with the toy.
- Stop after a few steps.
- When your puppy gets to you, take hold of the toy but don’t put any pressure on your puppy to drop it – so no tugging or pulling.
- Show them the other toy and make it come to life – try wriggling it around or get it to talk in a squeaky voice so your puppy grows some interest in it. You get extra points if you get them to twitch their head in that adorable way.
- When your puppy lets go of the first toy, throw the second one for them to fetch.
- Repeat this exercise 5 times.
If your puppy stops halfway and drops the toy, don’t try and grab it – show them the second toy anyway.
If your puppy isn’t keen to let go of the first toy, get crazy and make the second toy really come to life. Make some trumpet or fart sounds – those work well.
How to teach your puppy to settle
Relax on a Mat exercise
One of the best things about having a dog is that they get to join you in all your adventures and trips to the pub! We know you’ll have a blast, but we also want to make sure they’re able to relax and have a good day too.
Teaching them to settle down and relax on a mat will turn out very handy to make your wishes come true.
How to prepare
- Choose a mat – something portable and non-slip like a piece of vet bed is ideal for this. Even a bath mat can do.
- Have your puppy’s harness on, and their lead ready.
- Have a stuffed Kong or yummy chew toy ready to go too.
PRO TIP: Let’s make this exercise extra easy – the best time to practice this is when you know your puppy is tired!
How to do it
- Pop the mat on the floor, next to your sofa or favourite chair.
- Attach the lead to the harness.
- Sit down and switch your TV on, attaching the lead to the leg of your chair or pop it under your foot.
- You’ll need your puppy to be able to stand up, lie down, and shuffle comfortably, so make sure that the lead isn’t too tight. At the same time, don’t let it stretch too long so that your puppy wanders about looking for trouble. Especially if you’re watching something good like Sherlock, you won’t be able to get your eyes off the screen to catch them sneaking off on time.
- Pop the Kong on the mat so that your puppy has something to do while you enjoy your show.
- Watch TV for 10/15 minutes more after your puppy empties the Kong. At this point, they might carry on chewing the toy, be awake or asleep.
The goal is to have your puppy lie down and relax, but still be able to move around or stand up. What this exercise will teach them eventually, is that sometimes they’ll just have to settle next to you. It’s a good place to be anyway, we’re sure you’re alright.
FAQ – Obedience Training for Puppies
As soon as 7 days after their first vaccination should be alright for indoor puppy training classes if hygiene precautions are taken.
Hopefully, the trainer subscribes to the idea that the benefits of early training and socialisation outweigh the risks to your puppy (like we do), so won’t require your puppy to have had all of their vaccinations.
You can find more information on that here
Their name! Teaching your puppy that responding to this one word will predict wonderful rewards, means you get their attention at all times. Especially when they start chasing after geese.
My Top 5 most important obedience commands to teach a puppy are:
1. Responding to their name
2. Walking nicely on a lead
3. Coming back when called
4. Settling inside and outside
5. Dropping things when asked to do so
These will give your puppy the basic knowledge on how to be well behaved and well-mannered in the world.
Puppy obedience group training classes will vary depending on where you are in the country. You can expect to pay upwards of £15 a class and probably more in the South…this probably isn’t a surprise.
Check out how to find a trainer near you here.
Our blog has many more good articles that can support you every step along the way of your journey towards success. If we manage to get you into them, why not download the whole ZigZag app for the whole shebang?