Cute puppy chocolate labrador panting
Cute puppy chocolate labrador panting

Training a puppy - our top tips

Training a puppy at home can feel daunting, especially for first-time pet parents. Taking things one simple step at a time is key – for both parents and puppies. Whether it’s crate or bed training, house training, socialisation or troubleshooting, read our expert advice below for a smooth transition and a happy household.

Putting in the effort to train our puppies right from the start really does pay dividends. Dogs thrive on security and knowing the boundaries helps a new arrival to settle right in.

The golden rule: use positive reinforcement. Getting angry with a puppy stresses them out and can be confusing. Praise a puppy when they get things right, so they’ll learn more quickly and bond with their new human family more strongly. Win-win!

Chocolate Labrador puppy sniffing dry food spilt from a dog bowl
Chocolate Labrador puppy sniffing dry food spilt from a dog bowl

Before a puppy joins the family

Decide on a few house rules, so everyone can be consistent. Some people are happy for their pup to roam the house, others prefer that they stay downstairs. What about sleeping on the beds or sofas? If everyone in the household sticks to the rules, your puppy will get the idea in no time.

This is the time when many pet parents choose a crate. Dogs need a crate big enough for them to turn around in and to lie down comfortably to sleep, but not too big. As they like a crate just a little bigger than them, this means the crate needs to grow with the puppy.

Start crate training

Show your dog the crate when they come home. It will be like your dog’s bedroom, a warm and comfortable space to call their own. It should be off limits to any other pets in the house (or children!) and the door should be open all day, so your pup can take themselves off for a nap whenever they feel like it – puppies need plenty of sleep.

Lining the crate with strong fleece bedding means it will stay cosy – even pups who chew everything will struggle to spoil that. When puppies have a positive association with the crate, they’ll happily go in there to sleep, because it’s their safe, personal space. That’s why it’s important not to put a puppy in their crate as a punishment.

Pop the puppy in the crate at night when it’s their bedtime, after they’ve been for a toilet trip. You might want to put the crate near where you sleep to begin with as a new puppy can feel lonely and need the reassurance of your presence. Very gradually move the crate further away from you over the course of days and weeks until it’s where you want your puppy to sleep (if that’s not near your bed!). This slow transition will help them to adjust.

Choosing not to use a crate?

Your puppy will need a nice bed and blanket of their own to sleep in. Show it to them when they arrive home so they get to know these things are theirs. As with a crate, this will be your puppy’s own space to snooze and relax, which is much needed in puppyhood. 

All the other crate training advice applies to the dog bed – never send a puppy to their bed as punishment as it needs to have positive associations, put your puppy in there at night after their loo trip and place the bed near you to start with at night, very gradually moving it further away to a new location if you don’t always want a dog bed near your bed.

Very fluffy puppy in a corn field
Very fluffy puppy in a corn field

House training

This is a biggie! Puppies only have tiny bladders and they’ll need to go to the loo frequently. As a general rule, most will go after waking up, after eating, after playing and if they get overexcited.

Going straight to house training

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It’s worth putting the effort in during those early days to bite the bullet and house train pups from the start. Initially, they need to go outside every half hour or so during the day and every few hours at night. When they start to go, say a cue word or phrase, such as ‘do your business’ or ‘wee-wees’. They will soon start to associate this with going to the loo and will understand what’s required of them when they’re taken outside and hear their cue.

Using puppy pads Puppy pads can be a very hand addition to your house-training routine. Put the pad down in a quiet corner, not too far from an outside door, and pop puppy over there regularly. Again, when they go, say a cue word or phrase, and they will soon start to associate this with going to the loo. Over time, move their pads nearer the door, so they learn to go outside when they need to do their business.

Alsatian puppy sitting with lead Alsatian puppy sitting with lead

Watch for the signs

As they get older, puppies can last longer between bathroom breaks. Paying attention to our pup’s cues and habits over time will give an idea of how long they can last between toilet trips. Then we can start to leave longer gaps between each visit.

Time in their bed or crate can help

Dogs don’t like to ‘go’ where they sleep and don’t like to be near their mess, so they will do all they can not to soil their bed. Pop them in their bed or crate every now and then to stretch out the time between toilet trips, but don’t leave them too long or they’ll be bursting and might have an accident. Remember, their own space should have positive associations so don’t put them in there after a toileting accident or when you know they already need to go to the loo.

Accidents happen

All puppies will get it wrong and have accidents in the home, but don’t get upset or angry with them as this can frighten and confuse them. Instead, focus on praising them when they get it right. If there’s anything to clean up, get to it quickly as pups can smell it long after we can and it will draw them to wee in the same place again. For the same reason, don’t use ammonia-based cleaners as they smell a bit like urine. Try enzyme cleaners instead – check the ingredients and usage instructions.


Another biggie! Up until they’re about four months old, our four-legged friends accept things around them. It’s up to us to expose them to as many experiences as possible during this time, so they’re not afraid of them when they grow older. The more puppies are exposed to in these early days, the less they’ll be afraid down the line. Here are a few ideas:

  • Introduce them to people of all ages, from babies to older adults, Only including people wearing glasses, sunglasses and hats. Ask strangers or visitors to give your pup a treat or toy, so your furry friend will think of new people as a positive.
  • Live in a city? Go and visit the countryside to see livestock. Live in the sticks? Visit a town with plenty of traffic. Go to the beach and walk on the sand – try as many places as possible.
  • It’s important to expose puppies to rustling carrier bags, bin bags, wheelie bins, the vacuum cleaner, washing machine, hairdryer, doorbell and other noisy things. Take them in lifts and alongside busy roads (keeping them safely away from traffic).
  • Get them used to being stroked, held and so on. Later on, they’ll need to be comfortable being handled by the vet or dog groomer, so introduce brushing their coat, holding their paws, cleaning their teeth, wearing a lead and having their ears and tail touched. Check out our how to groom your cat or dog at home tips for more advice.

Chewing and biting

This can be a tough one! Puppies learn using all their senses, so they mouth things, just like human babies. Only their teeth are sharper. And they have claws. Nipping seems natural to them as they’ll have played like this with the rest of the litter. Playful pups don’t understand that human skin is thinner than puppy coats.

To stop them nipping, don’t shout at them and make them afraid. Try giving a little yelp as if they have really hurt you. This will surprise your puppy and they soon learn not to do it again. And try swapping out hands (or toes, or trouser hems, or fluffy socks…) for a chew toy, or just calmly, firmly say ‘no’ and walk away for a few minutes. They’ll soon get the message.

Beagle puppy with wagging tail
Beagle puppy with wagging tail

When pups chew furniture, again firmly but not loudly tell them ‘no’ and remove them from the item if possible. Give them plenty of toys to chew instead. In those early days it can help to keep a young pup in a particular part of the house – staying close to us pet parents gives them security and we can keep an eye on their behaviour at the same time. Stair gates can be handy for this.

Remember to use positive reinforcement through praise and treats to help them understand what we humans consider as good behaviour.

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Separation anxiety

Our pups are so cute, we don’t want to leave them! But unfortunately, at some point, we all have to head out without them. As we build a strong bond with our pets, they start to feel confident and secure in the house, but they can still miss us when we’re not at home. Find out about how to deal with separation anxiety and see our tips on how to leave a puppy alone.

Settling in

The most important thing we can do as new pet parents is to help our puppies feel secure. Give them lots of new experiences, but keep these experiences short and don’t introduce too many at once. Give them space afterwards to decompress and rest. Watch for signs they’re overwhelmed – ears back, cowering, yawning and licking lips can all be signs.

fluffy puppy face fluffy puppy face

When our puppies behave well, we can give them lots of praise and encouragement, followed by a treat. We need to be consistent and kind – boundaries help dogs feel secure, and in no time at all, they’ll be such a big part of the family that we can’t imagine life without them!

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