Teaching Your Puppy to Stay Close
Young puppies under four months of age will eagerly stay close to and follow an adult dog or a person.
This instinct prevents the puppy from wandering too far and helps keep them safe. At about four months of age, though, this begins to fade and the puppy, being braver now, will start exploring. He may also ignore your calls for him to come and sometimes may even run from you. As far as the puppy is concerned he’s not being bad; he’s just exploring his world. Unfortunately, though, these explorations can get him into a lot of trouble.
Teaching your puppy to stay close to you is important and will be a skill you can use for the rest of his life. Your ultimate goal, when your puppy is trained and mentally mature, is that he can be off leash and he’ll keep an eye on you and remain close to you. He doesn’t have to be within arm’s reach at all times; that isn’t necessary unless you ask him to be closer. However, he should remain close enough that you can talk to him and he can see you.
From 8 to 12 Weeks of Age
This is the best age to begin this training because your puppy’s instincts tell him to follow you. Have some good treats or a favorite toy in your pocket and with your puppy off leash in the house, walk a few steps away. In a happy tone of voice tell your puppy to come. As he walks towards you, lean down, praise him and offer him a treat or his toy.
You can use any word you wish for this exercise. Just remember for your dog’s clarification, each word in your shared vocabulary can only have one meaning. You could use ‘follow me’ if you wish. I use ‘here’ as I don’t use that for anything else when talking to my dogs.
Only do this four or five times and then toss his ball or play with him with another toy. The play is a reward just as the treat is, plus it gives him a chance to relax from the learning for a moment or two. After the play, repeat the stay close exercise and play some more. Keep in mind puppies have a short concentration span; don’t train so much that your puppy gets bored, tired or looses interest.
When your puppy follows you in various parts of the house, then go out in the backyard and repeat the same exercises. At this point, don’t walk too far away from him before asking him to follow you; it would be easy for your puppy to get distracted and you don’t want to create failure. Instead, set him up to succeed.
From 12 to 20 Weeks of Age
Your puppy is getting bolder now and following you isn’t as instinctive as it was when he was younger. You can continue to practice these exercises in the house and backyard, but you also need to get him outside and around more distractions. Since he’s had several vaccinations by now, with your veterinarian’s okay, you can take your puppy outside of your back yard to practice. Begin in your front yard, if you wish, or in a local park.
With a pocket of good treats and your puppy on leash, repeat the exercises you practiced earlier. Don’t pull him on the leash; instead, just use the leash to keep him from dashing away. Use your voice and treats to entice him to follow you as you did at home and when he does, use the treat and your happy voice to reward him.
Once he’s mastered this, you can make games out of the training. Make eye contact with your puppy and back away slowly and then tell him to come. Reward him when he follows you. Walk forward without making eye contact but verbally encourage your puppy to follow you. Walk in circles or zigzag patterns. Be a cheerleader for your puppy so he thinks this is an amazing game. Again, when you find him hanging out close to you, even without your request, praise him.
Your puppy still has a short attention span so continue to keep the training sessions short.
As Your Puppy Grows Up
Your puppy is going to go through several stages of development as he grows up and each will bring some joys and challenges. Adolescence especially challenges many puppy owners. At some point between eight and 14 months of age, your sweet, cooperative puppy is going to turn into a teenager. He may ignore you, defy you or simply try to be more independent.
When teaching your adolescent puppy to remain close to you during this time, don’t allow him to be off leash in an unsafe place. If your puppy is ever going to dash away from you, not come when he’s called, or ignore you, it will be now.
You can use a long leash, however, to allow your puppy to have more freedom. A 20- to 30-foot length of rope with a clip on one end that fastens to his collar will allow your dog to run and play, yet the long leash will allow you to stop him from dashing away and to make sure he comes back to you when you ask him to remain close.
As he grows up and out of adolescence you can give him more freedom. Most puppies don’t become mentally mature adult dogs until two years of age or a little bit more. When your dog is close to two, he’s cooperating with you nicely and isn’t challenging or ignoring you, then in a safe, fenced place you can let him run and play while dragging his leash. You’ll be supervising to make sure he doesn’t get it tangled but can also use the leash to make sure he doesn’t ignore you should he decide to do that. Gradually allow him more freedom as he proves he’s ready for it.