How to Train a Puppy to Listen

Learn how to train a puppy to sit up and pay attention. If your puppy doesn’t listen to a word you say, don’t despair. If you follow this advice, it won’t be long before you discover that when you speak, your puppy listens!

How to Train a Puppy To Pay Attention

If you can train a puppy to hang on to your every word, your life will be a lot easier! I strongly recommend you get this puppy exercise under your belt first before doing any other puppy training.

Training a puppy to 'Watch Me' on cue - it's magic!

Close up headshot of a dark golden cocker spaniel looking intently at his owner.Training a puppy to 'Watch Me' on cue - it's magic!

Once you’ve taught your pup to pay attention to you, ignoring everything else around him (including next door’s cat!), it will help to make all other training so much easier.

You will have your puppy's full attention before starting another exercise.

At least, that’s the plan!

How to Train a Puppy: Consistency is Key!

To train a puppy, you and your family must be consistent in your approach to training your puppy.

So, before you begin teaching your Cocker puppy to listen to you, you must decide which words you would like to use for this request.

I use 'Watch Me', but you can choose whatever you like, for example, 'Listen' or ‘Listen to Me’, whatever floats your boat!

Once you have chosen a word or a phrase to get your puppy’s attention (your verbal instruction), you and other family members must use the same phrase otherwise the training will not work.

It will only serve to confuse your puppy and you will be setting your dog up to fail!

How to Train a Puppy to Listen

Here's how:

  1. Sit in front of your puppy. Have a few tasty morsels of chicken or some of your dog's favourite treats in your closed hand.

    Don’t let him see them otherwise he will be looking at your hand holding the treats instead of looking at you.

  2. If you just sit there and say nothing, your puppy will probably look at you questioningly – that’s your cue.

    As soon as he looks directly at you, give your verbal request, 'Watch' or 'Listen' and then give him his treat.

    Praise him with the words, 'Watch, good boy watch' or 'Listen, good boy, listen’! This lets your puppy know that he has done what you have asked of him and that you are pleased.

  3. Repeat this puppy training exercise several times each day until your puppy has fully mastered this instruction.

  4. Once you reach this stage, and your puppy is responding instantly (or almost instantly), try holding his gaze for ten seconds before offering him a treat so that he is focussing on you for longer each time.

How to Train a Puppy to 'Watch Me'

Troubleshooting!

If your puppy doesn't look at you, or if he looks at you but won't hold your gaze, take one of the treats between your finger and thumb (so that it can be seen) and raise it up to your eye level and hold it there.

Once the treat has your puppy’s attention, he will probably follow it up to your eyes.

He will now be looking up at the treat, and by default, he will be paying attention to you.

Don’t forget to praise your puppy, using the words you chose for this instruction, for reinforcement. It won't be long before your puppy begins to associate the two.

Practice this regularly, and once you feel your dog is getting the hang of it and is following your hand up to your eye each time, you can remove the lure of the treat and use your non-verbal hand signal instead.

If your puppy continues to look away, or he won’t meet or hold your gaze, he may be uncomfortable looking you in the eye.

Tell-tale signs that your puppy is uncomfortable are lip licking and (as well as looking away) and yawning. These are signs that your dog is trying to calm things down.

He may be a nervous puppy, or he may have had enough of the training.

Either way, if you find yourself in this situation, lighten up and give your puppy a break. You can always try again later.

How to Train a Puppy: Practice, Practice, Practice!

Continue practising the above exercise, increasing the time you can hold your puppy's attention.

Add a few seconds each time, gradually working up to 60 seconds or more.

Remove the use of the puppy treat from the exercise as soon as you feel it is practical to do so. The aim is to reward your puppy for paying attention to you and not to the treat.

My Cocker Spaniel is 14 now, and I still use this 'Watch Me' instruction regularly. For example, I use this request before I feed my dog, let him into the garden, and before I put him on the lead. 

If someone rings the doorbell, I use this instruction as a distraction. When Max looks at me, I ask him to sit and stay while I answer the door. When I've greeted my visitor, I give Max his release word which lets him know that he's now free to greet our visitor. 

It's all good practice and reinforcement of his training.

I recommend you use the ‘Watch Me’ instruction before giving your dog any other instruction.

If you do, your Cocker Spaniel is more likely to respond well to your next request because he is already giving you his full attention.

Now that's a result, don’t you think?

Train Your Puppy To 'Sit'!

When your puppy has mastered the 'Watch Me!' instruction, and he is holding your gaze for up to 60 seconds, (and without being bribed with the promise of a treat), he will be ready to move on to his next obedience lesson. 

The 'Sit'! request.

You will be surprised at just how easy it is to train a puppy to 'Sit' at your request. Simply follow these instructions.

Beautiful blue roan Cocker Spaniel puppy sitting in a field.I'm sitting mum, so where's my treat?

Photo Credits for How to Train a Puppy to Listen:
1. Daniel Leppens at https://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photo-cocker-spaniel-image3811265