Training Tips

Provided by Canine Lifestyle Academy

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Drop It

Teaching your pit bull to happily drop something when you ask can also be a life saver. If your pit bull has picked up something dangerous, you want to be able to get it away from him without getting your hand bit in the process!

There are two steps to teaching your pit bull to happily drop something. First, teach them what the word means:

  1. Take something interesting enough that you can get your dog to put his mouth on it, but not so exciting that he can’t be encouraged to let go. Say “drop it” and put a treat in front of his nose. He should spit out the item and eat the treat. Repeat 10+ times. *Some dogs would much rather play tug than eat a treat. If you have one of those dogs, let me know and I will show you a different way to train this.*
  2. Start saying “drop it” and pausing a second before getting a treat and putting it on her nose. You should start to see her spit out the object in anticipation of the treat. Mark and reward heavily!
  3. Start to repeat this with more exciting objects. Make sure that most of the time, the dog gets the item back after spitting it out. If they have something you need to take away, make sure to reward heavily and give them something they can have instead.

Second, teach them not to be nervous if you approach them when they have something valuable *if at any time your dog looks stiff or nervous, back up a step*:

  1. Give your dog a chew toy that they will want to chew on for a while. Get a handful of excellent treats (cut up chicken, hot dog, cheese). Walk past your dog and toss a couple treats at him while you pass. Repeat until the dog is dropping the chew toy and looking at you expectantly when you walk past.
  2. When your dog is dropping the toy when you approach, start saying “drop it” and drop the treats on top of their toy. Do not reach for the toy yet.
  3. *As long as your dog is not appearing stiff or nervous* say “drop it” and start bending over to deliver the treats right to the dog. Repeat 10+ times.
  4. Find a treat that is spreadable/squirtable. Spray cheese, peanut butter, baby food, or similar. Now walk up to your dog, say “drop it” and spread the treat on the toy *without touching the toy yourself*. Repeat 10+ times.
  5. Start putting your hand on the toy while you spread the treat on it. Watch for any signs of nervousness!
  6. Once your dog is very happily letting you touch the toy, pick up the toy to spread the treat and give it back to them. You now have a dog who will drop something valuable! Make sure to practice putting treats on valuable toys *and giving them back* often. If you ever have to take something away, make sure to trade it for something else.

House Training

Before You Start

This sheet assumes you have a puppy between 2-4 months old.  If you have adopted an older pit bull who needs a house training refresher course, or has never been house trained, start off by treating him as you would a 2 month old puppy, and progress at his pace.  An older pit bull should “get it” much quicker than a puppy, but only if you are consistent and don’t expect too much too soon.

  1. Designate a puppy-safe area for when the puppy can’t be watched
  • Crate is best IF puppy is properly acclimated to it AND if puppy can “hold it” for the length of time he will be alone.
  • If not using a crate, other options are a puppy playpen (x-pen), a baby-gated area of bathroom or kitchen, or other puppy-proof room.  Do not leave your puppy with anything you don’t want teeth marks in!
  1. Designate a “potty spot” outside where the puppy will be taken for potty breaks
  2. Decide on a “potty phrase” you will teach the puppy means he should go potty now.  Common phrases – go potty, do your business, empty (anything you’re not too embarrassed to say in front of the neighbors!)
  3. Buy enzyme pet cleaner solution to clean up accidents – Petzyme, Nature’s Miracle, Simple Solution are some common brand names.  DO NOT use regular household cleaners.
  4. If it helps, write up a schedule for walks, feeding, and potty breaks (example schedule attached).  But be flexible!!  Always watch your puppy for signs he may have to go potty.

Potty Warning Signs

Remember: An awake, active puppy under 4 months old probably has to go potty every hour.  Puppies 4 months and older may have to go every 2-3 hours.  “When in doubt, take them out!”  For a sleeping or alone puppy, the rule is: hours he can hold it = age in months + 1 (maximum 8 hours).  So a 2 month old puppy will probably only sleep for 3 hours before he has to potty, and a puppy probably can’t hold it for a full 8 hour workday until they are 6+ months old.  Obviously these are rules of thumb and every puppy is different, so please adjust your schedule according to your puppy’s individual needs.

Your puppy probably needs to go potty IMMEDIATELY if:

  1. He has just eaten (make sure to get him outside within 30 minutes!)
  2. He has just woken up from a nap
  3. He is being let out of his crate
  4. People have just come home
  5. He stops playing suddenly and walks to the other side of the room
  6. He starts sniffing intently and turning in circles
  7. He is playing rambunctiously (if your puppy starts acting hyper and “zooming” around the house, make sure he has gone potty recently – he will probably not realize he has to go until it’s too late!)

How to Make a Schedule

Remember: Follow the rules of thumb for how often your puppy will need to go potty depending on his age, and remember to be flexible and always be watching for potty warning signs.

Remember: Make sure there is always someone able and willing to watch the puppy when the puppy is awake and free.   If no one can watch the puppy, even if it’s just for 2 minutes while you use the restroom or answer the phone, the puppy needs to be confined in his safe spot.  Believe me, the second you turn your back the puppy will either have an accident, or decide something valuable is a chew toy!

  1. First thing in the morning, let the puppy out and IMMEDIATELY put his leash on and take him to his potty spot.  Don’t go for a walk – he will learn very soon that going to that specific place means he should go potty.  If you would like to take him for a walk (which I highly recommend!) do so as a reward after he goes potty.
  2. If he goes potty in his spot, say his potty phrase right as he squats so he starts to associate the phrase with the action.  Calmly praise him and give him a little treat if you remember to bring one.  After a week or two you can start using the potty phrase to get him to go faster.
    • If he does NOT go potty after 2-3 minutes, take him back inside and put him back in his safe spot for 5 minutes.  This is not punishment – this is confining a ticking time-bomb until you are certain it won’t go off on your carpet!  After 5 minutes, take him back outside and rinse/repeat until you have success.  You are giving him the choice between going potty in his bedroom which he doesn’t want to do, or going potty outside – eventually he will go where he’s supposed to without hesitation.
  1. After he’s gone potty, he earns about an hour of free-time/play-time.  Make sure he is supervised!  Sometime within that hour, feed him his breakfast.
  2. Watch him closely after he eats – most puppies will need to go potty anywhere from 5-45 minutes after they eat.  About 30 minutes after he eats is a good general rule for a potty break. Again, take him out for 2-3 minutes, and if he doesn’t go either bring him back to his crate or watch him VERY closely and try again in 5-10 minutes, repeating until he goes.
  3. After he goes potty again, he can earn another hour of free-time, but by then he’s probably ready to nap.  If he falls asleep while “free”, make sure to watch closely for the moment he wakes up.  If you don’t take him outside immediately, he will most likely wake up, stand up, take a few steps away from where he was napping, and go potty on the rug.  Grab him as soon as he stands up and take him outside!
    • If you have trouble noticing when he wakes up (some puppies are sneaky!), a good trick is clipping a leash on him while he’s napping, and looping the leash around your wrist while you’re sitting on the couch.  When he wakes up you will feel the leash move and can get him outside fast.  Another option is to put him in his crate or safe spot for a nap, then just listen for when he wakes up.
  1. Continue the schedule of sleep – potty – play – potty – eat – potty – play – potty – sleep – potty throughout the day.  Again, remember to be flexible – your puppy may want to sleep more than play if he is very young, or vice versa if he’s an older pup.
  2. It is recommended that you feed puppies under 6 months of age 3 times a day if at all possible. If absolutely necessary, feed no less than twice a day.  Consult with your veterinarian on the best feeding schedule for your specific pup.  Always give your puppy free access to water!


Remember:  EVERY puppy, no matter how much he is watched or how good the trainer, WILL HAVE ACCIDENTS.  Be prepared, and don’t stress about it.  If you are consistent in training and very good about cleaning it up, they WILL get better over time.  Every puppy, unless they have a medical condition, can be house trained.  Small dogs, big dogs, hyper dogs, lazy dogs, hounds, terriers, retrievers ... every dog can be trained.

  1. If your puppy has an accident and you “catch him in the act”:
    • Startle (don’t scare!) him into stopping by clapping or making a short, sharp noise (“eh!”).  You want to startle the puppy into stopping long enough for you to grab him and get him to his spot.  The intent is to distract, not terrify, so take into account how noise-sensitive your puppy is and adjust your distraction sound accordingly.
    • Take him out to his spot as fast as possible and do the usual 2-3 minutes outside.  If he doesn’t go potty, it’s either because he emptied it all on your rug, or because he was a little too startled by being rushed outside.  When in doubt, let him chill in his crate for 5 minutes and try again (just once ... if he still doesn’t go then he most likely emptied everything on the rug).
  1. If your puppy has an accident that you find after the fact:
    • Clean it up.
    • Troubleshoot and figure out why the puppy was unsupervised – who was supposed to be watching the dog?  What can you change in the future to make sure the puppy is never unsupervised?  Use management tools such as leashes or baby gates to make sure the puppy can’t sneak off into another room if he’s the sneaky type.  Use alarm clocks for any family members who tend to lose track of time and not take the puppy out every hour.  Use the crate whenever someone needs to leave the room or is too busy to watch the puppy.
    • That’s it.  You can only correct a behavior while the behavior is happening – correcting after the fact results in confused and scared puppies!


  1. Yell at your puppy for having an accident.  He will most likely take that lesson as “Mommy/Daddy is scary and I shouldn’t ever go potty when they are watching!” which is NOT a good thing when you try to get him to go potty outside!
  2. “Rub his nose in it”.  Same reason as #1, with the added reason of ... it’s gross!  It teaches the puppy nothing other than “those people are scary”.
  3. “Spank” a puppy.  This can easily cause retaliation and hand-nipping.  The last thing you want is a child to get bitten because your puppy is scared of hands coming towards it.

Example Schedule for 8 Week Old Puppy

7:30am Wake up, take puppy to his potty spot
7:35am Supervised free time while you eat breakfast
8:00am Exercise puppy with play or a walk
8:20am Feed puppy in his crate while you get ready for work
8:40am Take puppy out to potty
8:45am Put puppy in crate with a chew toy, leave for work
12:15pm Come home for lunch, take puppy out to potty
12:20pm Feed puppy and let him play while you have lunch
12:40pm Take puppy out to potty
12:45pm Put puppy in crate with a chew toy, go back to work
2:45pm Kids come home from school.  Hire a neighborhood kid to take the puppy out to potty and go for a walk.  Can also hire a professional dog walker.  If your puppy is over 3 months old, he can probably hold it from 1-5pm, but I would still recommend having someone walk him mid-day.  Puppies under 3 months will not be able to hold it during this stretch.
5:15pm Come home, take the puppy out to potty
5:20pm Exercise puppy with play or a walk
5:40pm Supervised free time
6:00pm Feed puppy in his crate while you make dinner
6:20pm Take puppy out to potty
6:25pm Supervised free time while you eat dinner
7:00pm Take puppy out to potty
7:05pm Exercise puppy with play or a walk
7:25pm Supervised free time til bedtime
8:30pm Take puppy out to potty
9:30pm Take puppy out to potty
10:30pm Take puppy out to potty
10:35pm Put puppy in crate with a chew toy for bedtime.

Leash Walking

Walk With Me

If trainers made a Top Ten list of most common behavior complaints, pulling would be pretty close to number one! Why do dogs pull? Well, for one, we walk too darn slow on two legs! You don’t often see a dog pulling a jogger. But more importantly, dogs pull because they want to get from Point A to Point B, and they’ve learned that the harder they pull, the faster they get there!

There are two parts to teaching your pit bull to walk with you politely. First, you need to teach him to pay attention to where you are, and to stay within your general area.

  1. Start with your dog standing in front of you, and mark and reward for *not* pulling. Yes, that means rewarding standing still - it’s not pulling! As long as the leash is loose, mark and reward as many times as you can in 60 seconds. Aim for 30 treats! The more rewarding you make “being with you”, the more she will choose to be there on her own.
  2. After your 60 seconds are up, take one enthusiastic step backwards and mark and reward you dog as soon as he steps forward to follow you. Continue this for 20+ rapid steps - the more enthusiastic and quick you can be, the faster this exercise will work!
  3. When you can take 5 steps in a row - rewarding between each one - without your dog losing focus, start mixing in two steps before rewarding.
  4. If you can take two steps back, 5 times in a row without your dog losing focus, start to move around more randomly. Take one step sideways, reward for following. Two steps back. Two steps sideways. Three steps back. Etc etc, until your dog is happily following you around no matter which crazy direction you go. It should look like a dance.
  5. Now you are ready to walk forward! Mix in steps forward with your crazy dance. Slowly start to replace your backwards and sideways steps with forward steps, until you can take several steps forward without the dog losing focus.
  6. Start walking forward most of the time, with only some direction changes. Add in right and left turns and u-turns. Reward every 2-3 steps.
  7. Continue by weaning them off of the constant rewards. Reward after 2 steps, then 4 steps, then 3 steps, then 6 steps, then 1 step. You can also mix in other rewards, such as sniffing a lamp post, or being released to tug or chase a ball.

Next, teach her that pulling is counter-productive - the only way to get where she wants to go is by walking nicely (this game is often called “penalty yards”):

  1. Set up something your dog wants to get to as the “goal”. It can be a pile of treats on the ground, a toy, or a person he wants to say hi to. Put your start line about 20 feet away, and mark it with something so you can get back to it.
  2. Stand with your dog at the start line, and get her attention. Reward her a few times for standing with you, then say “let’s go!” and take a step forward.
    1. If her leash is loose, continue walking forward.
    2. The second her leash gets tight, jog quickly backwards to the start line. *Timing is key.* If you can time your backwards motion exactly when the leash tightens, your dog will learn much much faster.
  3. Continue in this manner until you are able to reach the goal. It will happen much faster than you think, believe me!

Now you can take it on the road! On walks, make sure to continue to reward polite walking with treats and opportunities to sniff. If and when they pull, turn it into penalty yards. Your dog will quickly learn that walking nicely is the only way to get what they want!

If you need better control over your pit bull while you are working on polite walking, check out the Freedom No-Pull Harness. It's our favorite!


Sit can be a great problem solver - your pit bull can’t jump if he's sitting, they can’t rush the door if they’re sitting, in fact there’s not much trouble they can get in to while sitting! 

  1. With your dog standing in front of you, put a treat right in front of his nose and pull it slowly up over his head and towards his tail in an arc. As soon as his rump hits the ground, mark and give him that treat!
  2. After two or three successful sits with a treat in your hand, go through the same motion without a treat. Repeat 10+ times.
  3. Once she is sitting with the empty hand signal, start saying “sit” and then giving the hand signal. This will teach her that the word and the hand signal mean the same thing, and then you have the option of using either one. Repeat 10+ times.
  4. Start to ask for longer sits by holding off the reward for a second or two, then three or four, etc.
  5. Add in distractions, like jumping up and down, walking around, having someone else walk through the room, etc. Remember, if anything is too hard for your dog, back up a step and make it easier for a while.
  6. Sit is also a good way to teach polite greetings, although you can do this same routine with your dog standing still instead. Whichever is easier for you! *This ONLY works if your dog WANTS to say hi to a person. If they are nervous around people, do not follow this procedure.”

    1. Have someone who will say hi to your dog, and is good at following directions, about 20 feet from you and your dog. Ask your dog to sit, and reward him for sitting.
    2. The person should start to walk towards you and your dog. The second the dog stands up or jumps, the person should turn and walk back to where they started. *Do not get frustrated!* The more mistakes your dog makes, the faster she will learn the cause and effect of sitting versus jumping.
    3. When the person is close enough to say hi, you can either have them pet your dog or just say hello verbally - whichever your dog is more comfortable with. Again, if they jump or do anything else inappropriate, the person should *immediately* turn and walk away.

    Practice with many different people, and try to never let your dog say hi if they aren’t behaving!

    [accordion title="Lay Down, Stay, & Settle"]
    Teaching your pit bull to lay somewhere and settle can mean the difference between a dog who can go anywhere with you, and a dog who is stuck in his crate all the time. *Be fair. Don’t expect your pit bull to be able to settle if they haven’t had adequate exercise!*

    The first step is teaching them to lay down when you ask:

    1. Ask your dog to sit, and reward him for sitting. Put a treat right in front of his nose, and slowly bring the treat down right between his front feet. He will either stand up, or lie down. If he stands up, try moving the treat slower so he can lick it on the way down, and make sure you are going right between his front paws. If you are still having trouble, reward him for bending his elbows a few times, then try again.
    2. After you have successfully gotten her to lay down using the treat, go through the same motion without a treat in your hand, and mark and reward when she lies down.
    3. Start saying “down” before doing the hand motion to teach him the word.

    Now, teach them to stay laying down. *Deliver the reward between the dog’s paws to keep him in a down, but if he gets up that’s ok - just ask him to lay down again. He doesn’t get treats for standing up!*:

    1. Ask him to lay down, count to 1, and reward.
    2. Count to 3, and reward.
    3. Take a step back, and reward. *If this is difficult for her, start by just moving your foot a little.*
    4. Take a step sideways, and reward.
    5. Count to 5, and reward.
    6. Count to 1, and reward.
    7. Take two steps back, and reward.

    Continue this sequence and slowly make it more difficult. Add in a hop, a spin, take more steps, walk around, etc. If at any time you dog is unable to stay down, make it easier on her for 5+ times before attempting what she made the mistake on.

    Lastly, teach them to lay down and relax while you are sitting doing something else (reading a book, eating dinner, etc.). It’s a good idea to use a mat or a dog bed for this:

    1. Ask him to lay down, and give them something to chew on (it’s no fun laying doing nothing!). Sit down in a chair nearby.
    2. Every few seconds, toss a treat to her to encourage her to stay in place. If the treats are too distracting and she’s having fun chewing her toy, just softly praise her.
    3. Increase the amount of time between treats and praise.
    4. Slowly increase the difficulty by adding other people to the room, having people walk through the room, and having people sit down, get up, and talk. If your dog gets up, just encourage her back to her spot and make the room calmer. Only practice this for a few minutes at a time to start out, then say “OK!” and let her get up (if she wants to).
    5. Take it on the road! Go to a quiet outdoor area - your yard, a park, somewhere with not too many distractions. Bring a folding chair, a chew toy, your dog’s mat, and a book or a magazine. Put the mat down, and the chew toy, and sit and read your book. If your dog has trouble settling, just wait and read. Eventually, the only thing for him to do will be to chew his toy. Praise and give extra treats when he finally settles.
    6. Go to more and more exciting places and repeat. Soon your dog will be able to settle no matter where you are! *Again, make sure you dog has had enough exercise before asking her to settle!*

    You can also teach your dog to switch from excited to calm by practicing “jazz up & settle down”. Think of it like the Red Light/Green Light game kids play. Do something that excites your dog - talk in a squeaky voice, play tug, jump up and down, bounce around - for just two seconds. Then, ask your dog to lay down. If he can’t, just stand very still and be very boring until he can. Once he’s down, wait til he takes a couple breaths, then start playing for two more seconds. Continue practicing by playing for longer before asking for a down, and waiting longer before releasing him from the down.

Leave It

Teaching your pit bull to leave something alone has so many uses! Maybe they are sticking their nose in your dinner; maybe you dropped some pills on the floor; maybe you are walking past road kill; or maybe they are paying too much attention to a squirrel. In all of these situations, a pit bull who knows how to leave something alone and turn back to you can come in handy!

First, you need to teach your pit bull that leaving something alone results in good things:

  1. Hold a treat in your closed fist and put it in front of your dog. Let him sniff it, lick it, etc. *As soon as* your dog takes his nose off your fist, *even for a split second*, mark and give him the treat.
  2. Your dog will start to catch on to the game, and will spend less time sniffing before backing away. If at any point you present your fist and the dog hesitates, mark and reward! That’s what you want!
  3. Once you are able to get 10+ repetitions where you put your fist out and the dog doesn’t sniff it, wait to mark and reward until she takes her eyes off the hand. Ideally we would like her to look at you, but to start out you can just reward her for looking away if necessary.
  4. When your dog has successfully left the treat alone and looked at you 10+ times, start saying “leave it” and then presenting your hand. Repeat another 10+ times so they associate the words with the behavior.
  5. Say “leave it” and present the treat in an open hand. If he goes for the treat, simply close your hand and wait for him to leave it. If he leaves it and looks at you, HOORAY!
  6. At this point, start rewarding with a 2nd treat, and pick up the “leave it” treat. Continue by presenting the treat closer and closer to your dog, by putting it on the floor a few feet away, and by walking your dog past treats. You can progress to putting the treat between your dog’s feet, and to dropping the treat from higher and higher up (to simulate dropping something while you’re cooking or eating). If at any point the dog makes a mistake and grabs the treat, *don’t panic!* Just back up a step and keep practicing.
  7. For leaving something in motion - cat, squirrel - practice dropping and tossing the treat, and also practice with toys.

After you’ve practiced all the steps, start setting up real-life scenarios, like a snack on the end table, or dinner on the counter. Look for “decision points” where your dog could have gone for something, but looks at you instead. Remember to always reward your dog for making the right decision!


Teaching your pit bull to come to you when you call them can really be the difference between life and death. If your pit bull gets loose, and is about to run into the street, can you call them back to you? If not, here’s a few pointers, and how to teach a reliable recall.

The Number One Rule for teaching a recall: coming when you call should always be MASSIVELY rewarding. Break out your dogs favorite treats or toys when you practice. Never, never, never call your dog to punish him or do something he doesn’t like - nail trims, baths, etc.

  1. Mark and reward your dog every time he looks at you
  2. When your dog is fully focused on you, drop a treat, and then (after she eats it) call her name. She should look right back at you - mark and reward, then repeat 10+ times. *If she doesn’t look when you call, go back to step 1 for five more repetitions.*
  3. Drop a treat, and step backwards. Call his name, and mark and reward excitedly if he steps forward. If he doesn’t step forward, you can encourage him happily the first few times. Repeat 10+ times.
  4. Start adding a word you want to assign to this behavior: come, here, front, return - whatever sounds good. After you drop a treat and step back, say, “Puppy come!” instead of just her name. Mark and reward heavily.
  5. Instead of dropping the treat, toss it a foot or two away from you so the dog has to go get it. Call “Puppy come!” once they eat it, and mark and reward heavily. If they don’t come right away, you can encourage them cheerfully. If they are still unable to come, go back to step 5, or toss the treat closer to you.

You can practice this around the house with different people, hiding in different rooms and playing “hide and seek”. You can also practice outside either in a fenced area or on a long line (you can buy nylon leashes that are 10-50 feet long). Remember, ALWAYS reward heavily for coming, and NEVER punish or do something unpleasant.

If your pit bull plays well with other dogs, being released to play can be a great way to reward coming when called. Start by having your dog drag a leash or a long line (10+ foot leash), say, “puppy come!” and gently reel them in. As soon as they get to you, praise, give a treat, then say “ok!!” and release them to play again. After a few repetitions, they should come bounding out of play to get their cookie and then resume playing.


Often you want your pit bull to “just wait a second!” Maybe you don’t want him mugging you while you put his food bowl down, or charging through a door ahead of you. Maybe you want to make sure to have time to grab her leash before she jumps out of the car. Teach your pit bull to “wait” and you will find yourself using it often!

  1. Stand in front of a doorway with your dog. You should practice this at home both on and off leash. Wave your hand in front of your dog - like a windshield wiper - and say “wait”. If you are at a closed door, start to open the door. If you are at a doorway, start to walk through.
    • If you can turn the knob/take a step without the dog moving, say “OK!” and cheerful jog through the door. As you practice, make her wait for longer before releasing her.
    • If the dog moves, close the door (if applicable), take a step backwards and reset. Continue until the dog realizes that moving means you back up, and staying still means he is released to come with you.
  2. Stand in front of your dog with a bowl of food. You can ask her to sit, but you don’t have to. Ask her to wait and slowly move the bowl towards the floor about a foot or so away from her. If she stands up/moves forward, lift the bowl back up out of her reach. Repeat until you can get the bowl all the way to the ground, then say “OK!” and let her eat.
  3. If your dog is in the car or in his crate, say “wait” and slowly open the door. If he starts to move forward, close the door and reset. Make sure not to close it on any body parts! Repeat until you can open the door all the way with the dog waiting, then say “OK!” and release him.