Yorkie Training 101 – The Seven Tips to Make Training Smooth and Easy

The following is an excerpt from "The Complete Guide to Yorkshire Terriers" by Dr. Joanna de Kler, DVM. For more information visit the books Amazon Page.

Author Credit: Dr. Joanna de Klerk, DVM

It is vitally important to the welfare of your dog that it is trained. Previous chapters have mentioned—and hopefully debunked—the myth that the Yorkshire Terrier is untrainable. It has been demonstrated that Yorkies are actually capable of a high level of training, but not every owner wishes to teach their dog to walk a tightrope, neither are such stunts especially condoned if a dog is still permitted to be a dog. However, a compromise needs to be found between the Yorkshire Terrier’s natural animal instincts, and its suitability to share the home and life of its human.

The instinctive ability to learn is evident in the case of Pavlov’s dog, where the experimental scientist Ivan Pavlov famously noticed that his canine subjects would salivate when presented with food. He then introduced a specific sound at meal times, and found that even when food was not present, the dogs would still salivate at the sound, demonstrating that a dog can form associations in the brain, a useful process termed “classical conditioning.”

yorkie command high fiveOver the years, different training methods have fallen in and out of favor. Early dog training methods were often harsh and punitive, when a dog had a job to do and a no-nonsense working relationship was more important than an emotional connection. Some harsh methods persist today, but as animal psychology has gained ground and dogs have increasingly become companion animals, more humane methods have become popular, focusing on positive reinforcement rather than punishment.

Today, there is a wide range of dog training methods, and it is testament to the dog’s adaptability that any of these may yield results. However, it is important that the owner is consistent with whichever training method they choose to follow, otherwise their Yorkie will become confused and training will be frustrated. Therefore, although some simple suggestions to teach basic commands are given in this chapter, if you are attending classes with your dog, you should continue with the training method that is being taught. All training takes patience, and if results seem slow in coming, they will be achieved with persistence and consistent application. Chopping and changing training methods if instant results are not achieved will be counterproductive.

The other important thing to bear in mind is that training needs to be practiced on a daily basis, whether attending classes or not. If the owner goes to a class with their dog once a week, they need to be practicing the commands for the six days in between. If the owner prefers not to attend a class, they need the self-discipline to practice training on their own initiative. The early months with your Yorkshire Terrier may seem like hard work, but it will be worth it for the reward of living many years with a well-trained dog.

Although Yorkies are not especially food-orientated like some breeds, they can still be highly motivated by a delicious training treat. Equip yourself for training with small, pungent treats that your dog cannot resist, such as tiny pieces of cooked sausage or bacon, or tiny dried liver treats that you can make yourself by drying cooked liver chips for four hours in a very low temperature oven or in a dehydrator. Training treats can also be purchased in pet stores, or you can cut soft meaty strips into tiny pieces. Remember to adjust your dog’s feed ration accordingly, but his main food should always be his nutritionally balanced kibble.

Toilet Training

It goes without saying that if a dog is to live in the home, he can’t be allowed to toilet inside the house, as to do so creates an unhygienic and unpleasant living environment. Therefore, as soon as a puppy is able to control his bladder and bowels, he should be trained to toilet outside.

yorkie in parkIt is natural for a dog not to soil his own sleeping area, so if you are crate training your Yorkshire Terrier, you are already at an advantage with toilet training. In these instances, your Yorkie will instinctively be holding his bladder and bowels in the crate, and will be ready to find release when he is taken out of the crate. By taking him outside and praising him at the point he urinates or defecates, you have been able to anticipate the desired action and can associate it with a command. This command should be a short word of your choosing, such as “Busy,” “Potty,” Wee-wees,” or the like, and said purposefully as soon as you see your dog squat or start to raise its leg. Just like Pavlov’s dog, your Yorkie will eventually associate the word with the desired action, and urinate on command.

If you are not crate training your dog, he should be taken outside frequently, and the command word only used when he is visibly beginning to relieve himself, otherwise the association will be meaningless.

If you are clicker-training, then at the point of a positive result, you can click and treat your dog. If you are not clicker-training, a small treat will reinforce the point that he has done good work. Praise and attention are always welcomed as your dog really wants to please you, and will repeat the positive behavior when he understands it is what is required of him.

With young puppies who have limited bladder control, paper training can be an introduction to toilet training, as a puppy will be drawn to an absorbent surface such as newspaper or a puppy pad if he feels the urge to relieve himself before the owner takes him outside. This paper can be gradually made smaller and moved toward the back door and then outside. Once your dog is relieving himself outside, the command and treat method may be taught.

yorkie biting a ballIf your dog should soil in the house, it is important to understand that he should not be chastised after the event, as he will not know why you are reprimanding him. Only if he is caught in the act of relieving himself indoors should the command “No!” be used, whereupon he should be taken outside to learn the association of where is the appropriate place to relieve himself.

The other thing to note is that soiled areas in the home should be cleaned with a special pet cleaner, as household cleaners containing ammonia smell of urine to a dog and simply reinforce the idea that toileting should happen in the same spot. For the same reason, it is important to neutralize the natural smell of urine, as apart from being unpleasant to live with, it tells your dog that it has permission to toilet where this has already occurred.

If you have a male dog, toilet training may be complicated by the dog’s instinct to mark its territory, creating urine scents around the home. It is always recommended that male dogs be castrated to reduce this unwanted behavior.

You may find that your Yorkshire Terrier is not at all keen to go outside to do his business in wet weather, as Yorkies really can be especially wimpy when it is raining. In challenging weather conditions, you may have to enforce the point by putting a coat on him and taking him around the block on a leash, where he may sniff a scent and instinctively cover it. Or you may provide a newspaper by the back door in situations where you can’t win the battle, so that you don’t lose the war. This compromise keeps the owner’s upper hand without setting back toilet training, with less stress to both owner and dog.

How to Teach Sit

When teaching commands to your Yorkshire Terrier, the first thing you need to achieve is your dog’s full attention. From the early days of ownership, the Yorkie should begin to recognize his name, after which the first command to teach your Yorkie is “Look at me.” To do this, sit your dog facing you in a room with no other distractions. With your index finger point to your eye and as the dog makes eye contact, say purposefully, “Look at me.” If the dog remains focused, reward him with praise, or click and treat if you are clicker-training.

yorkie walking on grass
Photo Courtesy – Anthony Fiallo

After achieving eye contact with the “Look at me” command, it is time to teach your Yorkie to sit. As the Yorkshire Terrier is a small dog, this should be done from a crouching or kneeling position as your dog will find it difficult to maintain eye contact when you are standing. With a treat in one hand, bring this hand to the dog’s nose and back over the head of the dog toward its tail. Its head will rise to follow the treat as you do this and instinctively its hind quarters will lower to a sitting position. This may be gently encouraged with the other hand. As the hind quarters lower, say the command “Sit.” The dog needs to learn the command in association with the action, so until he has learned the command word it should not be used to tell the dog what to do, but to tell the dog what it is actually doing.

It can be useful to have a hand signal to go alongside the sit command, and this is an outstretched arm with the palm uppermost. The arm should then be bent so the hand comes up to the shoulder. This upward motion has a similar instinctive effect on the dog to cause them to lower the hind quarters.

When the dog has achieved the sit, remember to praise him, and if you are using a treat to give it as a reward. Then repeat the exercise several times. It should become more immediate each time.

How to Teach Stay

Once your dog understands to focus on you with the command “Look at me” and then to sit, you can teach him to stay.

With the dog in the sit position, stand up and stretch out your arm with your palm facing the dog. This puts a psychological barrier between you. Use the command “Stay” at this point, as he has not yet moved, so he is effectively staying. Step back from the dog, maintaining eye contact. If he is still staying, use the “Stay” command again. Then return to the dog, praise and reward.

The next step is to move further away incrementally, and eventually to turn your back on the dog and walk away, releasing eye contact in the expectation that the dog will still remain seated in the same spot.

If your dog gets up and follows you, do not use the “Stay” command while he is not actually staying, but when you have put him back on the spot and it is focused again for the next attempt.

Once your dog is a pro at sit and stay in an indoor environment, practice outdoors where there are more distractions, but always within an enclosed area unless you are using a long training leash for the dog’s own safety.

How to Teach Lie Down

By the time you get to the “Lie down” command, your Yorkie will have gotten the idea that by learning what you want he will earn your praise, and will be very ready to show how clever he is. Eye contact should be second nature to him at this point as he eagerly awaits the next instruction.

With your dog in the sit position, you now want him to lower his chest and front legs to lie down. You can use the command “Down” or “Lie down” for this, but it is important not to use the same command when your dog jumps up without permission or it will create confusion. “Off” is the command for this.

With your dog’s attention on you, and a treat in one hand, bring this hand to the dog’s nose and then low to the floor in front of him. Then move the treat away from him toward yourself. His natural instinct is to follow this movement, causing him to lower his chest and creep his legs forward in the direction of the lying down position. As the dog lowers its body into the correct position, use the command “Lie down,” praise and treat. Repeat until the action is instinctive.

How to Teach to Walk on the Leash

Even though the Yorkshire Terrier is small, he may still be naturally inclined to tow his owner with surprising strength when out and about if not taught to walk nicely on the leash.

yorkie on groming table
Photo Courtesy – Lucas Abner

In days past, a choke chain was commonly used to teach a dog to walk on the leash without pulling; however, this harsh training aid is rarely used now and should not be considered for a Yorkshire Terrier as it could cause real damage to the delicate skin and neck anatomy on a small dog. It is advisable to use a harness on a Yorkie, as even though stronger dogs may abuse a harness by leaning into it, it diverts the tension to the chest that is better equipped to take the strain than the neck. Also, the small head of a Yorkie may easily slip its collar, so a harness is safer when being led outside of the home.

Walking on the leash needs to be taught intentionally with positive reinforcement just like the other commands, so begin in a distraction-free environment. With the dog on your left, walk forward with some small treats in your hand to give while the dog is walking to heel. As soon as the dog runs ahead, stop walking. When he stops at the end of the leash, walk on, but only keep walking while the leash is slack, and treat the dog while he is walking by your side.

The command “Heel” can be used when your Yorkshire Terrier is walking nicely alongside you. Once he has learned the association, the command can be used to bring him back to heel when he pulls on the leash.

Be aware that patience is needed in training your Yorkie to walk nicely to heel, and walks can take considerably longer, or be considerably shorter in length than you planned, but the end results will be well worth the effort.

How to Teach to Walk off the Leash/Recall

Being able to trust your dog to come back means that he can enjoy the freedom of being walked off the leash in safe spaces. While you are teaching recall, it is important that the dog is in an enclosed area, or you use a lightweight long training leash for his own safety.

When you first let your Yorkshire Terrier off the leash, you should release the clip when the leash is slack, not while the dog is pulling, so that the dog is let off on your terms and not on his own. Using positive and engaging words of encouragement, get the dog’s attention by calling his name and the command “Come” at frequent intervals during his first short time off the leash, being a fun person to be with and provider of attention and treats. Change direction so the dog has to keep sight of you. Never chastise the dog for coming back just because he ignored you the first time, as he needs to learn coming back gets rewarded, not punished. He also needs to know coming back does not mean going home, so call him back, treat him, and send him away again frequently during the training process.

Again, timing is important for word association, so the command “Come” should be used initially when your dog is heading toward you, so that it can be rewarded as the correct response. Only when the dog has learned the word and what it requires should “Come” be used to call the dog back from its alternative plans.

Remember, Yorkies are highly driven by small prey animals, and will lose all sense of reality if a squirrel crosses their path, so until your dog has good recall, care should be taken not to put your dog in situations where he may forget himself in pursuit of a fast-moving target. Open spaces are preferable to woodland for off-leash walks, and enclosed parks are a safer option for your dog.


Owners and dogs that really enjoy obedience training and wish to take it to the next level could consider agility classes as a fun way to exercise their dog and strengthen the bond between them. Although agility is dominated by the brilliance of Border Collies, all breeds can participate at their own level, and classes will be grouped accordingly.

Agility training can start from 9 months but 12 months is usually preferred, so that the puppy has developed sufficiently. In the case of the Yorkshire Terrier, poles may not be used at all to start with, and then set low as due to their size jumping may damage growing muscles and bones. But there are plenty of other agility obstacles to navigate, such as weaves and ramps that are perfectly within the capabilities of the Yorkshire Terrier, and if it is something that he enjoys, it is a great way of having fun and improving obedience training.

To sum up, when training your Yorkshire Terrier, it is important to:

  1. Expect the best! Your dog is capable of learning and wants to please.
  2. Tune in to your dog—understand his mind and anticipate his actions.
  3. Keep it simple, at least to start with.
  4. Be consistent—choose a training method you can stick to.
  5. Be patient and persistent—training takes time.
  6. Reward your dog when he gets it right—he really wants to!
  7. Make it fun!

To read more from "The Complete Guide to Yorkshire Terriers" by Dr. Joanna de Klerk, DVM, or purchase on Amazon, visit the link below:

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