Bark All About It!
Due to concerns about vaccinations, it used to be that socialization and behavioral training for dogs didn’t start until a puppy was around six months old. However, this route often resulted in dogs having serious behavioral issues by the time training started; waiting until the age of six months would be the equivalent of not teaching a child any discipline or bringing him or her around other children until he or she was around 7 to 10 years old.
As is probably obvious, it’s much easier to create good habits, than to undo bad ones, so starting training as soon as possible is very important. Recent research indicates that dogs organically start to learn around the age of 3 weeks. Now, this is a bit too early, as very young puppies have practically non-existent attention spans, so that might be a bit early to start training. However, many experts indicate that basic training and socialization can begin around the age of 7 to 8 weeks, and in fact there are training classes designed for puppies that are around this age (make sure your puppy has its vaccinations if you decide to participate in a group training class!).
“Socialization” is a broad term for a broad concept. When we talk about socializing dogs, what we mean is getting them used to all the different stimuli that they’ll encounter for the rest of their life: your neighborhood, strangers, city streets, car rides, kennels, other dogs, cats, different types of weather, etc. (Check out our article on socializing puppies for more detail.) The more things that a puppy is exposed to, the more relaxed and confident it’ll be later in life.
The period of time between the ages of 7 and 16 weeks is a critical period in a puppy’s behavioral maturation. It’s very important that you extensively socialize your puppy during this time. If you wait until after this period, your dog will be much more phobic about strange stimuli, and socialization training will be extremely difficult.
It's important that your puppy start receiving his or her vaccinations before you start taking it out into public places. But don't let that stop you from starting the socializing process. Have friends come over, bring over dogs and cats that have been properly vaccinated--being careful of your puppy's health doesn't mean that it has to live in a bubble.
While puppy training courses are a great idea, it’s quite possible to train a puppy on your own. Early on, it’s important to just focus on the basics: sit, lay down, stay, etc. These are important early lessons, as they help to establish appropriate boundaries and social behaviors that will make it a much happier and easier dog to live with down the road.
Puppies have short attention spans and are easily distracted, so the use of treats is necessary. The good thing about basic commands is that it’s easy to use treats to naturally maneuver the dog as needed: hold the treat near the ground to get it to lay down, hold a treat above its head to get it to stand, and hold a treat directly in front of it as you step away—keeping your hand in a fixed position—in order to get it to stay.
Once your puppy starts following these commands consistently, start phasing out the treats and replace them with praise and physical affection. Otherwise, your pup will end up only listening when you have treats.
These early training sessions should be brief. It’s best to split training up throughout the day, into several sessions of about 5 minutes. Puppies learn very quickly, and should be able to follow all the basic commands—as well as “no”—by the time they’re 2 or 3 months old. Also, by the time they’re three months old, they’re quite capable of being pretty well potty trained, though this can vary (as is the case with human children).
This is also a good time period in which to train your dog to tolerate the uncomfortable types of handling necessary to trim their nails, check their teeth, etc. (See our blog posts about cleaning your dog's teeth and ears, and trimming their nails, for more info.)
As we said, puppies learn quickly. Don’t be afraid to challenge your puppy’s intelligence. With patience and proper motivation, even puppies can learn sophisticated commands and tricks.
However, learning things that will contribute to its overall good behavior should be a priority:
If your dog didn’t get an early start training, don’t worry. Dogs are capable of learning throughout the entirety of their lives, even into old age. It’s still quite possible for an untrained adult dog to become a well-trained, socially healthy dog—just be prepared to work for it. If this is the situation you’re facing, then we would strongly advise taking part in an obedience training course, such as one of those we offer. Having the assistance of a professional can make a big difference in the difficult process of training an adult dog.
However, training is much easier when a dog is still in the puppy stage, due to their mental flexibility during this period. This is why we offer puppy training classes, so that you can get started off on the right foot right away. Contact us today to find out about the various puppy training options we offer.