As a professional dog trainer I am regularly approached by puppy owners who understand it is important to train their dogs but have been told that they should not start formal dog training classes before 6 or even 12 months of age. When I had my first dog as an adult many years ago I wanted to go to dog training but as this was 30 years ago and the majority of dog training options was obedience clubs using punishment methods that involved check chains and force based training we were never allowed to start a dog less than 6 months of age. The belief being that a dog was not intellectually able to process training techniques until that age. I agreed with this premise then as the methods used were not suitable on a young dog.
Dogs however are learning from the day they are born. There is even some scientific evidence that what is happening to the mother during her pregnancy also has an effect on the personality development of the puppies. How the dogs are raised by the breeder and the dam during that critical 0 to 8 week period is another factor in determining if your puppy grows up with behavioural issues that need to be addressed.
Dogs learn, good and bad (defined according to our rules but not their rules) and they will continue to do what works for them all day every day. If behavior does not work for them it will be extinguished over time. Hence dog trainers see many older dogs that have learnt to jump up, bark, urinate in the wrong place or run away. The older notion of a “training session” as the only time we train our dogs is no longer accepted. We train our dogs and they train us every minute of every day. A dog that is a well adjusted happy member of your household is one that is given clear guidance, leadership and a consistent rule structure from the time they are born.
As humans we also fail to understand what dogs find rewarding and we think that yelling at a dog for barking or pushing them away when they are jumping up punishes them, in fact it does the opposite, it rewards the behavior ensuring it will continue. The normal human behaviour when an owner has a dog that is barking is to yell at it or punish it. However in the dog’s mind that is rewarding the barking. Owners who present with barking dogs in our consultation service have some difficulty in understanding that the way to fix a barking dog is to ignore the barking and praise the dog when they stop barking.
Of the hundreds of dogs I have trained over the last 40 plus years the best results are achieved in dogs that are started with positive reward based training at a very young age. In any litters that I am involved with we start gentle age appropriate hands free training at 4 weeks of age. I have had puppies as young as 8 weeks started in training classes who soak up the methods and are astounding in what they can achieve.
Older dogs are not impossible to train however they first need to be untrained in the unwanted behaviours they have adopted. Yes you can teach old dogs new tricks but it is a slower process and the owners need to be more involved in the training process. Some behaviour are so entrenched that it becomes more of a management issue than a training one. For some dogs especially fearful ones, they are so damaged that medication is required.
Here are a couple of video’s that demonstrate what can be achieved with just two young dogs.
Here is Mister B as a young puppy in his first formal training session.
Here is an 11 week old Border Collie puppy that has a large range of fun behaviors at such an early age
I would love to hear your training success stories with your young dogs. What has been your experience when training very young puppies and at what age do you start training?
The Pet Care Magician
Louise Kerr (aka The Pet Care Magician) is the owner of Elite Pet Care & Education based in the Nambucca Valley NSW Australia. She consults and writes widely on a range of pet care issues including feeding, training and grooming dogs and cats. Her online pet care magic subscription program deals with common pet behaviour, training, feeding and grooming issues such as barking, escaping, scratching, aggression and fleas. Pet care professionals are trained to handle customer issues by the provision of up to date programs to differentiate their pet care business from other competitors.