When Should You Start Training Your Puppy

australian-shepherd-puppy-copy.jpgEvery encounter we have with our dogs is a training session– whether we know it or not.

So I start training consciously right from the very first day I get my puppy home. This keeps me focused on my behavior and interactions with my puppy, as well as hers with me. Doing so makes it less likely for an unwanted behavior to get very far before I can nip it in the bud. Good communication and redirection are key.

For instance, if my puppy were to begin chewing on the leg of a chair, I’d wait to catch her in the act and say a firm “No.” Then I’d immediately remove the puppy from chair and give her an appropriate toy. When she took the chew toy, I’d give a pet and say “good girl” in an upbeat tone.

The major benefit of paying attention from Day One is that it’s much easier to stop a behavior before it gets started. Letting a behavior become ingrained, and then trying to train away from what’s become an established and self-rewarding activity is much harder.

Training sessions for puppies should be kept brief and fun. I opt for five minute sessions four or five times a day. (I use the term “five minutes” loosely. It might only be a minute or two.) The idea is to keep early puppy training “short and sweet.”

There are some basic communications that benefit all dogs. For instance, all my dogs have been taught to sit, wait, stay, lie down, walk on a loose leash, and “leave it” as in drop whatever is in their mouth, or to walk past it if they’re thinking of putting it in their mouth. If you offer short and frequent sessions, you’ll be amazed at how quickly your pup catches on. This makes it fun and rewarding for both of you.

Training anything beyond the basics is optional. Though, depending on what you want to accomplish with your dog, the sky is often the limit, with clear communication and consistent training. But it’s also important to take into account who your dog is and what it needs to be happy.

For example, Kiera is the kind of dog who doesn’t want to just sit around. She likes learning and she wants a job. To satisfy her needs, I’ve done a lot of training with her. Enough, so that she can now read my body language before I even speak a word. Graidy, on the other hand, is my “No worries mate” dog. He’s not interested in learning new tricks for the sake of his or my entertainment. He’s got the basics down and that’s all I care about.

Still, with all the “conscious” training I’ve done with my dogs, I’m often amazed at how much they’ve picked up from inference from our daily routine. For instance, when I say to Cait, “Dad’s home,” the dogs now go running to the door to greet him. On their own, they’ve put two and two together. This is just one of dozens of this kind of example.

Which brings me back to where I started this post: Every encounter we have with our dogs is a training session–whether we know it or not. It doesn’t take much more energy to train consciously. So make the commitment to give your puppy the good start it deserves. You’ll both be rewarded with many years of mutual enjoyment for the effort.

16 thoughts on “When Should You Start Training Your Puppy”

  1. We have a 10 week old mini Aussie. We got her very young, at 6 weeks as the owner wanted them to go. I have been leash walking her since 7 weeks. She continues to bite pants and feet when walking and when in the house. She has caused many bites and sores. She has many toys and we are not sure what else to do Thank you.

    1. While this is within “normal” for Aussie behavior, sounds like you need help to learn to train away from this. Your best option is to find a trainer who uses Positive Training methods and start working with her as soon as possible. It would be well worth the cost, even if you only get one session to learn some valuable skills and tips. This is something that needs to be nipped in the bud asap (no pun intended). Good Luck.

  2. This was a well timed post. I often fear it’s too late to train our two dogs aged five and three. They’re housetrained and generally very well behaved, but they could use a few lessons in…manners.

  3. Totally agree with your training ideas Karen. Nipping bad behaviors in the bud right from the beginning and teaching the dog how to go about our daily routines.

    I searched your site for the people food that is toxic for dogs and do not see anything on there about apples, applesauce, or bananas. These things okay?

  4. Nutmeg, I’ve often thought of starting a business doing exactly that. Though many trainers feel one of the main responsibilities of dog ownership should be to learn how to train their own dog. While there is immense value in an owner taking the time to learn how to work with his/her dog (and it’s preferable to a trainer taking the dog and training it) too many owners just don’t do it. Or do it so poorly or inconsistently that the dog doesn’t stand a chance in the long run.
    If I actually decide to do it, you’ll be the first person I notify. :)

    Judy, yes, dogs don’t stop learning at a certain age any more than humans do. For the whole of life, every interaction is a training opportunity and a communication opportunity.

    Simply Jenn, thanks for the compliment on Kiera’s picture. Of course, I happen to agree. And LOL yes, I hate to admit that I became a better mother as I became a better dog trainer. How lucky for your GSD that you’ve put in the effort to make her safe to take her anywhere. That pretty much sums up one of the greatest perks of a well-trained dog — they get to be fully part of your life.

  5. Neil, thanks for contribution of your comment and the link to the article. Reminding people of the importance of including lots of free play for puppies’ mental health and learning helps round out the discussion. What some of my readers may not know is that prey animals’ play with others of their kind also serves as early practice for the hunt, an important survival skill.

    What LCK describes with his first puppy is a great description of this in action. It’s also a beautiful example of specific learning that got instantly generalized to the broader environment. (A quality not enough scientists recognize in dogs yet.) It’s a great demonstration of a not only a dog’s ability to learn from experience, but also to problem-solve through play.

    Which makes me think of another key aspect of puppy raising. If everyone got their puppies from ethical and experienced breeders who didn’t rush their puppies out the door too soon (10 weeks is way better than 8 weeks), and who knew how to socialize their puppies to many novel environments and experiences — especially including enough play with siblings and mom — there’d be fewer dogs in shelters.

    I had to laugh. Making training fun and using play for training and for relaxation is such a part of my mindset, it didn’t even occur to me to mention it. So thanks for the nudge. :)

    I also should have pointed out that I use the term “five minutes” loosely. It might only be a minute or two. The idea is to keep early puppy training “short and sweet.” This is not about puppy boot camp! As a matter of fact, I think I’ll clarify that in the post right now.

    Absolutely, balance is the key.

  6. Mary Alice, so true. Kids and dogs (in fact everyone we encounter – people and animals) are being trained by every encounter with us. So it definitely pays to live mindfully.

    Deb, you are one of the more responsible pet owners. Shelter statistics demonstrate that too many people get pets as impulse decisions without thinking through all the work and time involved to integrate that being into the household.

    Georgie, yep, as the saying goes – no time like the present… :)

    Mrs. G. there are many similarities between raising young children and puppies – most especially in the amount of dedication it takes to do the job well.

  7. Great tips Karen! We didn’t start doing more than sit and down until Ginger was one and it’s definitely a little harder now, but it is SO worth the effort. I can take 150 pounds worth of German Shepherds anywhere and know that they will behave. It’s as good for the owners as it is for the dogs. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve caught myself doing dog corrections on my kids, if only they were that easy. And the pic of Keira? I just want to snuggle her- she’s adorable then and now.

  8. Hi Karen,

    You are 100% right about the “Every encounter we have with our dogs is a training session”. Hopefully that keeps people focused on the “lessons” that their everyday interactions are teaching. What LCK talks about in his article is the importance of free play (i.e. unstructured time) as part of a “training” regimen, and how too much training for a young pup can be detrimental. So, as with everything, it’s striking the right balance – the fun of being alive, I suppose.

  9. Even when they’re older, every interaction is still a training opportunity!

    Because I’ve always used positive training methods (aka food, for my crew), they love to train.

    Sometimes I’m really amazed, like the time I was able to tell them “stop” (stop chasing the poor rabbit in the yard that was about to have a heart attack) & they actually did it.

    And then others I’m so frustrated, like this week in agility when Lola just took off down the field for no known reason & apparently became deaf to “come”.

    I keep trying to get this message across to my husband. Unfortunately, he doesn’t see the necessity most of the time. He likes having well trained dogs, but doesn’t want to invest the time, and gets very frustrated when they won’t listen to him, but do to me, whether or not I have treats on me (well, most of the time).

    I don’t know if I will do puppies again. We really hadn’t planned to do puppies this time, frankly. All I know is I hope the day when I have to make that decision is far away.

  10. I totally agree and wish I had done this instead of waiting until the pup was older and more resistant. After all, doesn’t the mother of the pack start teaching her puppies just a few days after they are born?

  11. Writing about Abby this week prompted me to think about whether I would choose another puppy. Your post reminded me of how much time is invested in bringing any new household members on board. I can only say that I would not try it at present.

  12. Your first statement is so true and something I think we should be mindful of whether it is with dogs or kids, “training” occurs in every encounter for better or for worse. Without realizing it we can reinforce undesirable behavior simply by not taking time to redirect.

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