When should I start training my puppy?

K9 Training Specialist

Before determining what is the right age to start training a puppy, it is important to discuss the “Stages of Development” in a puppy’s life. The following four stages are widely accepted by most trainers, researchers and behaviorists.

Unfortunately, these days this trend has crept into my professional world, the dog training world. If a dog has a behavioral problem that seems too difficult to fix the owner either gives the dog up to a shelter or just puts the dog down. We make it someone else’s problem. This is particularly unfair because we humans are usually the ones that created the behavioral problem to start with.

You can’t sweep the dog under the carpet!

I’m here to tell you that if you find yourself in this situation, don’t take the easy way out!

There are alternatives.

We at K9- Training Specialist recommend you do three things:

  1. Prenatal/Neonatal (0-2 weeks) During this period the mother introduces the pup into the new world. They are blind and deaf but have a sense of smell, touch and taste at this point. The puppy starts to imprint at this stage, and handlers should introduce mild stress to the pup in forms of gentle handling to stimulate the adrenal/pituitary system. This helps the pup be more disease resistant, better at solving problems and more confident, which later will translate into being able to manage and handle stress.
  2. Transitional (2-4 weeks) During these two weeks, the dog meets the outside world. His eyes and ear canals open and he begins to wander off a bit to meet and distinguish others. The pup begins to wag its tail, growl, bark and eat semi-solid foods. Important socialization begins to take place among littermates.
  3. Socialization (4-12 weeks) This is the most important stage in the pup’s life. It is here that the dog develops his communication skills and bite inhibition. During this period the pup’s emotional temperament is established.
  4. Juvenile (12 weeks to sexual maturity at about 9 months) While critical socialization has already taken place, it’s important to continue and expand such socialization with the outside world at this time.

Once one understands the four stages of development, it’s not difficult to answer the question, “When should I start training my puppy?” Obviously, training can commence as early as the Prenatal/Neonatal period.

Having been training for 30 years, I am often asked “When do you start training?” and “How often do you train?” My answer is simple! I start as early as possible, and I only train once!

“Once?” people ask.

That’s right, I start when the pup is born and I end when he passes away.

Training is something that should not be looked at as a chore. It should be embraced and enjoyed. The result of which may very well save your dog’s life as well as deliver a well-mannered, respectful companion for the duration of the dog’s life.

If you are planning to get a puppy, I suggest you do the following three things:

  • Spend some time doing some research on the particular breed that will best compliment your family life style. The American Kennel Club is a great place to get breed-specific information. If you are going to adopt a dog from a shelter, get advice from the employees and an experienced trainer during the selection process.
  • It is critical to contact a certified trainer or behavioral specialist before you get the puppy. There are many in your area who will provide advice and even participate in the selection of your pup. These professionals are trained to see things in a dog that that an average person does not. If possible get a trainer that is experienced with your particular breed.
  • Work with the trainer/behaviorist to implement a plan for training the puppy as soon as it gets home as well as a training agenda for the puppy’s first year.

Your early training should include lots of socialization and the learning of doggy etiquette. The basic obedience commands will come soon enough. Remember you only have about 8 weeks during the critical stage, so use them wisely. Don’t spend this time trying to teach the dog to heel, for instance; use it to teach your dog social skills for how to interact with other dogs and with people.

The training of a puppy is a big commitment so if for whatever reason you are unable to spend years training, you should at least commit the first year of the dog’s life to training your dog. As seen in the development stages, this is the most crucial time for development and training. Proper training at this stage will pay off huge dividends in the future.

You have the group that takes the politically correct position on one side. That position in today’s dog training world is to be against e-collars or any other perceived form of “Punishment,” either “Positive” or “Negative,” as defined by the Skinnerian Operant Conditioning model. The truth is that the E-Collar is just another training tool, as is the leash, the martingale, or the Halti headcollar.

“Punishment” in the Operant Conditioning model is defined as adding or removing something that will make a behavior less likely to occur. Unfortunately, this group associates the e-collar with a form of punishment with an ugly, inhuman connotation. The e-collar, however, delivers no harsher a correction than an exhausted mother bitch nipping at a persistently rude puppy.

Today the internet is fraught with members of this group made up of mostly “clicker” and “treat” trainers who advertise their “100% Positive training” to clients who don’t want to punish their dogs in any way. These trainers often are very successful with this marketing approach. However, they either are not being honest or are not knowledgeable about their training methods. By definition, punishment is a penalty inflicted on an offender or the loss of something desired as retribution. Consider this then: during this 100% positive training method, when “Spot” is denied a treat for not sitting, is he not being punished? Just saying!

It is human nature to knock or disparage what is not understood. Most so-called “Positive” trainers have not trained themselves in the proper use of the e-collar. They are not familiar with the tremendous benefits, which leads to their negative outlook on the e-collar based on lack of knowledge. Interestingly enough, most will support electric fences but not the e-collar when they both work on the identical premise.

On the other dog training hand is the group that has seen the benefits and understands the usefulness of the e-collar. However, this group is not without its subset of people who don’t know how to use the e-collar or rely excessively correctly on it; most e-collar users have successfully incorporated it into their training regimen.

Professional hunting dog trainers like Ronnie Smith, George Wilcox, and Jim & Phyllis Dobbs, to name a few, have been successfully using e-collars for many, many years. I am sure they would back me up when I state that if you don’t know how to use an e-collar, don’t use it until you get proper direction.

The e-collar gives you many benefits, such as long-distance control, which can’t be gained from any other training tool, and the ability to perfect your timing in certain situations. The e-collar is super effective when dealing with specific behavioral issues. Take unwanted “digging,” for example. When used properly, the dog does not associate the stimulation with the handler but instead with the undesirable act of digging, thus correcting the behavior.

In conclusion, the one thing that all trainers should agree on is that a lack of understanding, knowledge, or exposure to specific training tools should not lead to a premature evaluation of its effectiveness. The E-Collar is no different.

For any questions, don’t hesitate to contact Jorge A. Fleming with K9-Training Specialist, LLC in Maryland at 301-980-2204 or through our contact form.

K9 Training Specialist

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