by Michael Burkey, CEO/Dog Behaviorist at Michigan Dog Training
Unfortunately, I still hear people question if they should wait until it is six months old to train their puppy. They saw this outdated advice on the internet or a friend told them, so it must be true. But it’s not true!
The advice to wait on training was based on an old style of training where people taught obedience primarily by the use of physical corrections. The idea was that the puppy had to grow up first and thus be able to withstand the physical and emotional hardship of leash corrections. A person back then would jerk a dog’s leash until they submitted and laid down on the ground as a supposed way to “train” a dog to lay down. Then they would praise the dog for laying down.
The problem with that scenario is lots of undesired behaviors were practiced during those first six months of life because the dog wasn’t taught what behaviors “to do”. Under that system of training, the dog was laying down out of fear and confused submission, not because they wanted to lay down on cue. You wouldn’t wait until your child is seven years old before teaching them what to do and we shouldn’t do so with our puppies, either.
A puppy’s brain is absorbent like a sponge. They are learning from the time of their birth and the window of opportunity to help shape their temperament and personality occurs primarily from 5 to 16 weeks of age (the optimum time for you to purchase a puppy is at eight weeks of age*). After 16 weeks of age, with training and patience you can make things better for a dog who wasn’t properly socialized but the personality has pretty much been set by that time.
It’s important for your puppy to soak up and experience as many pleasant experiences as possible with new environments, sights, sounds, people and animals prior to sixteen weeks of age. You can aid your puppy in learning that these new experiences aren’t scary by giving him or her small tasty puppy treats when they look at strange new things, so they associate the new things with something positive.
It’s important to train your puppy at their speed rather than yours. You don’t want to push a puppy to accept things before they are ready to do so. Realize that distance is your friend. If your puppy is hesitant to go up to people or other dogs, don’t force it; your pup will shorten the distance as they feel more confident in doing so.
You can start training your puppy to sit, come, lay down, etc. but the emphasis for the first sixteen weeks should really be on socializing your puppy to his/her new environments. Having a confident puppy will pay off for the rest of your puppy’s life. To help with the socialization, enroll your puppy in a qualified puppy class that focuses on proper socialization. The trainer(s) should be very attuned to each puppy’s confidence level and help you shape that for success.
So in review:
Realize your puppy is learning from day one that you bring him/her home.
Teach your pup what to do instead of what not to do
Socialize your pup to new environments using tasty puppy treats or their own food
Don’t push your puppy beyond its comfort level. Take socializing and training at their speed.
Enroll in a qualified puppy class.
* A puppy removed from the litter prior to 8 weeks of age tends to bond extremely well with people but not so much with other dogs and hasn’t had adequate time to learn good bite inhibition. A puppy purchased after 9 weeks of age may be more bonded with other dogs than with people (dependent upon the socialization the breeder did or didn’t do).