When Should You Start Training Your Dog?
by Adam Summerford
Training starts before you even pick your new dog up. Creating boundaries and teaching your dog what is expected of them right from the beginning will ease their transition and set your pup up for success. Most Dogs want nothing but to please you and do right by you, and through positive reinforcement and shaping behaviors a dog will learn what is expected of them in their new home.
When is my puppy old enough to start training?
A puppy is never too young to start learning good behaviors. Puppies learn bite inhibition from their litter mates at the crucial age of 6-8 weeks. The mother teaches her puppies acceptable behaviors such as when it is time to play, sleep, and feed, from the moment that they are born. Puppies thrive on this structure because they know that their mother is going to take care of all of their needs, and she guides their behavior through movement and positioning. Your puppy will view you as their new leader and it is YOUR responsibility to give them the guidance, structure, and leadership that they need throughout their life. A 6-12 week old puppy has a brain comparable to a wet biscuit, which is very moldable and still developing. This is the learning phase for dogs when they are looking to you to replace the constant guidance they were getting from their mother; it is the optimal time to shape what the standards are for your home. Around the time that the puppy reaches 12 weeks old they will start actively looking for leadership. Most dogs do not want to be leaders, but in the absence of leadership they will step up and be leaders: meaning that they will guard the house, use the bathroom inside, and chew things. This is not bad behavior, just dog behavior, which is why it is important for us as owners to teach our dogs what is expected out of them.
As a quick tip to get started… The most humane way of doing this is to keep your puppy on a leash, and guiding and showing them what is expected out of them.
You Can’t Teach Old Dogs New Tricks
Everyone has heard the adage that you can’t teach old dogs new tricks – but this is simply a myth. The same practices apply if you get your dog as an adult rather than a puppy- regardless if they are 2 years old or 8 years old. It might take a little more time because you are having to overcome ingrained habits or routines rather than starting fresh with a puppy, but through consistency your adult dog can learn to be a balanced member of your family and understand that it has everything that it could ever want out of life.
I Adopted a Dog That Was Previously Abused
An abused dog will need plenty of love and encouragement, but they will also need a lot of structure, guidance, and leadership. Dogs thrive with that. They live in the moment, even if they remember past experiences such as being abused, neglected, or mistreated. It is so important to treat your new dog in the same way that you would treat any member of your furry family, by giving it the same leadership that every dog is looking for and not coddling any good or bad behaviors. If you only shower your dog with love and food and do not include the crucial aspect of leadership, by which you gain respect, your dog can actually become more fearful, develop separation anxiety, and become overweight. Owners tend to hold on to the dog’s past experiences; the dog doesn’t. Owners frequently anamorphize their pets and will not correct bad behavior or assume a leadership role. Because dogs do not process emotions and experiences in the same way that people do, it is only through teaching leadership and respect that your dog will be balanced and well- adjusted. They will become confident and happy in your home and blossom into a fun loving pup!
Our responsibility as owners is to understand where dog’s behaviors are coming from, what your dog needs, and your dog wants. Your dog is looking for leadership – which encompasses food, water, shelter, guidance. If a dog is left to its own devices, it will act like a dog and make its own decisions, which will usually not benefit the dog. Your dog will naturally treat your house like they would treat their den in the wild. This includes a lot of unfavorable behaviors such as marking, barking at the door, chewing, and an instinct to protect their den. Similar to small children, dogs thrive on a balance of structure, encouragement, guidance, leadership, and correcting them when they do something that is not an acceptable standard in your home. As you teach your dog that behaviors such as getting into the trash or chewing on electrical cords are unacceptable, you are not only keeping your dog safe but are forming the foundation of leadership that creates the mutual respect that you both need.
It is never too early or too late to start training your pup. If you have any questions or want to speak to a member of We Talk Dog’s training staff (member of the International Association of Canine Professionals) give us a call at (205) 588-4709 or check out our training page.