A common question I get asked is, “when should I start training my puppy?”
NOW, NOW, NOW, NOW, NOW, NOW, NOW, NOW!
The reason I say this is because your puppy or dog is learning every second of every day since the moment they are born. So, if you are reading this article and your 13-week-old puppy is exploring the kitchen, and it happens to find crumbs on the ground, what did it learn? It has learned to search for food on that floor surface. What if it managed to pull the towel off the oven door? Well, it learned it can entertain itself with that “toy.” Maybe your puppy made its way over to the smelly trash can, and maybe it knocked it over. What did it learn? It has learned that there’s a mystery can of valuable prizes! Moreso, from all of these encounters, it has learned it can get your attention because you have to go and remove the puppy from the kitchen, especially if you have to clean up a mess.
Conveniently, dogs are very similar to human children in the way that they learn. All it takes is one or two times that they’ve been “exposed” to a sound or routine and they have it. Faster than you know, they’re repeating a discovered behavior without you having done anything! If we mitigate the amount of unknown factors in our dog or puppy’s training, we can control the outcome of their behaviors. Just like you wouldn’t expect your toddler to be able to roam the house unsupervised, you should not ask the same of your dog or puppy! We do this because children are not great at safe self-discovery, and generally aren’t very responsible! The same goes for the dog. To mitigate unwanted behaviors and unsafe experiences for our children, we use things like cribs, playpens, and interactive toys that keep them busy. Similar methods and tools apply when keeping your dog safe, and while teaching them the rules of the house.
“Ok, so, what should I have done?”
The short answer is: Prevention and management until the pup or dog has learned the rules and boundaries from training!
Ideally, we would have had that puppy on the leash and guided them through the house rules. Teaching and showing them where to rest, where to play, where to potty, what to not touch, what they can and can’t play with, how to settle on a leash, how to relax in one place while the human is in the kitchen, and how to not be in the kitchen without our human. The results of our investment into that type of training? A better behaved dog, with less naughty behaviors in your future!
All of those above steps are training! Training is so much more than just obedience skills like Sit, Down, Stay and Come. Training is about building a communication system with your dog that you both understand! It is not just one of you BARKING orders and the other giving you a furry finger. Training is teaching your dog how to make the right choices by limiting the bad choices they can make early on. A puppy or dog will never be able to dream up a behavior unless they discover that behavior first.
Example: A dog doesn’t know a doorbell alerts to the commotion at the door until it sees your response and energy moving towards the door. Once it hears the bell and sees your reaction a few times, it might join in the party! Now you can’t avoid greetings and doorway usage, but you can start teaching them that the doorbell brings cookies, and then station them on a bed. You can also teach them that it brings cookies when a guest comes inside and that they must ignore them and relax before they get to greet.
So, do you want to know when training truly begins? The moment your dog can breathe!
Their life is cause and effect, even from birth, just like human babies! Yes, we have lower expectations for younger ages, but we always strive to make the best learning experience for them.
So if you think you haven’t started training, you better think again! Your student is many, many, MANY weeks ahead of you.