When should I start training my dog? The short answer to this question is – straight away! A better question to ask would be – where should I start with my dog’s training? When people think of dog training, what immediately comes to mind is classic obedience – teaching the dog to sit, drop, come back when called, and so on. Whilst obedience is absolutely important, there are many other things to consider.
Confidence building and socialisation are important fundamentals for all dogs – this is an especially important consideration for puppies as their early weeks (around 6-16 weeks of age) is the critical time in your dog’s development for socialising. Socialising is more than just introducing your pup to dogs and people – it is about introducing your dog to all aspects of the human world. Everything from new locations to different surfaces, to machinery to vehicles to noises to baths to bicycles…..the list is endless! Extensive environmental socialisation whereby your pup has the ability to experience new things and tackle them with confidence, will set your pup up for success for the rest of their life.
So how is socialising, “training”? Well, we are ticking several boxes when socialising our dog:
- Reinforcing desirable behaviours
- Building confidence
- Building our pup’s trust in us and setting the foundation for a strong relationship
- Reinforcing our reward system, and our value to our pup
Training is not just about learning obedience skills, it is also good general manners and confidence!
Many new puppy owners are rightly concerned about the risk of disease, and are reluctant to take their puppy outdoors until they are fully vaccinated. Final vaccinations for a puppy are at 14 to 16 weeks of age – as you can see, this means we miss the critical period of socialisation. Your puppy can be kept safe out in the wide world with a few common sense steps:
1) Do not allow your puppy to meet un-vaccinated dogs
2) Stay away from high dog traffic areas eg. Dog parks and beaches
3) Parvovirus is the main concern with contagious diseases, so check with your vet what the incidence of Parvovirus is in the area – many suburban areas have a very low incidence due to high vaccination rates
4) Keep your puppy away from the poop of other dogs as this is a very common way these disease are spread
5) If in doubt – carry your pup
The effects of a lack of early socialisation can be very detrimental to your dog. Dogs who miss out on these early experiences are more prone to low confidence, anxieties and reactivity issues as an adult dog. Remember there are lots of socialisation activities you can do around the home to compliment your adventures with your pup off your property. Introduce your pup to the wheelie bin, washing machine, mop and broom, vacuum cleaner…there’s just a few to get started!
A well-run, professional puppy class can be a great place to start your training if you have a puppy. Many puppy schools will take new pups from 8 weeks of age. A reputable puppy class will always ask for vaccination records for all attending pups. In addition, check out where puppy class is held – most trainers will use a space which does not allow dog access thereby substantially reducing the risk of disease being present. A good puppy class should:
- Discuss how to manage common puppy behaviours
- Show you how to introduce your puppy to other dogs in a safe and controlled way (this should not involve free running puppies which may lead to puppies learning how to behave inappropriately around other dogs, or some puppies having negative experiences)
- Help you establish effective communication with your pup and build their engagement with you
- Include exercises designed to build confidence
- Show you how to start teaching new skills to your puppy
Starting training early also teaches our pup to “learn how to learn”. Getting started with training simple skills early on (everything from toilet training to waiting for food to sitting on command) creates opportunities for the dog to succeed. Through the process of teaching we clearly show the dog that there is opportunity for reward, and it can be earned (or not) as result of their behaviour. Cementing this understanding early on helps to create a dog who is willing to learn and develop new behaviours more readily.
Last but very much not least, we recommend beginning crate training as soon as possible after bringing home a new pup. Look out for our upcoming post on this topic!