How old should a puppy be for training?

Have you recently welcomed a new puppy to your home? If so, congratulations! Today on the Woof in the Woods/ Specialized K-9 Services blog, we want to help you and your puppy have a great start on your new journey together. That is why we want to answer one of our frequently asked questions, how old should a puppy be for training to begin?

When should my puppy begin training?

Traditionally, formal obedience training of puppies was delayed until they were six months old until their brain is better formed to retain the training. But you begin training your puppy from the moment that they arrive at your home when you work with them on house training.  Whether or not we realize it, we are ALWAYS teaching our dog something.

Just as human babies begin learning at birth, so will a puppy. Reputable breeders will start socializing and handling puppies right away to prepare them for their new homes. We have a client that is a breeder that has the majority of their puppies essentially housebroken before they are adopted out.  Delaying training until a puppy is six months old denies them opportunities to learn good habits early on and misses out on some critical learning milestones in puppy development..

In fact, if you decide to wait until your puppy is older, they can pick up behaviors that they will have to unlearn” in order to re-teach more acceptable behaviors. These undesirable habits will slow down the training process for your new companion.

Puppies can begin learning at a very early age. We recommend you start working with your puppy right away when you bring them home, as early as 7-10 weeks of age, to continue the work your reputable breeder has begun. If you have rescued a puppy through a shelter or rescue organization, chances are good that you have some catch-up work to do with your pup, so early training and shaping of wanted behaviors is even more critical.

What can my puppy learn early?

Puppies have short attention spans so keep that in mind when you start working with them. And they should be worked with daily but only for brief sessions.

It might surprise you, but your pup can learn commands such as sit, down, stand, and stay early using reward-based training.

What is food-lure training?

Food-lure training is part of reward-based training and is a positive reinforcement technique using food to train your puppy.  Using food in training encourages your pup to use its nose and allows you to lure your pup into the desired positions or commands, then reward their compliance with food. Observe your dog with different treats foods (kibble, chicken, turkey, vegetables, etc.) and learn where those foods rank for your dog.  High-valued foods can be reserved for training more difficult commands and skills.  A favorite toy is another form of reward to your dog, but it must be appealing to your pup to be a motivator.  Toys often work well if your pup is not food motivated.

Simply show your pup their reward, verbally give it your command, then move the reward into the wanted position such as sit, down or stand.

For example, you can take a treat and move it slowly in front of your puppy’s nose, raising it over their head, and you can obtain a sit response. Food taken down to the floor in front will begin teaching your pup the down command. Food held in front of your pup as you walk will begin to shape the walk and heel commands, help to guide a straight walk, and will help get your dog to focus on you and be less worried about the environment.

After your pup has performed the desired response give them their treat and don’t forget to provide them with verbal praise and affectionate pats for more reinforcements.  Be cautious to not overuse the food lure so that your dog focused more on the food reward than on you.  You can avoid this once you get your dog understanding his response but randomizing the use of food rewards, and relying more heavily on another form of rewards, such as verbal praise, a soft petting or even just a kind facial expression.

Be consistent and repeat these simple commands for brief sessions each day, and it will not take long at all for your new puppy to learn.

How often should I train my puppy?

Ideally, your puppy should be trained daily for short-term sessions. These do not have to be set times but just integrated throughout your day at various times. Consider training for at least 15 minutes a day, and since puppies have shorter attention spans, each session should be around 5 minutes. However, to be the most successful, begin incorporating “training” into everything you do with your puppy…it’s a new lifestyle to give your pup guidance, boundaries and rewards for doing the right things in all your interactions.

It is best to start in areas of your home that have few distractions, but you should progress training into all areas of your home. You want your puppy to respond to your commands everywhere and at any time. As you have success in your home and as your pup matures, move to areas of incrementally higher distractions, like your yard, the park and other public places.  If your dog fails miserably, you may need to backtrack, get them good in areas of lower distractions then re-try moving ahead to higher distraction areas.

Don’t forget to train your puppy to use their commands for things such as waiting on their food or sitting before they go outside. Training your pup in this way will enable you to teach them predictable habits and good manners and help keep them safe. Remember, dogs and puppies do not train themselves; leashes, collars and other tools don’t train your dog; it is up to us, as their leaders through life, to teach them and convey our expectations to them.

As a new puppy owner, you should start training your pup early. Start with simple commands and remember that all pups learn at differing speeds. Woof in the Woods/Specialized K-9 Services offers training for all ages of dogs and coaching for their human companions. We are here to help you every step of the way. If you are interested in learning more about our classes and programs, contact us here today!

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