What is a good age to start training a dog?
Training needs to start as soon as you get your puppy, but in the proper stages. Remember: puppies start out with a "blank slate;" they haven't developed any bad habits yet, and literally don't know right from wrong. Puppies start learning from their environment and personal experiences, both positive learning as well as learning fear, at 7 weeks of age. The critical socialization weeks are weeks 5 through 12. This means your puppy needs as much handling, socializing with people and other pets, and positive experiences as possible as early as possible. Any negative experiences at this time can potentially traumatize the pet, and cause future behavioral problems.
The first training stage, approximately weeks 5 through 12, is teaching the puppy simple concepts: the meaning of the work "NO" or "ah-ah" (puppy, stop what you're doing now!); to recognize their names; and to come when called. Since puppies don't know right behavior from wrong behavior, punishment at this stage is inappropriate. Instead, positive reinforcement for all good behaviors, guiding the puppy away from bad behaviors, and appropriate discipline when needed, such as for jumping up and mouthing, is the correct training technique. The most effective method to teach a pup NOT to jump up on you is to "become a tree" when he does so; in other words, stop all verbal interaction with the pup, look up at the ceiling, fold your arms, and become completely still, like a tree! Unfold back in to a human and lavish Pup with praise as soon as all 4 of his feet are back on the ground. Puppies get bored with "trees" very quickly, especially when they associate being ignored with jumping up & being praised when all 4 feet are on the ground. With most pups, teaching them not to mouthe can be accomplished fairly simply: when the pup uses his mouth on you/your hands/your clothing, squeal (like Pup's mouthiness hurt you) and "become a tree." Pup will rapidly associate his mouthiness with you refusing to play with him!
The second training stage, approximately 12 weeks through 5-6 months, is Puppy Kindergarten Class. Young pups are NOT ready for the pressures and demands of formal obedience training; however, they need basic training and guidance in order for them to be properly equipped with a skill set to deal with life, obedience class, etc. Puppy Class insures your puppy is properly socialized with other puppies, so he will know how to conduct himself around other dogs when he's an adult. Puppy Class also insures your puppy is properly socialized around strangers, again so he will conduct himself appropriately around guests in your home when he's grown up. Most importantly, Puppy Class teaches YOU to teach your puppy to focus on YOUR needs and wants. The puppy, through total positive reinforcement, is trained in the habit of putting YOU first, and in the habit of looking to YOU for guidance in new situations. Puppy class helps your pup become a true family member and team player, instead of the self-centered little egomaniac we all-too-commonly see in 6-12 month old pups.
Another major benefit of Puppy Class is that it teaches you and your family members to NOT foster bad habits in your puppy, and inadvertently create a monster! What you end up with is a beautifully-behaved, self-confident, loving dog that is welcome everywhere you go.
The third training stage, at about 6 months of age or older, is formal Obedience Training. This is NOT the "strangle the dog on a choke chain/drag him in a circle" style obedience class we grew up with; if negative reinforcement techniques worked, we'd have higher numbers of well-behaved dogs! Obedience training that works is based, again, on total positive reinforcement. Instead on putting a lively dog on a choke chain (or, worse, a pinch collar), we now will use a Promise Halter, or similar piece of equipment that does NOT cause fear & pain. Instead of punishment, we praise good behaviors, and "set the dog up to win" in areas where he needs improvement.
We keep an updated list of trainers we recommend for Puppy Class and Obedience Class. Please call for further details.