Updated: Oct 1, 2021
Did you just get a new puppy or are you about to? It’s only natural that you’d want to be prepared to start baby Fido out on the right foot from the get-go! But when your puppy is so young and full of energy, when does it make sense to start puppy training?
Technically speaking, a puppy is learning how to navigate their world from the moment they are born. They will also come into this world with a set of genetics that’ll bring some embedded “auto-pilot” behaviours along as well – meaning your dog doesn’t need to be taught how to do some things – but this is a whole other topic for another day!
So back to your baby Fido just being born… the “learning torch” gets passed to you the moment you bring your puppy home because whether you like it or not, learning is ALWAYS happening. This means either you are training them, or they are training you, at any given moment 😊. We can’t turn all learning on and off, so it’s a good idea to be consciously aware that you will technically be in puppy training mode from day one so that you can intentionally influence what baby Fido learns.
“Puppy Training” is a big umbrella term which includes a TON of different components to tackle as a new puppy parent (see my blog post on choosing what really matters). Not only are there the usual behaviour skills that people want their dogs to learn how to do on cue like “sit”, “down”, “stay”, etc., but there are also other super important things like socialization, house training, kennel training, chew training, bite inhibition, and alone training that you’ll want to be working on. However, for the sake of this post, I’ll be specifically referring to socialization and skills training.
There has been a lot of data collected through formal studies over the last decade or so which has helped answer the question: what is the perfect age to start puppy training?
When to Start Your Puppy Training
Under 16 Weeks
It’s been known for quite some time now that purposefully socializing a puppy should start while they are still with mom and their litter whenever possible. Contrary to outdated information that you may still come across from time to time, it is critical not to wait until a puppy has received all three rounds of vaccinations to begin this type of training. It is widely recognized that the sensitive socialization period, when a dog will be most open to novelty, will have ended by this time and the puppy will likely be at a severe developmental disadvantage. For more detailed information on this check out the position statement on puppy socialization by the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behaviour by clicking here.
When it comes to teaching your puppy foundational skills, such as “sit”, “down”,
“stay”, etc., it‘s really up to you how early you want to get started on these based on how much time and energy you have in a day. Puppies commonly do a phenomenal job when learning all the standard basic cues. Appearing almost like little Einsteins in front of us until they hit adolescence, then without fail it can seem like they have forgotten everything (you remember what being a teenager was like, right?).
In my experience, it’s great to get started training “obedience” type skills to your puppy for a variety of reasons, but you aren’t likely to be set back by waiting until they are a little older if you want to focus your limited time and energy more on socialization efforts to start.
There are local in-person and virtual programs available which are designed for puppies that target socialization skills specifically. By exposing baby Fido to as many new scents, sights, surfaces, experiences, people, and animals as you can in a safe and enjoyable way, they will be more likely to develop the confidence needed to interact with their world and you’ll likely observe much less fearful behaviour as they mature. There are also programs that split their time between socialization and skill building which is also a good option. Unless you have the knowledge to properly take on the socialization training without any guidance, I do recommend finding a program that is at least half and half at this age.
Over 16 Weeks
If you decided to forgo skills training up until this point in lieu of a focus on socialization, then now is a good time to start shifting gears a little bit and consider a primarily skills-focused class. You may see them referred to by any number of names like “Puppy Obedience”, “Puppy Training”, “Puppy Foundations”, “Puppy Life Skills”, etc., but likely they will all be planning to cover the same key behaviours we have all come to recognize as foundation skills for dogs. Socialization training will still be at play, just not the main focus of the trainer and curriculum.
One of These Things Is Not Like the Other – a note on training methods
Puppy training in Calgary is easy to find, but it’s important to be aware that not all offerings are created equal. The first differentiator to look for is whether the program uses reward-based force free training methods – if they use a “balanced” training approach do understand that this is not the same. The second differentiator to look for is whether the trainer has reputable certifications to their name. I advise locating a certified professional reward-based trainer who will show you how to establish healthy behaviours and patterns that pave the road for success with your new buddy (see my blog post for more on this).
So, What’s the Answer?
The answer is that it’s never too early to start puppy training. Be sure to do it safely since their immune systems are vulnerable, but don’t wait. A study by the Ontario Veterinary College found that puppy classes are an important part of development, and a lack of enough well-executed socialization opportunities can lead to behaviour problems down the road.
Get in touch today to get started on your puppy’s training program with us!
For an evidence-based, results-driven dog trainer in Calgary, there’s none better than Raising Fido. We specialize in puppy behaviour and dog obedience training classes in Calgary that are essential for your dog’s development and are backed by empirical evidence. We are qualified and ready to help you and Fido with anything from basic skills to reactivity training. At Raising Fido, we know your dog is unique, so we offer a personalized three-step experience for your puppy socialization, puppy training, or dog training needs. From puppy classes to dog behaviour consulting, we provide coaching that delivers. Contact us today at 587-534-0736 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.