When is the Right Time to Start Training My Dog?
by Robin MacFarlane
You just got a new puppy? Fantastic, then start molding behavior right now!
Is my dog too young to start training?
Is my dog too old to start training?
Is the old adage of waiting until a puppy is 6 months or a year of age correct?
I have heard so many variations of the "when is the right age?" question.
For once in my life, I think I have the one-size fits all answer. This answer applies every single time I hear the age question.
The time is right now.
Or another way I might put it: There is no time like the present.
The reality is, there is no magic age when the switch is flipped on or off so that your dog can or can't learn.
Your dog is learning all the time. Either learning something you want him to know or something you don't want him to know.
Plus, he is continuing to practice things you either want him to know or don't want him to know, so if you want to change any of the dog's behavior, why not start right now?
If your dog bolts the door put a leash on him and start limiting his access to outside until he waits politely. Then he begins to learn that waiting = getting to go.
If your dog runs around like crazy, repeatedly jumps on you until you take him outside when you come home from work. You may not have realized it, but you are actually rewarding the frantic behavior by paying attention to it and opening the door for the dog. Instead, come home, ignore the dog, go about your business of checking the mail, changing your clothes or whatever. When the dog is settled down, THEN pay attention to him and go outside.
If you are tired of the dog begging while you eat, escort him back to his bed, each and every time he comes to the table during your next meal. It might mean your dinnertime takes an extra 10 minutes but it will certainly demonstrate to your dog that the routine is going to change starting today.
You just got a new puppy? Fantastic, then start molding behavior right now for all those things you are going to expect when the dog is full grown. Don't wait to teach basic manners like sitting, or keeping the paws on the floor rather when visitors arrive. The time is right now to begin teaching that puppy what expectations they will need to grow into. If you need a bit of help getting a clear picture of what you want for grown-up behavior, download this free Vision Statement for Your Dog.
It is not that you have to enroll your puppy in a full-fledged obedience course at 9 weeks of age (although puppy socialization classes can be very helpful for positive learning opportunities and inspiration), but your puppy is very much like a young child, a sponge just waiting to absorb information. If you feed the kind of information you want your pup to grow up knowing, his education can already be well started before that 6- / 12-month mark.
If your dog is already 3 or 6 or even 10 years old, it is not too late to begin training. Engaging the brain and increasing mental stimulation is good at any age. You only need to be aware that changing bad habits may take a bit longer than if you had nipped things in the bud earlier in life. Just because the dog is older, certainly doesn't mean they can't learn new things.
If you have some more serious issues that need work, then I encourage you to find a skilled trainer to help you. But that doesn't mean you need to wait until you start lessons to start making changes. Beginning right now to implement some structure and rules in your dog's daily routine is the first step toward better behavior.
Robin MacFarlane is a professional dog trainer and owner of Thatís My Dog in Dubuque, Iowa. Her best-selling dog training DVDs, JUST RIGHT and JUST RIGHT 2 have helped thousands of dog owners teach their dogs basic obedience and fix problem behaviors through a system of training that you can easily work into your daily routine.