Ready, Set … Train!
Ready, Set … Train!

Well it’s the end of another summer, which for me means the beginning of obedience class – and time to get sharing and connecting again!

Which seems like a good time to answer a question I’ve gotten a lot the past few weeks:

At what age should I start training my dog?

The answer is easy:  The day you get him!

Dogs are always learning. “How do I get what I want?” they’re constantly asking. When you first meet them, if they jump up on you and you pet them, they’ve just learned that jumping up gets a reward. If instead you wait for them to sit or lie down and relax, and then pet them, they’ve just learned that jumping doesn’t get the reward, but relaxing and respecting your space does.

Sure, very young puppies don’t have good ability to understand or focus on complex verbal cues. However, dogs’ first language isn’t English, or even any spoken language. Their first language is physical: touch, use of body space, and body language. Even before a dog can understand commands like “Sit” and “Stay”, they are fully aware of their body position, proximity to others, and overall energy. In fact, before they can learn to sit and stay, not only can they learn other lessons – like relaxing, being calm, having social manners, being respectful of space, being patient, and being trusting and vulnerable – but they are learning these things! So if you aren’t purposely reinforcing calmness, manners, respect, patience, and trust from the very day you first meet your pup, then you very likely are unintentionally teaching hyperactivity, disobedience, disrespect, impatience, and fear/anxiety.

So start training NOW! (In fact if you can find a time machine, go back in time and start then!) Because whether you know it or not, you are already training, constantly and with every interaction. Might as well do it consciously, purposefully, with a consistent plan and explicit goals.

As a final thought, this touches on a related question:

How frequently should we practice training?

By now my answer should be fairly obvious: since you’re teaching your pup with every interaction, there really is no time you aren’t training. To help you do things more consciously, my rule of thumb is: anytime your pup wants something (a walk, food, bellyrub, up on the bed, play with friends, go outside), have them do something for it (sit, lie down, come).

Speaking of which, I just sat down. Time for my ice-cream.

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