“I just got a 10 week old puppy. When do I start training?”
“We recently adopted an older dog. What class should we take?”
While training questions are usually about “How”, figuring out “What” and “When” can be just as confusing for dog owners with all the conflicting information around.
When: The truth is you can really start training a dog at any phase in his life. Once he can take solid food and respond to your voice and gestures he is old enough, and then he can continue to learn new skills and manners for as long as he is still taking food and reacting to sounds or body language. While we do take into consideration some aspects of breed (such as a retired greyhound that struggles with learning sit or down, or a terrier prone to digging and chasing), generally all dogs learn in the same way and have the ability to be taught if they are healthy, functioning animals. The key is finding out what motivates your dog to learn. This may be different things at various stages of her life: she might be motivated by attention and praise as a puppy but need higher value rewards such as food or special toys as she becomes older and more distracted. Sometimes access to her dog friends or the backyard can be motivation if she is social and excited by her environment. But if you are motivated, and you can motivate your dog, training can happen whenever you decide to start.
What: Everything depends on your goals for training. Do you want just a polite house pet? Do you need a jogging partner? Have you been dreaming of obedience or agility championships? All of these scenarios have their own skill sets your dog will have to learn. For any dog that is part of my life, my goal is to help them learn 5 basic things: to walk nicely on leash, to come when called, to stay , to leave stuff alone when asked, and to relieve themselves outside. There are other little things that come along with these 5 lessons, such as teaching sit and down and getting them used to spending time in a crate or wearing a harness, but those are all smaller parts of achieving my larger training goals. Decide what you really want or need from your dog and break it down into realistic steps. You won’t achieve your training goals overnight, but you could make huge strides in teaching one step in less than a day. Again, it is all about finding out what motivates your dog, or in other words controlling his resources and utilizing those things valuable to your dog (toys, food, access to outdoors) as rewards for training.
Even at its most basic, training is great mental exercise for your dog and time well spent by you. So make your “When” now and your “What” something that gets you closer to your training goals.