At what age can I begin training my puppy?

The idea that puppies shouldn’t start training until they are six months old is definitely a myth and it probably developed because puppies didn’t used to be fully vaccinated until this time.  However, training your new puppy can most certainly start from day one when you get him home and, by doing this, you will be well on your way to an obedient and well adjusted family pet.

Puppies are capable of learning from a very early age and over the past few decades much has been learnt about the importance of training and socialization of young puppies.  We now know that training can begin as soon as a puppy is brought home.

It is important that puppies are brought up understanding the behaviours that are good, rather than punishing them for doing the ‘wrong’ thing.  In a pup’s mind, some behaviours that we regard as being bad, are actually just normal, instinctual things – chewing and biting for instance is the way in which a pup learns about his environment.

Here are four things you can teach your new pup straight away:

  • Housetraining. The details of how to go about housetraining your puppy can be found in another of our Holidays4Dogs articles, but the main thing to remember is that your pup will need constant supervision to monitor when he is likely to need the loo.  NEVER scold your puppy for accidents in the house, (simply calmly interrupt him if you see him do it and take them outside).  Give loads of praise when he perform in the right place.

  • Name.  This is an obvious one, but one that needs to begin as soon as you get your puppy home.  Keep using your pup’s name and whenever he looks or turns towards you, reward him lavishly!  He will quickly understand that his name means you want his attention.

  • Bite inhibition. As we have pointed out, puppies explore the world around them using their mouths, but unfortunately this can mean their very sharp teeth sometimes come into contact with human skin.  Should this happen, let out a loud yelp and remove your hand (or foot) away from the puppy.  Offer the puppy something he IS allowed to chew.  If he fails to calm down, separate yourself from the pup for a minute or two and see if this encourages him to settle.

  • Basic obedience.  Puppies can learn quite complex things even at a young age, but in the beginning focus on things like ‘sit’ and ‘down’. Use food or toys to lure your pup into position and praise as soon as his bottom hits the floor, or his front feet slide into a down.  You can also being to teach recall, (using his name) and plenty of toys and treats to encourage him to come to you.

Training puppies is very rewarding and while you should certainly begin this as soon as you bring your new puppy home, it is equally important not to overwhelm him. Try not to move too quickly onto more complicated behaviours.  Stick with the basics for a few weeks and make sure your pup really understands these before trying new things.  Clicker training is a brilliant way to train young puppies but keep sessions short throughout the day and allow plenty of down time.  Sometimes you may find it is a case of two steps forwards and three steps back!  But keep at it, be consistent and patient and you will soon see that your puppy is developing into a clever adult.

If you want inspiration, I once had a dog training colleague who brought his ten week old collie pup to training classes and demonstrated a controlled recall – the pup was left in a sit stay, handler walked a few paces away, turned around and called the pup, who ran straight to him and sat!  Puppies can be impressively good at learning what we want of them and both owner and pup can have a lot of fun building a strong bond that will last a lifetime.

You can read about puppy socialization and how to go about it in our next Holidays4Dogs article.