I took this photo years ago. An irresistibly adorable Havanese puppy in need of an education.
"When should I start?" the woman asks me with an adorable bundle in her arms. We started up a conversation while standing in line at the store. She'd had her puppy for 4 weeks and he was a cutie for sure; what puppy isn't right? She had gotten her puppy at the age of 12 weeks so that meant that he was now 16 weeks and she was just thinking about looking into training. "Now, right away," was my response to her question. Right now.
Looking back at the beginning of my life with dogs; I cannot believe the change from then and now. Back then there was no positive reinforcement training, no clickers, no treat training. It was all done with extensive use of the yank and choke'm method of training. Thankfully there is less of that now but with the fame of a television dog trainer; force training has reared it's ugly head once again. It is sad when I see people following his guidance and even sadder to see evolution in dog training taking a step backwards.
Many people are just now venturing into the waters of life with dogs. It is a good time to be coming in; at least there are choices where there were none before. Of course maybe twenty years from now choke collar training will be a thing of the past and no one will consider throwing a chain around a dog's neck to educate them. We can only hope.
Okay, back to when, when do you start all of this education? Immediately, as soon as you get that little bundle in your hands, start. I have taught 6 week old puppies to sit and down within a matter of minutes. Those little brains are working on overtime at a very young age. The longer you wait the harder it is to get started. Learning to learn is the first step and when it is done very young; you set the ground work for a great learning future for your dog. Teaching an adult dog who has never been taught anything can be a challenge. Asking a dog to oblige you and perform some sort of task that is trained but completely out of the ordinary can raise flags. This means a dog that has been taught but is never asked to do anything.
During a photo shoot I will often ask if a dog can sit or stay. As you all know I do not like posed images but sometimes I just need a dog to hover in a particular spot. I don't want them to smile at the camera but just hold still for a moment. I know the answer immediately by the owners hesitant response if that is doable or not. Often I will forgo any sort of manipulation due to the dog's lack of education. Asking a dog to do something that they are not familiar with or don't normally do can cause stress. Stress does not make for good images. The dog may have been taught how to sit or lay down but it is never, ever used so when we pull it out of nowhere, they grow suspicious.
Educate your dog as soon as they join the family. Now, right now. The old school train of thought was to wait until 6 months. I cannot even believe that 6 months use to be the age. The reason behind that 6 months starting age was the puppy's ability to withstand neck yanks. Just imagine. I can't even, honestly. It makes me shudder to think about it. Puppies can learn pretty much as soon as they can walk; and when you are not using any physical force to teach, why not start then?
I often ask 7 week old puppies to do a sit for me during temperament testing. I like to see what sort of focus they have and their level of food motivation. It always makes me smile when they plop that tiny rear on the ground within a split second. Little smarties they are. If you have a new puppy, get started. Do not wait for bad behaviors to start. It is much easier to teach good manners rather than try to undo bad ones and then teach the good.
When you are looking for a dog trainer, go positive. Any mention of a choke or prong collar, make a quick exit. They may have lots of experience but negative experience in my mind means that they are stuck in the dark ages; no evolution going on there.