When can you start training?

Years ago, I was walking my tiny puppy. We stopped at a corner and she sat as I’d taught her. I gave her a treat and asked her to lie down, to sit, to stand, to sit, etc. A woman came by, having observed as she approached. She said, “this is your first dog, isn’t it?” I answered that she was my first dog as an adult and asked how she could tell. She said,

“Everyone knows you can’t train a puppy that young, but No one told you, so you did it.”

I thought of that woman this week as I’m boarding one puppy and boarding/training a second one. These two have kept me on my toes and exhausted me (and my two healthy and usually-rambunctious JRTs). But when I can pull them apart from cuddling with each other or wrestling and get them alone in a quiet place, I’m astounded by their ability to learn. One has pretty reliably learned Down, Sit from a Down, Leave-It, Stay, and how to ring a bell to go outside in four days. He’s still got tons to learn of course - and we need to add distractions, distance, and duration to those behaviors. But a young dog’s ability to absorb new information and to change their behavior to match is impressive. Young dogs are learning every single day whether or not we are intentionally training them - we might as well teach them behaviors we prefer right from the beginning.

Then again, you might have an older dog and maybe you’re wondering if there’s an upper limit. Can old dogs really learn new tricks? The answer is yes, they can. Mentally-healthy dogs can (and do) continue learning their entire lives. It may take them a bit longer on some things - but not because they are less smart. If something has worked really well (that is, it’s been reinforced) for a long time, it should be expected that it will take a bit longer to modify the behavior. This shouldn’t be surprising to us - just think about how hard it is for us to change a habit in our own lives.

Simon Prins, CEO of Animal Consultancy & Training says,

“If you start now you’ll begin seeing results one day earlier than if you start tomorrow.”

It’s never too soon - or too late* - to train your dog. If you need help, let me know.

  • Important Note: The training I’m talking about isn’t socialization. That DOES have a deadline (somewhere between 12-16 weeks). Socialization should begin on the very first day you bring home your young puppy.

Tim SteeleComment