I have a PUPPY MANNERS class starting tonight — and I’m thrilled! It’s always exciting and makes me very happy when folks don’t put off formal training with a young puppy. They grow up so fast and you never get back those first impressionable months.
A puppy is “pre-programmed” to eagerly accept new experiences between about 7 and 16 weeks. That’s the age where, in the wild, the pups would first emerge from the den to meet and bond with their social unit — the pack. After that age, a more cautious phase sets in to discourage the growing pups from wandering too far afield and bonding with members of other packs, or prey animals. Domestic dogs have the same built-in learning periods as those in the wild. So, our best time to teach Toby to accept people, dogs, other animals, and new places and situations is while he is still in that early formative period – less than 4 months old!
Too many times, we bring a puppy home and either because of busy schedules or fear of infection for that pup just starting vaccinations, Toby scarcely leaves home again until months have gone by. He’s never exposed to new people, dogs or even other places – except the Vet! And a trip to the Vet is scary! So, it’s really no wonder that, at 6 or 8 months, Toby starts showing fear and/or aggression towards a lot of people and places his adopters really want him to like and accept. Poor Toby was never introduced to them when it would make the best impression, so now teaching him will be much more difficult!
This is similar to language acquisition in humans. A child’s developing brain swiftly makes new connections and assimilates words, grammar and syntax without even trying. An adult’s brain can’t do that, and we learn language much more slowly and with a lot more effort! There’s no going back to that more plastic brain just because we’d like to. We’re dealing with hard-wiring. Can’t just load up the newest software! And neither can a “teenaged” puppy. Toby has learned that his home and those few people in it are his pack and territory and everyone else and all places outside that are “other” and not to be trusted.
You see, if you’re not FORMALLY training the puppy — Toby’s learning anyway! We can’t put Toby on hold until we’ve got enough time to teach him. Babies pick up whatever their environment presents, because their little brains are BIG sponges. It’s not a matter of teaching Toby or not, just if we want to be in conscious control of what he’s learning or are content to leave it all to chance.
Another reason to get puppies into formal training ASAP is that a young dog is so eager to please! Baby Toby probably drives his new family crazy following them and constantly getting underfoot –because he’s trying so hard to be noticed and loved. This attention-seeking drive of a puppy is beyond price! At that young age they will do ANYTHING to get our attention and approval! And he’s probably doing a lot of very annoying things trying to get it, too! So substitute lessons, make him EARN that attention, and the limits of Toby’s learning is the limits of our time to teach and ability to explain what we want!
Recall? Ha! Try getting far enough away to call Toby to you! Praise that pup every time he wanders your way, called or not. Never call him over for “bad” things like clipping nails or getting a bath, or punishment, and Toby will zip to your side every time you say his name! Play recall games consistently before the pup is 4 months old and you’re forming a HABIT of returning to you. Early habits are very hard to erase, and Toby won’t even try!
Walking on leash? Puppies are FOLLOWERS! Introduce Toby slowly and gently with lots of treats and praise to his collar and leash. Instead of dragging him around when he hesitates, pretend to RUN AWAY calling his name and let Toby chase you! Then PRAISE him when he catches up! That’s all good leash-manners are – following the leader!
Don’t wait until your dog becomes a teenager to start training! Just like in humans, doggie teenagers are learning to become independent and are not so intent upon following or gaining our approval. If we’ve carefully taught Toby good habits while he was a baby, it won’t take much to keep him “in practice” as he’s growing up, or to build on those early lessons. If we’ve put off the training, all is not lost. Old dogs (and “teenaged” dogs) most certainly can learn new tricks! However, Toby will never so readily, so easily, so joyfully pick up any instruction, nor work so hard to learn — just to please us.