Puppy training 101: When should you start training your puppy?


Lilly the Cocker Spaniel learning “sit”.

I recently had the divine pleasure of puppy-sitting a gorgeous 11-week-old Cocker Spaniel puppy by the name of Lilly and the expression ‘too cute for words’ didn’t even come close to doing her justice. But amidst cuddle sessions, tug-of-war play time and some impromptu puppy training (in just a few days and a handful of brief sessions I taught her ‘sit’, ‘stay’ and ‘down’ – she was so clever!), I couldn’t help but wonder:

“When is the right time to start puppy training?”

Let the research begin.

According to Holly and Hugo and their Animal Psychology course (which was amazing, by the way. I’ll post a review of it soon):

“Dogs are actually not born friendly to humans; they learn that it’s safe to be. This is one reason why your pet’s beginnings are so important. A dog needs to be introduced to friendly and caring human behavior when it’s a very young puppy in order to easily integrate and learn that it’s safe and good to accept us as friends.”

They continue:

“Puppies that learn fear and anxiety at a young age often carry these as default dispositions and it can take a lot of time and focused attention for them to ‘unlearn’ this message about the human social world – to trust and be comfortable with people. In 1961, Science magazine published a study on the social development of dogs – the bond formed between man and dog. It reported that puppies who were introduced to loving human care between three and eleven weeks old, when they were still with their mothers, were instantly friendly towards humans throughout their lives.”

Lilly displaying her awesome people skills (and catching up on some z's) while I read.

Lilly displaying her awesome people skills (and catching up on some z’s) while I read.

Reinforcing the importance of a socialisation period and early puppy training is an article by David Appleby of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors:

“One in five of the dogs that Dr Valerie O’Farrell (1986) studied while conducting research at Edinburgh (Royal Dick) University Veterinary School had a behavioural problem to a lesser or greater extent. A similar, but larger, American study fixed the figure at one in four. In one year my practice treated 773 dogs – 79 of them, that’s 10 percent, had problems of fearfulness towards people or the environment due to a lack of early socialisation or habituation and a further 4.5. percent were inept at relating to other dogs, again due to a lack of early socialisation.”

Okay, so early socialisation and puppy training is a must. But what does this look like in the real world? And when should you start puppy training?

Well, while every dog is different, here are some general guidelines you can try out:

General Puppy Training Guidelines

Up to 12 weeks old: Some experts recommend that puppies aren’t sent to their new homes until they’re 12 weeks old so they can learn proper dog-to-dog etiquette with their mother and litter mates. This is the time when they learn to play nicely with other dogs and also to interact with humans – especially children – safely. Socialisation steps and puppy training ideas may include exposing them to new noises (like a vacuum cleaner, dishwasher and different voices etc.), introducing them to new animals and humans (of all shapes, sizes, species and ethnicities) and ensuring they experience different types of weather to name but a few. As your puppy won’t have had all of her vaccinations yet, you’ll need to be careful about the environments you expose her to while still allowing her to experience as much as possible. A good way to do this is to carry her in your arms or in a safe, animal-friendly ‘pack’ that allows her to see the world and meet new people.

Between 7 to 9 weeks old: You – or your breeder – can begin elementary puppy training like house training your puppy.

As soon as your puppy arrives home (or at about 10 to 12 weeks old): You can begin puppy training and basic obedience like ‘sit’ and ‘stay’. Keep sessions short and sweet – just like your new pooch! – and make sure you end each training session on a positive note. You can also introduce your puppy to her leash* and take her to puppy pre-school for extra socialisation with other people and pooches. Just make sure all of the other puppies in class are similarly vaccinated.

But most of all, view this period of her life as a chance to set the foundation for a bright and happy future. By setting and positively reinforcing clear boundaries and giving her all of the opportunities possible to develop a positive curiosity and healthy interest in the world around her while feeling safe, protected and cared for, you’ll be well on the way to nurturing a well-adjusted, calm and content pooch.

Please note: While puppies are still growing, you’ll need to limit their physical activity – like walking on the leash – so you don’t damage their joints. The Kennel Club says that a good rule of thumb is “five minutes exercise per month of age (up to twice a day) until the puppy is fully grown, i.e. 15 minutes (up to twice a day) when three months old, 20 minutes when four months old etc. Once they are fully grown, they can go out for much longer.”

Disclaimer: Please consult your trusted vet or holistic animal health expert before making any changes to your pet’s diet or lifestyle. While I aim to offer well-researched and balanced articles, I am by no means as well-informed as your veterinarian. Please use your own inner guidance and the wisdom of the pro’s when making decisions regarding your pet’s wellbeing.

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