By Fran Jewell
When we have children, we are quick to start reading to babies, providing them with educational experiences, socializing them, even taking them to an educational preschool. We would not lock them in a dark closet and expect them to come out when they are 2 years old as a well-adjusted child.
In the past two to three years, I have seen this phenomenon happening more and more with puppies. I am called later and later for help with young adult dogs (ages 6 months to 18 months) that are out of control and miserable to live with. Now training consists of more than teaching new behaviors—it’s also a barrage of eliminating horrid behaviors, especially biting/nipping, jumping, barking uncontrollably either for recreation or to demand, separation anxiety that has become destructive, and life-threatening counter-surfing or disrespecting commands, especially those like “come.”
Puppies are like human babies in that they are sponges for learning. There is a critical imprinting period up to 16 weeks old. What that means is that what that puppy learns, good and bad behaviors during that time, become imprinted for life. All the behaviors mentioned above can be avoided if training begins during this imprinting period up to 16 weeks old.
Many puppy owners are afraid to socialize their puppies during this period because they have not had all their shots. But, the conundrum is that critical socialization, especially with other dogs, must be done between five and seven weeks old. Developmentally, this is a critical period for puppies to meet (safe) dogs besides littermates and their mother, to learn about relating to other dogs with good doggie language. What this means is that the breeder needs to provide this, since most puppies go home about eight to nine weeks old. This is always a good question to ask when getting a puppy from a breeder. Did they do socialization with other dogs during that period? If the pup does not have that experience, all is not lost. It is just the most beneficial way to help puppies early on.
When your puppy comes home, the second you have contact with that puppy, training should begin. While most puppy classes are not afforded to puppies this young, private instruction is a perfect solution. Learning how to provide leadership in a manner that the puppy understands is so critical during this period. Many puppy owners believe puppies are too young to learn even basic commands. This simply is not true. My last litter of puppies began obedience training at three weeks old when they first liked food. Many of you are familiar with Brinx and Baewulf. I used cream cheese to teach them sit, down, come, watch, and leave it. By the time they were FIVE WEEKS OLD they knew these things, including no biting and no jumping. And it was all taught using positive reinforcement.
The point is, do not mistake the puppy “quarantine” period because they do not have all their shots with not starting training because they are too young. It is CRITICAL that you begin training the second your puppy comes home. Your life with your puppy will be so much more happy and simple.
Fran Jewell is an IAABC Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, NADOI Certified Instructor and the owner of Positive Puppy Dog Training, LLC in Sun Valley. For more information, visit positivepuppy.com or call 208-578-1565.