What age should you start training your new puppy?

If you have recently picked up your pup you will be curious to know what age should you start training your new puppy? The truth is that they have already started learning new habits and behaviours and are keen to learn even more. Here’s what they can learn and at what age…

Early Learning

Puppies start learning at a very early age. Very quickly they learn that it feels safer when they feel the the warmth of their mum and littermates beside them. If they roll away, they feel cold and vulnerable, so their second lesson is how to get mum to rescue them when they accidentally wobble away.

So, even before they first open their eyes they are figuring out how to get what they need from their mum. In fact, they probably learned their second trick – “squeal and mum rescues me,” within their first day of life.

a very young black and white puppy snuggled in his owners arms, taking a nap

It’s no coincidence they chose a high pitched squeal either. Puppies learn through a process of trial and error and he probably tried a selection of tones and murmurs before he got the reaction he wanted. After that it would have been practiced a few times before it became the default call for help. That lesson will stay with them for life, and they will use that call any time they need, or want, attention or rescue!

The critical period

Even before they are up on their feet and moving around they are learning fast. He’ll be firmly in the critical period, which expires around 12-16 weeks of age. At this age he has the potential to learn faster than at any other time in his life. He is curious and open to new experiences, so this is the golden age to start training. You will never get an opportunity like this again. Every sound, every smell, every sight, and every texture is a new experience that must be discovered and explored.

In the den, his Mum and siblings will have already started training each other. He will have learned some bite inhibition and conflict management, he will also be learning how to get what he wants. Every growl or squeal in the whelping box is an important lesson about how not to do things!

Coming home

So by the time your pup heads to his new home with you, he is more than ready to start learning new rules and behaviours. He will have some bladder control and will already be preferring to toilet away from living/sleeping areas. He is also exceptionally keep to please. This pup only needed to be shown a treat and he started trying different things to win it, and his mums approval!

Until they reach adolescence, pups are more concerned with the top of maslows pyramid of needs. They aren’t concerned about stuff like food and safety. They don’t worry about who hunts for food, or who is guarding the fence. That is the job of the caregiver – mum, or you. They don’t know how to fend for themselves yet, so they need you to care for them for a while longer. This makes them unnaturally keen to please, meaning this is the perfect time to establish rules and boundaries. In fact they will be disappointed if you don’t!

Focus on behaviour, not tricks

The temptation is to teach them all the tricks, as quickly as possible. This is fine, but once they have learned a sit, recall and where to pee, the rest can be taught at pretty much any time. The focus, at this age, should be on behaviour. Take time to build trust, confidence, and fulfill their changing needs so they build resilience instead.

You won’t get another opportunity as good as this one to mold their outlook and attitude. Every experience counts, and the way you bring them up all contributes to their opinions of themselves, and the world around them. Even the way you train them to toilet outside, or their first trick will affect them, and their attitude to learning for life. If you can get this right, they will be keen to learn anything you want to teach them, whenever you want to teach it. It’s much harder to undo broken trust due to harsh training, or poor advocacy.

a wicker basket with two small white puppies peeking out

I mentioned recall earlier. In the early days, your puppy will naturally follow want to stay close to you. He hasn’t learn enough life skills yet, and he isn’t ready to start fending for himself. So he’ll feel safer with you. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to explore his world, but he’ll not run away from either. This makes recall an easy thing to teach, so take advantage of this age.

So the answer is that training should begin as soon as you get your pup home, hopefully 8-10 weeks, but don’t rush the tricks. Focus on behaviour and resilience, if you want a take-anywhere pup instead!


Interested in learning more about how to get the most out of your puppies behaviour?

Check out my new puppy behaviour programs if you are interested in fostering calm and resilience. It covers puppy behaviour and development, and you’ll learn more about what you should be teaching, what to avoid, and how and when to get the most out of your pup as he grows up. The programs are everything I wish every puppy owner knew!

Caroline
Caroline

I have more than 15 years experience solving all kinds of canine behaviour problems, at home and in rescue. A bad experience with a old fashioned dog trainer inspired me to learn more about dog behaviour, and it is because of him, that I wall never use harsh methods when training and rehabilitating dogs.

I work privately with clients in Dundee and the surrounding area with dogs of all ages, breeds and issues including anxiety, aggression and hyperactivity.

In 2009 I was proud to publish a book about dog behaviour and training. How to be the Perfect Pack Leader (by Caroline Jenkins) remains popular today and a follow up is expected very shortly.

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