When should I start training my puppy?

Getting a new puppy is an exciting occasion – one that my friend Nancy will soon be experiencing.  She will be picking up her new little boy in a couple weeks.  As I looked at pictures and we talked about bringing him home, she asked what the best time is to start training him.  She was a bit surprised when I said, “The moment you bring him home.” 

The period in a puppy’s life from 3 weeks to around 12 weeks is the primary socialization period.  During this period, puppies bond more easily with other animals and people.  This is when they learn that people and their environment is safe.  They begin to read body cues and interpret what they mean.  During this period, puppies are curious and willing to explore and try new things – usually without much hesitation. 

People often think that socializing a puppy means having them play with other puppies and dogs.  But socialization is so much more.  The primary socialization period is the period when you want to introduce your puppy, in a very positive manner, to many of the things that he will later encounter in adult life.  He should be exposed to people – especially men and children.  He needs to be exposed to other animals that he will encounter in his life.  He should be exposed to the environment in which he is going to live.  Puppies who will live in the city need to be exposed to the sights, sounds and smells of the city.  Puppies who will spend their lives in a more rural setting should be exposed to those sights, sounds and smells.  If your pup is going to experience both rural and city environments in his adult life, introduce him to both.

Initial socialization, until the puppy has had its second round of puppy shots, should be done around your home or at a location that you know is free of diseases that your pup is not yet totally immune to.  However, after that second round of shots kick in, take your puppy out to explore his current and future world. 

You will note that I said the socialization process should be done “in a very positive manner”.  Those words are important.  Overlapping the socialization period is the first Fear Impact Period which is usually around 8 – 11 weeks of age.  If something frightens your pup during this period, it can have a lasting impression, one that could last a lifetime.  So, you want all encounters to be very positive. 

Puppy Kindergartens, if they are conducted correctly, are excellent opportunities for socialization.  While puppies are usually allowed playtime, that is not the most important aspect of the classes.  If allowed to play, it should be strictly monitored so that is remains a positive experience for all involved.  More important than play time is the introduction of the puppy to new people, novel objects and other things that will broaden your puppies experience.  An important note – Please do your research to ensure the kindergarten class will be a positive experience for your pup. 

Last but certainly not least, puppies are little sponges for knowledge.  In addition to potty training, introduce your pup to positive marker training at an early age.  The more solid the basic cues like sit, down and stay are at this early age, the easier time you will have when your pup becomes a juvenile and starts stretching his boundaries.