For decades puppy training has focused on how to get the dog to behave how it is expected to behave by humans, but it doesn’t focus on what is functional and valuable for the puppy itself. When training a puppy it’s important to focus on creating a developmentally appropriate lifestyle program and see the puppy as a whole being. It’s also essential for puppies to build a relationship with humans through interaction and ensure that that history is a positive experience so sparks a curiosity to learn throughout the entire dog’s life.
Puppies 8 to 12 weeks
In order to train a puppy successfully, trainers need to keep in mind how a puppy thinks. Usually, as soon as a dog owner brings their puppy home they’re trying to teach the puppy to sit or catch, but those things aren’t particularly useful in a puppy’s mind. Puppies, like children, will learn best when they understand the why behind the task. What is the purpose? Many dog trainers establish a heavy focus on socialization during the first 12 weeks of a puppy’s life. However, at this point, this is not important for a puppy. Instead, at 8 weeks, the world seems like a big scary place for puppies, and throwing them into a large group of our puppies may actually scare them and hinder their training.
Instead, trainers should introduce a positive (pleasant as a result of the value given) experience. Focus on how you want the puppy to develop with humans and use this phase as an opportunity to take their dependent nature and apply it to foster a deep connection with you. We don’t believe in teaching obedience or manners until 5 months of age because it is irrelevant to their world. Create a nurturing environment where puppies can learn potty training, physical handling and touch, and name recognition and recalls. Building a strong connection with puppies between 8 and 12 weeks is essential in building that history that will allow them to develop the way puppies were created to grow.
Puppies 13 to 20 weeks
At 13 weeks you can slowly start incorporating socialization training. However that does not mean dog parks and doggy daycares. While these environments may be convenient they are not safe for young puppies. They are stressful, over-crowded, and do not offer the freedom of space for a puppy’s need for robust movement. At 13 to 20 weeks, puppies need to room to explore their surroundings. To sniff around, play in mud, and understand how to interact with their environment. Let your puppy be a puppy!
Experiential learning provides puppies with rich and robust learning opportunities and helps them connect the dots; in other words, make sense of what they are learning and how it applies to their interactions with other beings, and why it serves them in behaving in this certain way. During this stage of a puppy’s life it’s important for them to develop in three key fundamental areas: focus, engagement, and awareness. Specifically connect their names with a recall (connection with humans), engage with dogs of all ages and sizes in a socially respectful and appropriate manner (etiquette), and gain awareness of all the different aspects of their environment (building assurance and confidence).
Puppies 5 months to 8 months
Now is the time to be considering training, a more structured approach to your dog’s learning where-by clear intentions and humane learning methods come together to influence your puppy’s choices. It is so much easier and a lot more fun to teach a dog who is ready to engage in your ways than a puppy who has up until now, not benefited from developing a cooperative relationship with you. Which is why we stress the importance of building a strong connection and a history of positive experiences when your puppy is younger.
At this point you can start building foundational skills, like sitting and waiting, in a way that each puppy can perform reliably and is ready to generalize their skill sets to applied learning scenarios. Make sure to give puppies cues of why these skills are relevant to the real world.
Throughout their developmental stages, puppies are learning how to trust you. If you successfully create a positive training history with them, they will be loyal learners, always eager and curious to see what you have to teach them. But it all starts with letting puppies be puppies and enforcing them to fit into predetermined boxes.
Teena Patel is a Certified Dog Trainer and Behavioral Counselor who works with pet owners and owners of doggy daycares to bring her philosophy of Enrichment to the canine population. After almost two decades of successful dog training under her belt, Teena has done away with the standard doggy daycare “warehousing” of animals in kennels and runs. In place of an industrial model, she focuses on what is right for the dogs as living beings, providing experiences that improve and enhance their behavioral health. Coupled with a program of careful training, the Doglando experience results in companion dogs who are better-behaved, better integrated into their families, and above all, much happier. True to her passion, Teena Patel gives dogs the freedom “to be dogs”.