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The Power in Puppies

The New Resolution to Help Them be the Best They Can Be!


by Fran Jewell


As a dog trainer, I see puppies on a daily basis and have often thought, “If I had only been able to work with that puppy when it was much younger, I think this problem could have been prevented.” Since over the years, training methods have changed so dramatically, it is totally feasible to begin training puppies at a much younger age. Now we know for a fact that puppies are capable of learning amazing things as young as 4 weeks old.

That has not always been the case. When the choke collar was widely accepted, we waited until the pup was 6 months old so his neck, literally, could handle a firm leash correction. Now, we know that even random positive reinforcement of any good behavior will assure a high likelihood of that behavior happening many more times.

I bred my first litter of puppies this last winter. Committed to my belief, I began clicker training with them as soon as they showed interest in solid food, which was at 3 weeks old. Five days later, all three of them could do “sit”, “down” and “leave it” on command. My co-owner and I clicked and treated for going potty on pads. We also used the clicker to teach them bite inhibition and began restraint work (puppy hugs) with them so they would all accept friendly restraint for any purpose as an adult such as grooming, veterinary care, crating, etc.

We began teaching all of them their names simply by giving them a treat every time we said it. Eventually, they all responded to us by running across the yard toward us no matter what they were doing previously. They understood that their name meant a treat was coming. At five weeks of age, all the puppies would come to their names, and then sit before they got their treats.

At four months old, Marcus earned his AKC Canine Good Citizen certification. Many adult dogs cannot pass this evaluation which consists of basic obedience and leash skills, manners, socialization with people and other dogs, and acceptance of grooming/examination. The entire test is quite extensive. Marcus passed at 18 weeks old! What this all proves is that very early training, consisting of positive reinforcement of desired behaviors can beget amazing results.

In this particular litter, we used operant conditioning or clicker training. The clicker is simply a marker that marks the moment when the dog is doing the behavior we like, followed by a reward. The behavior that is being rewarded is now crystal clear to the puppy.

Most reputable breeders will not let their puppies go until they have reached the age of 9-12 weeks old. Even if those puppies did not have progressive learning opportunities at a younger age, you can still begin the process with incredible success. When you get your puppy, don’t just accept the wild, jumping, biting behaviors as the norm and allow it thinking the puppy will outgrow it. Understand that early learning sets your puppy up for success for the rest of their lives and prevents frustrating and undesirable behaviors.

Educate yourself on the best motivational training method for you, so you can begin training your puppy the moment they come home. Bring your expectations to a point where you understand what huge learning capacities puppies have and then enjoy the training process.

Learning never stops being effective at any age! Think of puppies, just like children, in that the earlier they are exposed to a variety of learning experiences, the easier time they have of learning throughout their lives and the easier they are to live with.

My puppy, Marcus, earning his Canine Good Citizen is proof that early learning helps our puppies to be the best they can be. The commitment to a new puppy and the resolution to help them learn and grow starts with early puppy training. We can imprint positive behaviors that last a lifetime as well as begin to shape the meaningful bond between you and your new member to the family.

Fran is the Owner/Instructor of Positive Puppy Dog Training LLC, and the Executive Director, Positive Partners Assistance Dogs, Inc.