Updated: Oct 7, 2019
A lot of people have asked me over the years: "What age can I start training my puppy?"
When the answer is, "As soon as you get him/her!" I get this wild-eyed look in return. Sometimes, I'll even be told - with a laugh of disbelief - "He's only 8 weeks old! He can't learn anything. I thought you had to wait until 6 months?"
I'm not sure where the idea of waiting until a dog is 6 months old to begin training came from, but this misinformation needs to be squashed! If you really were to wait until 6 months of age to begin training your dog, you'll have missed some of the most vital development phases of your pup's growth! And I don't just mean physical growth... I mean their mental development, too.
Did you know that early training can actually change the way your dog's brain grows? It's true! You can actually create a more developed brain through proper training, socialization, and conditioning. When people or clients comment on my dog Jax's maturity and (almost eerie) sense of self and direction, I always tell them it's partly due to his personality and partly due to the very early training methods I used with him (beginning at 6 weeks old). Jax is only 2 years old right now, and while that puppy-self is still there, his ability to focus, problem solve, and communicate often baffles people. Even me.
Puppies begin learning from their very first moments of life. They learn mom's smell. They know how to find food. And they certainly know how to get attention when they need it (Have you ever heard a newborn squealing for mom? It's not a sound you can mistake.). Even at this extremely young age, puppies are learning that certain behaviors give them certain responses. This is how mom teaches them their manners and how they learn to socialize as they get older.
As the ears and eyes open, play begins! Learning continues.
Using the basic pattern work of Action = Response, you can begin teaching a puppy how to properly interact with people starting at about 7-8 weeks old. In some cases, I've even seen puppies associate as young as 6 weeks (around the time of weaning).
At this time, there is no need to associate words with behaviors (i.e. Sit, Down, Stay). This is not the time for verbal training; this is behavioral conditioning. I suppose that is where people get confused about the training timeline. Since we're not using words, it's generally not considered training. However, it is still on the learning curve and it does helpyour training later!
Actual verbal training can and does begin around 8-9 weeks here at CC. The puppies have learned certain behaviors get them certain responses. A sit will get them lots of pets and praise. A patient wait for food will get them extra good food! They will be held only when they are calm, and they will be released only when calm. Now that they know these behaviors are important, we introduce words for them to associate both the behavior and response with.
Using this method of development, CC puppies are able to conquer basic and even advanced training extremely quickly. We often get people who are completely awe-struck that a pup as young as 10 weeks can behave well on-leash, sit when asked, not jump on anyone, and follow direction.
While we'd love to take the credit for that kind of achievement, it's really not us. It's the amazing creature that is the dog. They are intelligent and swift learners. In fact, aside from humans, they are the most successful species on the planet. They deserve their due credit, and to be recognized for their unique abilities to understand and work with their human partners.
Always remember that when puppies are young, they are learning how the world responds to them. Every day, they are discovering how to get what they want; whether that want is affection, food, or basic survival...Or getting table scraps, time on the couch, or the ball. Deciding how your puppy may ask for these responses is up to you. If you are consistent in the communication, your puppy will learn very quickly how to politely interact with you and others.