When and Why to Train Your Puppy

Q. What are some of the benefits of training my dog?          

A. Training the dog you love is one of the best ways to develop a great relationship with your dog that will last a lifetime. Additionally, training makes home life more manageable and fun for you both!

Some dogs grow up to be angels and behave as if they were just born that way. Others take a great deal of encouragement and training in order to become well-mannered members of the home and community. The problem is we never know which dog may need training and which one may not. For this reason, we recommend that all puppies and dogs be trained. Dogs need structure and boundaries and it's our job as responsible pet owners to teach them how to fit into the family.

Q. When should I begin training?

A. Many dog professionals today feel your puppy’s need to acquire socialization skills as soon as possible is paramount. Early socialization to all types of people, other dogs and moving objects, may largely determine whether you have an enjoyable, or a stressful life with your adolescent and adult dog. Your puppy's critical period of development is between the ages of 3 weeks and 4 months. Whether or not she learns how to fit in with the family may depend in part on what age you decide to begin training.

Q. What do the experts and the latest research recommend about puppy training?

A. The Father of Puppy Socialization, Ian Dunbar, DVM and PhD, was one of the first veterinarians to recognize the critical importance of early puppy socialization and to widely promote early puppy training in his classic puppy training book, "Before and After Getting Your Puppy: The Positive Approach to Raising a Happy, Healthy and Well-Behaved Dog" (2004).

In addition, an article in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior suggests that puppies should graduate puppy socialization class by 16 weeks of age. The article also recommends that positive training be encouraged (Brammeier et al., 2006).

Q. What exactly is Positive Training?

A. Positive Training is an effective dog-friendly and powerful method of training your Fifi or Bowser. In a nutshell, Positive Training uses rewards of all kinds, removal of rewards, management and affection to train your dog. Just as humans work for rewards, so do dogs, dolphins, chimpanzees, and all living things. This was first demonstrated in research by B.F. Skinner and presented in his renowned treatise, "The Behavior of Organisms" (Skinner, 1938). Positive Reinforcement Training is based on the principle that dogs and all animals will repeat behaviors that have benefited them in the past. It works and dogs love it!

Q. I don't really have the time to train my dog. Is there a short-cut?

A. Not really, however you may want to employ a private trainer for obedience lessons, practice sessions and socialization experience. Ideally, training is most readily achieved with just three or four practice sessions per day at home of 5-10 minutes each.

Once your dog gets it, you may start using the newly learned behaviors in everyday life. Most people find that a lifetime of good, family-friendly behavior is the greatest pay off they can imagine and well worth the time invested in training. Lasting good behavior becomes a habit and an automatic response so once early training is accomplished, life gets easier for everyone.

Q. If my puppy comes home at 8 weeks, how important is it that my puppy learns socialization skills within the most critical period of socialization that ends at 16 weeks?

A. Next to basic health care, it’s the most important thing you can do for your puppy. It’s not uncommon to see dogs as young as 16 weeks arriving in class who already have behavioral problems. It is widely known to humane and rescue organizations that the most prevalent reason that pet parents give up on dogs less than two years of age is because of behavioral issues.

We can now largely avoid these sad situations for both pet parents and dogs with proper remedial puppy training. Don’t miss out on the critical socialization period in your puppy’s life even if you don’t care to take lessons or go to a formal class. Begin your own program of socialization with children, friendly strangers and healthy dogs in order to help your dog become the social butterfly she was born to be!


Brammeier, S., Brennan, J., Brown, S., Bryant, D., Calnon, D., Stenson, T.D., et al. (July 2006). Good trainers: How to identify one and why this is important to your practice of veterinary medicine. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research. Vol. 1, Issue 1, Pages 47-52.

Dunbar, I. (2004). Before and after getting your puppy: The positive approach to raising a happy, healthy & well-behaved dog. Novato, CA: New World Library.

Skinner, B.F., (1938). The behavior of organisms: An experimental analysis. New York: D. Appleton-Century Company, Inc.

Linda Michaels, “Dog Psychologist,” MA, and Victoria Stilwell-licensed Del Mar dog trainer and speaker may be reached at 858.259.WOOF (9663) or by email: [email protected] for private obedience instruction and behavioral consultations near Del Mar and the San Diego Coast. Please visit us at DogPsychologistOnCall.com

Originally published RanchCoastNews, Lorine Wright, Executive Editor.  All rights reserved.

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Positively Expert: Linda Michaels, MA

Linda Michaels is a VSPDT trainer, dog training columnist, and owner of Dog Psychologist On Call in Del Mar, CA. Linda holds a Master’s Degree in Psychology with research experience in Behavioral Neurobiology. She is a Behavioral Advisor for the Wolf Education Project (WEP) in Julian, CA and Art for Barks in Rancho Santa Fe, CA.


18 thoughts on “When and Why to Train Your Puppy

  1. Teresa Craft

    Q: I have a rotweiller/Sheppard mix he's 8yrs old and out of control is it to late to train him now that he's an older dog???? PLEASE HELP!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Lilly

    Hi, i'm not sure if u will get this message but here's praying that u do. I have what feels like a HUGE dilema, i have a 6yr male westie, then introduced a 12 month male minature yorkie from a rescue home, they got on well after a fight broke out and the westie put the yorkie in his place. then we got a female 2yr girl westie and all was fine untill we went on holiday for 2wks. the dogs were left in their own home with 2 adults that live there all the time, the two boy dogs (both had their testicals intact) were fine untill the day we arrived bak and since then we have had to seperate them as they are tearing each other apart. we have since had both boys castrated, (4 days ago) but the problem has not got ANY better. they both get on fine with the girl,( she was neutered well before we got her). Please help if u can with some sort of direction. its the yorkie who starts the growling and aggression first.
    many thanks

  3. Linda Michaels Post author

    Hi Teresa,

    Don't know what's going on, but unless it's a human aggression issue, absolutely not too late for you to work with him! If it's human aggression, I'd advise you to hire a behavioral consultant and get professional help.

    Dog's can learn new tricks. An older dog who has been "practicing" habits for many years will be harder to train, but your consistency, love and following Victoria's shows, and the terrific compilation of Articles on our Forum should help. My Socialization and Fear article details a quick, but tried and true method to help change emotional responses in dogs. There's plenty of people chatting on the Forum as well, about their dogs and the challenges and successes they've had. Learning to communicate with your dog in a language he understands is paramount to addressing his underlying drives.

    Please remember, I don't know what you mean by "out of control" but if your dog has aggression towards people or has injured other dogs severely, it's time to seek professional help.


  4. Linda Michaels, MA Psych

    Hi Lilly,

    Thank you contributing to the Expert Blog! So sorry to hear you're having problems with your new and resident dogs.

    As you may now know, careful, proper introductions on neutral ground are highly recommended when bringing a new dog into the home. This includes setting-up practice-play sessions with your in-home dog(s) to try to insure that all dogs will play together, which is, afterall, what most people want. Ideally, do this before you fall in love with the new dog and bring her home.

    Also, bringing an intact male into the home with another intact male has the most challenging, "hair-raising" potential of any configuration, generally speaking. We want to get our dogs off on the "right paw" . Great that you went ahead and had the castrations. That being said, there is some solid evidence that shows that some of the positive effects of neutering on inter-dog aggression may appear immediately after the surgery, whereas some effects may occur over time. Statistics on these studies are available. Offhand, I'd say there's approximately a one in four chance of this happening with your dogs on average.

    Below are general guidelines. We can't counsel on aggression issues without observing your dogs, identifying triggers, evaluating the environment, and doing a complete Intake/Assessment, then creating a treatment plan, but here's some quick tips for all dog lovers.

    For now:

    1. Safety first. Manage the dogs. Try using baby-gates, leashing, sliding glass doors. Close but not close enough to do damage. You want them to calming habituate to each others presence. Separate them but keep them in close proximity to one another so you can...

    2. Create positive associations that both dogs find rewarding. Reward when "the other" dog appears or when either dog shows calm/friendly behavior toward the other. Reward the dog who is displaying "good dog" behavior with treats, praise, and petting. Good behavior would be...no aggression body language warming signals. No freezing, no growls, no staring, but rather, look to reward floppy wagging tale, relaxed muscles, etc. Learn about dog body language.

    We may have a great training article on Dog-dog Introductions in our Articles section of the Forum. If we don't as yet, our highly-esteemed Board Host may be kind enough to field trainers to contribute because we here at Positively Victoria want to share with you all of our considerable resources to make your life with your dogs happier for all!

    Warmest regards,
    Linda Michaels, MA Psychology, CPDT-KA
    Victoria Stilwell Licensed Trainer, #0011

  5. Denise Aldridge

    I have two beautiful Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Poppy a black and tan who is 9 and Izzy a Blenheim who is 3: we got Izzy 20 months ago from a breeder who did not want Izzy because she had had one litter at 1 year old and needed a caesarean therefore no longer any good for breeding; unfortunately although a beautiful and now a well behaved little dog at home a complete nightmare when taken out for walks. We did get a behaviourist to access her as after a few months of homing her we found that we could not cope as going out for walks was horrendous as when we started to get ready to go out she yelped and screamed all the way out of the house and to the point when we eventually let her off the lead turning our other usually quiet Poppy into a nervous wreck, who started to copy Izzy. We have now trained her not to make a noise when going out of the house for walks she is almost silent; although any deviation from the norm is a trial.

    The real problem now is when we get to our walk and she is let off of the lead, if I do not let her go quickly enough she starts her yelping, she runs off only stopping to look back to make Poppy follow chasing and sniffing out whatever she can find and comes back when she feels like it. I take the same route through the forest or golf course every day she knows all the routes well. When she does return and she gets you into her sight off she goes again. I can do nothing to get her to come back until she wants to or I manage to scream loudly enough to break her attention span. I manage to keep Poppy with me by giving her treats, but Izzy is just not interested. Sometimes she returns more than others especially if she has had a fright when she goes too far and cannot find me she then takes herself home – I get so worried and angry with her.

    We cannot go anywhere different with her as she makes these horrible noises or runs off. Our enjoyable walks have been lost we don’t want to take her out as it is such a trial she has also managed to spoil our holidays to Scotland and Devon: but our dogs are part of our family and life and are always taken with us. Poppy’s holidays are also not the same as we cannot let her off the lead without Izzy as she goes berserk.

    I have managed to keep this situation fairly under control but there are lots of squirrels about at the moment and she went off on a chase Monday and lost me so I then had to run home with Poppy when she had been gone far too long to see if she had returned home. Just as I opened my side gate Izzy appeared behind me. She has done this a few times and is usually better behaved for a little while after this has happened but she nearly did it again the following Wednesday I managed to get her to come back to me and put her and Poppy straight on their leads but then of course I get the yelping and barking. We do live near the forest and no roads have to be crossed.

    We have always had setters and cavaliers; our last setter was put to sleep in February 2009. We didn’t get another because I thought I may not be able to cope with a large dog and the amount of exercise they require, but that would be nothing compared to this little devil. I have never encountered a problem like it.

    I do love her dearly but need help, clicker training and the whistle work beautifully at home but get her out of the house and it all goes out the window!

  6. Brittany McHale

    Q: I have an 11 year old spayed maltese, a 3 year old spayed german shepherd and a 1 year old neutered chihuahua. I just brought home a 4 month old spayed american pit bull terrier. She is great with all of the people she has met. She is playful with other dogs. I am able to stick my hand in her food bowl, take a toy from her, etc. and she does not show any aggression toward me at all. However, today she showed aggression toward my chihuahua when she had a nylabone in front of her and he tried to take it. She went after him very aggressively. She tried to do the same thing to my german shepherd with a stuffed toy, but she put her in her place and the pit bull submitted, came to sit near me and watched two of the other dogs play with the toy. She has done it to the chihuahua twice since them, but less aggressively. So after all that explaining...
    How do I teach her to share her toys and food? Or at the least not be aggressive about it... I have read not to take the food/toys away when they have just been aggressive or react in a negative way. How do you correct this problem in a positive way?
    I would really like to correct this problem as soon as possible.... before she is a big girl and it becomes more dangerous for her to become aggressive.
    If you could offer me any help I would really appreciate it! Thank you 🙂

  7. Sherry Lightfoot

    Hi, I have a 12 week old Akita, Chow, Cur mix that is beginning to have agression issues. We started her in Puppy Training (she's only had 1 class) and we've been working on knowing her name, watch, easy, and handling. When she's focused she does pretty well, but when she gets worked up she bites at our feet, legs, and hands. This is also true if we try to interrupt a negative behaviour - digging, barking and biting at the cats, etc. Can you suggest a positive approach?

  8. Linda Michaels, MA Psych

    Hi Denise,

    This is actually more of a comment section than a Q and A area even athough my post was Q & A. Sorry if I caused any confusion, but I always like to respond if/when I find the time, so thank you for contributing.

    Good job at getting Izzy to quiet while walking on lead!

    First things first. If you dog has not been trained to a Reliable Recall, I'm afraid she shouldn't be left off-lead. As you know, she could get lost, get hurt out of your sight, perhaps hit by a vehicle. Competing with a high stimulus environment with you winning at this stage of her developmental game, may not be a realistic goal for Izzy.

    She may be more responsive than we know with the right techniques however. I'd get a 50 foot lead and practice recalls in short distances using a squeaky prey toy in my back pocket and give her a few tugs with it as a reward. They even make scent toys replete with whatever it is she's after! Also, whenever she does check in with you on her own, she ought to be profusely rewarded.

    As for the crying before releasing her, should you get to a Reliable Recall, I'd try the "slow-motion method" for releasing her off the lead. Begin to move your hands very slowly toward the leash clip and her harness (I hope) as long as she is quiet. The instant she whines, withdraw your hands back to the starting point. Repeat, repeat, repeat. With proper technique and timing, she will learn that the only way to get off-leash is to not cry. Practice at home first, then graduate to outdoors.

    Hope this may help you and your "wild one". What she's doing sounds like normal dog fun. Early recall training on lead and preventing reinforcments for straying are a couple of important missing pieces from your puzzle. Distraction training is built in small incremental steps...I call it "baby-step training". I rather doubt she needs all that vigorous exercise, so just pull it back for her and you two should be fine.

    Please check out our Forum and Articles for great tips on most any topic. If something's missing that you need, please make a request. I will be adding my contribution on a variety of topics on a regular basis. Thank you posting to the Expert Blog!

  9. walter

    hy i have a 6 year old female german sherperd and she is agresive with people,dogs and anything execpt our 4 member family. we tried to find her a male german sherperd to breed or play with but she wants to kill him every time they see each other. how can they get along? what to do to get them feel comfotable around each other. p.s kelly my female dogs is crazy and pull, bites,barks is a danger she bites people, attacks anything she sees she has bitten three people so far what do we do. this would make a good espidos for victoria please help how can i get them to get olong

    please and thank you

  10. Linda Michaels Post author

    Hi Brittany,

    So sorry to hear of your multi-dog household troubles. Not uncommon for there to be squabbling.

    Unfortunately, dogs don't "share" in the sense that we might like them to. I would say...it won't happen. They may eventually tolerate another dogs intervention, but It's not in their nature to share as we know it. They are hard-wired genetically to protect valued resources. They are, after-all, a subspecies of wolf.

    Nevertheless, it's great that you're addressing this now before your puppy gets any older because training can influence genetic predisposition.

    Right off the top let me recommend one of my favorite booklets by another Expert Blogger on this list, Dr. Patricia McConnell, Ph.D. "Feeling Outnumbered? How to manage and enjoy your multi-dog household". I highly recommend it for general management.

    To reiterate what I said in a response above, "As you may now know, careful, proper introductions on neutral ground are highly recommended when bringing a new dog into the home. This includes setting-up practice-play sessions with your in-home dog(s) to try to insure that all dogs will play together, which is, after-all, what most people want. Ideally, do this before you fall in love with the new dog and bring her home"

    However, you already have the bull terrier pup in your home and because dogs grow through developmental stages just as we do, new problems may arise.

    Firstly Brittany, it's wonderful that you dog does not resource guard from you!

    I cannot give out any advice online on aggression per se or about your case without a full assessment and behavioral consultation, however I can speak generally about it and hope something may be of help to you.

    General information:

    It may seem uncanny to us but resource guarding from people vs resource guarding from other dogs, are seen as two separate issues and are largely unrelated. Most aggressive behavior occurs within a species except for predation, however most often it takes the shape of warning signals and posturing and no serious injury occurs.

    Dog live in hierarchies and establishing a pyramid-like social structure is natural and adaptive for them. The "top dog" in the pyramid may shift in different contexts. The "top dog" may not be the home dog or the dog you want it to be. It's often something dogs will work out between themselves. As long as there is not serious injury or veterinary visits, generally speaking, it's not something to be overly concerned about unless there is a large size differentiation between the dogs as in your case with the chihuahua vs bull dog.-- so safety first!

    Quick tips: When you're present, don't let them work it out. When a pet parent is present she can intercede on behalf of the dogs that are not aggressing. Reward the dogs that are behaving calmly and ignore, or remove the dog that is not. When a pet parent senses tension building, step in and diffuse it using blocking, recall, separation, distraction, rewarding for calm, etc.

    Another good resource is, "Mine: A practical guide to resource guarding in dogs" by Jean Donaldson. She provides step-by-step protocols to desensitize your dog. These protocols are largely controlled exercises however, and with dog-dog interactions of course we cannot control what might happen between them on a daily basis. Lots of people must feel their dogs separately and do not allow certain types of chew toys or any chew toys that are known to trigger reactivity. Management is your friend.

    Slow acclimation and desensitization in safe situations where you set up rewards and removing rewards will help shape your dog-- but don't expect that she's ever going to share a bone. Setting up realistic goals for your dogs is part of positive training.

    Will your dogs ever be safe when you're not around? Can't bet on it, so If there are resource guarding issues, work on it when you can, and separate them when you're not around and remove any items you know may be guarded....this is tricky as it could be space itself (your too close to me!) multiple items that generalize to include more things as time goes on.

    Many people who live in multi-dog homes have on-going issues with resource guarding, so hopefully between all of you, one way or another, calm will prevail even if one dog gets all the "cookies" whenever she can! I hope I may have helped in some way. I love bull terriers.

    Here's a really cute list of Dog Property Laws I'm happy to share with everyone. It's funny but true!


    1. If I like it, it's mine.
    2. If you have something and put it down, that makes it mine.
3. If it's in my mouth, it's mine - please don't forget that.
    4. If I can take it from you, it's mine.
5. If it looks remotely like mine, it's mine.
6. If I saw it first…or last, it's mine.
    7. If I had it a while ago, it's mine.
    8. If I chew something up, all the pieces are mine.
9. If I don't want it, it's yours....unless,
10 I want it back, then it's mine!

  11. Lusia N

    I have a similar problem that Sherry Lightfoot has and it ties in the article as well. I'm looking for help here because in my country there isn't Stilwell's trainers and my pup is too young to be in a local training class. So I'm left wondering what exactly I should train my puppy in and when? We've already begun social training as my sister has a pup as well and my parents have an older dog. My pup is only 9 weeks so we're waiting for her to get vaccinated before meeting new strange dogs.
    But we've been having problems with house training, where to pee and when, and when should the puppy learn to come reliably when called? She's very calm and smart but recently she's into biting hands, probably trying to play and we're left wondering how to teach her off that? Also she can't be totally quiet but she's begun to demand attention loudly. Is there anyway to teach her when it is okay to bark and when not? I can't reward her need of attention by starting to play with her, can I.. And I'm also worried that we end up doing something wrong and feeding bad habits. Like she's gotten already used to a leach but there's no rhyme or reason how she walks. Everything's so exciting that even treats don't hold her attention. I was so envious when I saw someone walking a little older pup with the help of clipper and that retriever pup didn't bother with anything else but his owner.
    I'd really be thankful if you have the time to share some tips.

  12. Kasey Parker

    My puppy is 16weeks old and we have had him since he was 5weeks old. We are having problems house training him since day one. and he will not listen. We have tried everything we have heard and read alot of training books and have tried to guide him on this problem but he won't listen. We will put him outside and when we bring him back in he will use it. If we catch him we will tell him no and pick him up to take him outside and he will use the bathroom on you or will do it while you are carning him out. He use to pee on the kitchen floor. And we would see it and rub it in his nose and tell him no. Now he will use pee on the carpet so you cant see it. Please help me cause me and my boyfriend have tried everything. and the only other thing we can do is get rid of him cause we cant have it. Because we have a young son in the house and a new one on the way in 4 months.
    Thank You!

  13. Linda Michaels Post author

    Hi Luisa and Kasey,

    I'd like to refer you to an article I've written called, "The Top Ten Dos and Don'ts of Successful Housetraining". I haven't put it up on Victoria's blog yet, but you may find it on my webpage under My Articles.

    Every single word is important! If you do all that is recommended and not do what is not recommended, plus get a black light to find all the urine in the house and do a complete cleaning as directed, you should have great success.

    I regularly counsel on housetraining, sometimes for dogs who have been peeing in their houses for 6-8 years. Through communication your dog can understand, and the right techniques, using the Big Two-- Confinement and Reward opportunities, plus all the other tips, you should be well on your way to turning this around for everyone.

    Happy Thanksgiving to all!
    PS It's not the puppy's fault. It's our job to learn how to teach them in a language they can understand 🙂
    Linda Michaels,

  14. Najia

    Great post Linda -- and it obviously showed a lot of people how much you know, causing them to ask for your help! I do believe it's (almost) never too late to start training a dog -- but puppy training is the best way to set your dog up for success in its later life. Group training is a great way to teach your puppy basic obedience, AND a great socialization tool to boot! I am rescuing a puppy in June as soon as I graduate, and I can't wait to find a great puppy program that will help ensure that my pup has the greatest start in life 🙂

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  17. Theresa

    We have a new little Schnauzer puppy. Bella is 10 weeks old. We brought her home when she was 8 weeks old. She was absolutely the sweetest puppy ever. During the last week, I have become her chew toy. I can not walk, sit or stand without her biting my ankles, toes and shoes. She grabs my pants and grows and pulls at them. When I assume my "Victoria Stnace" with arms folded and legs spread apart and do not look at her, she will stop, but I can't stand that way for ever. I do have to walk or sit at some point! It has gotten to the point that I cannot enjoy her at all. This is constant. Yesterday, she would not even eat because she was too busy comming after me and my ankles, biting and growling. My trainer told me to try scolding her and telling her she was behaving like a "bully" and put her in her crate for 2 minutes and leave the room. Then return and let her out. I did that for 8 times in a row and the second I let her out, she immediately came after me again. She does not do this with anyone else. She does not do this with my husband or with anyone who comes to visit. Only me. The first week she was home, she became very attached to me. My trainer seems to think this is a game with her and she thinks it is great fun to play this with me...her good friend. Well, it is not fun for this friend!! Please help!!!!!!

  18. Charlotte

    I have a pitbull puppy 14 weeks of age and wondering how I can get him to stop snapping and pulling on his leash without using harsh punishment. And any other great advice that will help as he is growing. Thank you very much.

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