When and How to Train Your Puppy or New Rescue

Photo by Linda Michaels | http://www.dogpsychologistoncall.com/

Photo by Linda Michaels | http://www.dogpsychologistoncall.com/

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

A. Training makes home life more manageable and fun for you and your dog. Next to basic health care, it’s the most important thing you can do for your pup. Best of all, training the dog you love is one of the best ways to develop a great relationship with your dog that will last a lifetime.

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 more than love, however. They need structure and boundaries and it's our job as responsible pet owners to teach them how to fit into the family so that everyone is happy.

Q. Is socialization "training"?

A. Yes, it is! A pet that is friendly to people and to other dogs is very likely the most important attribute for your dog. Today, most pet parents today understand that socialization is important...but they don't know how to do it. By comparison, everything else is easy. Animal behavior professionals today feel your puppy’s need to acquire socialization skills as soon as possible is paramount. Early and careful socialization to all types of people, other dogs and moving objects, will largely determine whether you have an enjoyable or a stressful life with your adolescent and adult dog. It's well known to humane and rescue organizations that the most prevalent reason pet parents give up on dogs less than two years of age is a result of unresolved behavioral issues.

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). Your puppy's critical period of development is between the ages of 3 weeks and 12 weeks. It’s not uncommon to see dogs as young as 16 weeks who already have significant behavioral problems. An article in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior tells us 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). Whether or not your dog learns how to fit in with the family depends in part on what age you begin training, so, the earlier the better.

Even if you don’t care to take lessons or go to a formal class, don’t miss out on the critical socialization period in your puppy’s life. Begin your own program of socialization with children, friendly strangers and healthy dogs in order to help your dog become a social butterfly.

Q. What exactly is "Positive Training"?

A. Positive Training is the safest, most effective dog-friendly, powerful method of training available. Positive Training uses; rewards of all kinds, removal of rewards, alternate behaviors, routines, boundaries, structure, management, and dog-friendly leash-walking equipment to train. Positive does not mean permissive. 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 best and your dog will love it.

Photo: Nicole Marlin

Photo: Nicole Marlin

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 activities. Ideally, training is most readily achieved with just three or four practice sessions per day at home of 3 - 5 minutes each. Quick fixes, intimidation and leash-walking devices that cause pain may stop behavior in the moment, but can have serious undesirable side-effects. A good trainer has no need for these gimmicks.

We can now largely avoid behavioral problems for both pet parents and dogs with proper remedial puppy training. Most people find that a lifetime of good, family-friendly behavior is a great payoff: It's well worth the time invested in Positive Training. Good behavior becomes a habit i.e., an automatic response, so once early training is accomplished, life is easier and more pleasant for all. Plus you've truly enhanced your relationship with your dog.



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.

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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.


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