by Denise Mazzola, CPDT-KA
When Should I start Training My Puppy?
Recently I’ve had several phone calls from new puppy owners asking when they should begin training their puppy. The conversation is full of how wonderful the puppy is, how cute and friendly. These puppy owners emphasized that there are no behavior problems.
My response is always: “begin training now!” There is usually a pause on the phone and then they reiterate, “but there aren’t any problems.” To which I reply, “why would you want to wait until there is a problem”?
What people seem to forget, or not really understand in the first place is that your puppy is learning all the time. From the puppy’s perspective, every interaction she has with you is a learning experience. If you want to be ahead of the game and your puppy, it would greatly benefit you to understand how.
Puppy’s are incredibly cute, with large dark eyes, soft pudgy bodies and uncoordinated movements that make you laugh. Almost everything they do is cute and just so ridiculous who can get mad? Jumping on you, dragging your dirty laundry around even chewing on your winter boots all seem very benign, until you remember how big your dog will be when fully grown. Labradors can reach seventy pounds, Standard Poodles sixty pounds and mastiffs over one hundred pounds. Having your full grown, seventy pound plus dog dragging around and chewing on your laundry won’t seem cute, neither will it be cute when she jumps on you, your family and friends with enough force to knock them over. So, why wait to begin training?
Dogs learn the same as humans do, but their brains are much simpler and things are much more black and white. If you allow your puppy to jump on you, bending down and patting her, telling her how cute she is, you are positively reinforcing this behavior. The science of learning theory tells us that any behavior that is reinforced will increase; you will get more of it. Therefore, you’ll get more jumping. Puppies that bark with excitement during feeding time are positively reinforced because you continue the feeding routine. Again, you have positively reinforced barking, and yes, you’ll get more of it. Every behavior your puppy is demonstrating should be put through the lens of “can I live with this when my puppy is full grown?” If the answer is no, then you need to find a way to change it now and/or stop reinforcing it.
The best way to stop a puppy from jumping on you is to ignore them. It should be fairly easy to do while they are small and not knocking you over. When the puppy is calmly standing, sitting or lying down, you should go and calmly greet her. If your puppy begins barking while you are preparing her food, stop, and walk out of the kitchen. When she is calm, walk back in and begin preparing her food again, if she begins to bark, walk back out. She will very quickly learn that barking stops the food and quiet keeps it coming.
The best time to begin training your puppy is as soon as you bring her home. Picture what you want her to be doing when she is fully grown, sitting politely to greet friends, sitting to have her leash put on and sitting or laying down before feeding time and begin training these behaviors. Your puppy will be happier and you will too.
Certified Professional Dog Trainer Denise Mazzola is the owner of Denise Mazzola’s Everything Dog. She has been training dogs and people for over 25 years. Everything Dog provides services to clients throughout the Monadnock Region of NH by offering private lessons, group classes, board and train, as well as day training services. Denise has been published in the trade journal, Chronicle of the Dog, and writes a monthly column for the Monadnock Ledger Transcript. She also hosts a monthly “Ask the Trainer” radio show on WKBK. Denise lives in Keene with her life and business partner, Amy Willey CPDT-KA, and they share their home with three dogs and three daughters. For more information, visit www.everythingdognh.com.