A question I get asked a lot: When can I start training my puppy?
The answer: Right away!
People often think that puppies can’t learn until they reach a certain age or that a newly adopted dog needs time to settle in. And while you should be patient with young puppies as they are still developing or with rescue dogs as they are still adapting to their new situation, your dog is watching your every move and learning the moment they meet you.
Many things in the environment or your unintentional actions may be rewarding or punishing your puppy’s behavior. Most often, you may be rewarding unwanted behaviors by accident.
Remember this simple training rule: A behavior that elicits a positive outcome is a behavior that will happen again and more often. A behavior that elicits a negative outcome is a behavior that will extinguish or happen less often.
Here are some real-life examples when your dog is learning even though you’re not actively training:
1) We always give our dogs attention when they’re being naughty. Our intention is usually to get mad at them, but your puppy loves your attention no matter what kind. On the flip side, we may not always give our puppies attention when they’re being quiet and behaving because it doesn’t steal our focus. What you may accidentally be teaching your puppy is they can only get attention by doing unwanted behaviors.
Think about it: If you pup is quietly sleeping in her bed, you may not even notice. But when she steals the dish towel, you’re for sure to notice and ensue in chase (Oh, the fun!).
What should you do instead? Acknowledge and sometimes treat your puppy for being quiet in bed (but don’t make too much of a fuss or your puppy may get up). Ignore or try not to make a big scene when puppy steals that dish towel. Instead, go pick up the nearest toy and pretend to have a blast with it. Most puppies will see the fun you’re having and want to get in on that game instead.
2) Pushing your puppy off when they jump up on you. When jumping up, your dog wants your attention- any attention! You may think you’re getting mad at her and punishing her because you’re pushing her off and yelling at her, but your puppy thinks you’re playing and is happy to have your attention.
What should you do? Teach a really good sit and build a high reward history by rewarding it so much throughout the day. When your dog turns into a kangaroo, completely ignore her, walk past her, and fold your arms up so she can’t nip them. When she settles, ask for a sit and reward with attention.
These are just two examples, and there are many more. Teach your dog what behaviors are allowed and which are discouraged right away. Instead of accidentally rewarding and building inappropriate behaviors while waiting to train, start right away. Schedule a lesson before your puppy comes home, enroll in a class as soon as they meet health requirements, and get training!