It is never too early or too late to begin training your dog. Dogs can learn throughout their entire lives.
The important decision is not whether to train, but what and how to train your dog depending on his age.
Puppy’s Critical Learning Period
A puppy’s critical period of learning is from two to 14 weeks of age. This is the period in which the puppy’s brain is at its peak for learning and absorbing new stimuli. It is very important that a puppy be exposed to as much as possible during this period.
If a puppy does not see something during this time, they may develop a fear of it when they are adults. That is why dogs have “irrational” fears of UPS trucks, umbrellas or certain types of people. When you get a new puppy it is at least eight to nine weeks old, so you have already missed half of the critical period.
A good breeder will have made use of the first eight weeks of the critical period, exposing the puppy to people, dogs, sights and sounds. Beware of a breeder who keeps the puppies isolated in a small kennel.
Your dog can learn basic obedience such as sit, heel and stay at any age, but she has a limited time in which to become socialized, so get her out as soon as possible! If you can expose her to lots of people, animals and different environments you will save her from developing behavior problems as an adult.
More Advanced Commands at Five Months
Dogs can learn easy obedience commands like sit, down and come right away. Advanced commands like stay and heel require a longer attention span and should be left until the dog is at least five months old. Dogs learn best in short, productive sessions of two to five minutes.
The longer you push the training session, the more frustrated you and your dog will become. It is better to do five successful five-minute sessions per day than one 25-minute session.
Training Older Dogs
Older dogs can learn obedience just as easily as puppies, unless they are very ill. The difficulty with older dogs is trying to undo bad behaviors such as barking, jumping or biting that they have been getting away with for years. Dogs learn only by repetition, and the more repetitions they have, the more ingrained the behavior becomes.
Therefore, if your dog has 5,000 repetitions of barking at strangers, a trainer will not be able to reverse that behavior in a day. Your dog will need to have 5,000 repetitions of not barking before he is “cured.”
Don’t let your dog’s age stand in the way of training. There is always positive work that your dog can do, whether he is two months or 15-years-old.