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.
Jumping up is a very common complaint from dog owners. A jumping dog can be anywhere from mildly irritating to quite dangerous, depending on its size. It is very important to stop your dog from jumping for both practical and behavioral reasons.
In any canine society, pawing, jumping and shoving are considered rude and pushy behaviors. All dogs are born knowing that only the alpha of the pack should be able to get away with physical solicitations like jumping and pawing.
When your dog jumps or paws at you, he knows he is being rude and that he is doing something he should not be getting away with. He also knows that he is not the alpha in your household because he can’t obtain food and shelter for you.
Therefore, when he jumps on you and gets away with it, he doesn’t feel as though he’s climbing the social ladder in your family. What he does feel is confused and anxious. Dogs crave an established social hierarchy to follow and when they get mixed signals about the social order, they become anxious.
Training Your Dog
How do you stop your dog from jumping? If she is not reinforced in any way she will stop. This means no petting, shoving, talking or scolding when the dog jumps. A dog that jumps is seeking attention, and he doesn’t care whether the attention he receives is positive or negative. That’s why scolding, swatting or kneeing in the chest doesn’t work.
When the dog jumps, simply push her off with your body (hips, shoulders, legs), NOT your hands, and then ignore her until she offers you a nice behavior like going away or sitting. Once she is engaging in the non-jumping behavior, praise her and shower her with attention. If you are very consistent with this, your dog will catch on to the fact that she gets nothing from jumping and she’ll stop.
Everyone feels that it is unacceptable to have a 150-pound dog jumping on people. However, from a behavioral standpoint, it is just as problematic for a 2 pound dog to jump. All dogs will feel relieved when they are not allowed to get away with jumping or pawing. If you eliminate jumping, you will notice a pleasant change in your dog’s behavior overall. He will become less anxious and will spend more time lying down and relaxing.
From Tori Tyree. Questions? Leave a comment or email Tori at [email protected].
So, you finally took the plunge and decided to bring home a new dog. You’ve researched what type of dog will best suit your daily routine and family and are about to have a companion that will be there with you through thick and thin. The decision to take care of an animal is a big commitment and the first few days are extremely important in laying the ground work for a successful relationship with the dog and your family.
The first step in bringing home a new dog is prepping your home. Before the dog ever comes to your place you want to do a little “puppy proofing.”
I recommend getting latches for cabinets at ground level that have any type of cleaners or chemicals in them. Also, make sure lamps that may be antique or fragile are out of the reach of exuberant tails and curious noses. Pick up any random items you may have on the floor and break out that old laundry basket. (Gross but true- dogs love to eat underwear and socks.)
The Five Major Necessities
You also want to head out to the store and pick up the five major necessities.
Editor’s note: Borderstan welcomes Tori Tyree back with her second column on you and your pets. She is the owner of Walk of the Town, a dog walking and pet sitting company. Tyree has been working with animals most of her life — caring for them in animal hospitals, training dogs, volunteering at zoos and the Washington Humane Society, and counseling customers about pet nutrition.
• • • • • • • • • • • •
From Tori Tyree
I have a rule when I am walking dogs in the city: Whenever I see other dogs or children approach me, I cross the street. Some may call this rude, but I call it dog-walking etiquette.
There are plenty of controlled situations where dogs can play, but a cramped sidewalk just isn’t one of them. (If you are new to the area, check out the list of three dog parks at the bottom of this post.)
I believe my rule is particularly important with small children. The truth is, most kids don’t know how to interact with dogs — and dogs themselves do not understand why kids poke and scream and wobble!
If interacting with a child is unavoidable, I will kneel down to the child’s eye level and make sure both the child and my dog are behaving appropriately.
Borderstan welcomes Tori Tyree who will be writing about you and your pets.
You may have seen her walking dogs down your street. Tori Tyree is the owner of “Walk of the Town,” a dog walking and pet sitting company. She has been working with animals most of her life — caring for them in animal hospitals, training dogs, volunteering at zoos and the Washington Humane Society and counseling customers about pet nutrition.
Tyree has been walking dogs in D.C. for more than eight years. She has built up a lot of experience and has some good stories to share. We hope you will find them useful for your relationship with your pets.
Full disclosure: The editors of Borderstan have used Tyree’s dog-walking services, but are not receiving any free services or discount in exchange for her occasional columns.
• • • • • • • • • • • •
From Tori Tyree
I’m going to start my first post with a daring statement and hope that you bear with me:
Our dogs are not children.
They are just as important to many of us — and maybe in some cases, more important than children if we don’t have any. But at the end of the day, it is a mistake to treat them as children or substitutes for children.
The very best thing you can do for your dog is to give him or her structure. Without a routine and a set of rules that they can depend on you to enforce, dogs become anxious and sometimes destructive. Perhaps you are thinking of a purse or Blackberry that you once owned or is no longer usable?
Don’t worry; I’m not here to take away all your fun. There are lots of ways that you can still spoil your dog and give her the structure she needs to make sure everyone stays sane — you, your family, the neighbors and the dog.
In the coming weeks I will address several dog-related topics including training tools, what foods you should be buying, tricks you can teach your dog (some are even for your cats!). I am also open to topics of interest, so please leave a comment. I look forward to hearing from Borderstan readers.