A new puppy is an exciting addition to the family. Training your puppy is very important, because during the first four months of his life, he will go through a number of critical stages of development. This is where puppies learn what is “safe” and “dangerous” in the world. Anything a puppy learns is safe, he is likely to be comfortable with as an adult dog. Anything a puppy learns is dangerous during this time becomes a likely trigger for reactivity and aggression later in life. A puppy does not need to have a bad experience with a particular stimulus in puppyhood (toddlers, for instance), no experience at all will serve the same function.
After four months, most new things in the environment fall into the “dangerous” category. While many people say, “my dog is racist,” when he barks or growls at individuals with other skin colors, more than likely he just didn’t have any, or had negative exposure to, individuals with other skin colors.
Others say, “my dog must have been abused, she is afraid of men with beards and deep voices.” While she may very well have been abused, it is equally likely that she simply was never exposed to these types of men at all during her infancy. A puppy does not need to have a bad experience with a particular stimulus to develop reactivity, no experience at all will do just fine to create the same type of response.
Professionals given the opportunity to help pet parents raise their puppies well must understand that the focus of puppy class should be preventing behavior problems in the adult dog. Thorough and appropriate socialization will prevent reactivity and aggression problems in the adolescent and adult dog. For socialization ideas, check out 111 Socialization Opportunities for Puppies. A good puppy class will include the following:
I am not saying that puppies should not learn common manners like: sit, down, walk politely on a leash, come when you’re called, look at me when you hear your name, go settle on a mat, leave it, drop it, go to your crate on cue, etc. I will say that there is no deadline on training these behaviors – your dog can learn them at any stage in life and will indeed need refreshing on these behaviors throughout his life time.
There is, however, a deadline on socialization. Past these critical stages of development, you are crossing into the realm of desensitization and behavior modification. While these techniques are very effective, trust me, socializing your dog as a puppy is much easier than fixing behavior problems in your adolescent or adult dog.
Have you taken a puppy class with your dog? What were some of your favorite exercises? What do you wish your instructor covered in more depth? Please share in the comments.