When beginning to train a dog, particularly a puppy, there are a couple of things which are usually mentioned. One is that if you don’t introduce retrieving at around twelve weeks of age, you will have a rough time teaching it later. The other is that a puppy raised with its dam or another dominant littermate will be difficult to train. Both of these are based on information in The New Knowledge of Dog Behavior by Pfaffenberger. The information on which these two statements are based apply to guide dogs and has been extended, possible incorrectly, to dogs we train in obedience.
Let’s look at both statements in somewhat more detail. In dogs as with children there are optimum periods of time during maturation when a task if introduced will be easy to teach. If this task is introduced before or after this optimum time, the learning procedure may be more difficult.
Retrieving is one of these tasks. If introduced early in a play format, later more formalized training is much easier. What also plays an important part in all later training is motivation. If properly motivated, a dog can be quite easily trained regardless of age.
The second statement deals with independence and self-reliance. Pfaffenberger found that if littermates were raised together one would be dominant while the other sub- ordinant. This fits in well with the development of a dominance heirarchy as does the same observation with a dam and pup, the puppy being subordinant. In both cases the subordinant dog was a poor candidate for being a guide dog because it would have difficulty in decision situations and in being forceful when guiding a blind handler. This has been extended to obedience training by saying these same dogs will not make good obedience dogs. This is not the case. Obedience training established the dog as a follower, looking to the handler (pack leader) for direction. In fact, with this in mind, the subordinant dog would be easier to train because he has been brought up as a follower.
Some dogs do, however, act too submissively during training as a result of being dominated by other dogs. This can be overcome by providing the subordinant dog with plenty of individual attention and using a training approach which emphasizes success and minimizes punishment or corrections for mistakes. Here the dog is trying, and to correct will reduce his desire to even attempt a new task. This is because when interacting with canine pack members, he is dominated for taking any initiative on his own. Therefore, he remains passive around dogs so as not to get jumped. When training, this should be avoided and success always rewarded.
©1980 W.H. Morrison, III