Over the past few years, the idea and the incorporation of special classes for puppies has become quite popular. It never ceases to amaze me just how much these little tykes can be taught and how important it is to develop the proper attitude toward training at an early age. Occasionally the purpose and goals of KPT are lost and need to be reviewed.
We have found that puppies 4 to 5 months old are much like the adults in the way they can be handled in class. They are still like puppies in that they have a short attention span, but it is longer than the younger puppies. Because of the combination of relatively few bad habits and the longer attention span, the results of obedience classes are seen more rapidly than with their younger or older counterparts.
For the purpose of this article, I will deal mainly with the younger, 8 to 14 week old puppies in reviewing what we can and cannot expect in their response to training classes.
Young puppies have not yet developed an attitude toward training. If training classes are based on positive reward and lessons are taught in short, simple steps, learning is thought of as fun. By simple steps we mean breaking the sit, stand, down, etc., into several steps and rewarding each step.
Heeling can be introduced using several off-lead techniques that help imprint in the puppies’ minds that we humans are the leaders. The result is that we begin at an early age teaching the dog to look to us for guidance, but not to become totally reliant upon us.
Later, more precise heeling is easier to teach, and when lead corrections are needed, they need not be as harsh. Since we are not using a lead, we are learning how to control our puppy using voice and body language, a means of communication natural to the dog. In class the pup should be near, but not necessarily exactly at, heel position.
Puppies rarely perform in class as well as they work at home. The reason is simple: more distractions in the form of people, sounds, and other dogs. For this reason we do not demand the puppy do perfectly in class, but emphasize control and consistency. Since there is going to be some loss of attention in class, we have socialization periods where the dogs play with each other and the handlers, but in a controlled fashion.
Unwanted behavior is more easily controlled at this age before it becomes a conditioned response and an unwanted part of life. Owners can learn how to optimize opportunities to help their puppy learn. A puppy can be taught at an early age, for example, to use his nose by hiding a favorite toy in progressively more difficult places.
A dog is a product of what we have taught him to be. His attitude toward training and learning are those we have instilled in him. This is especially true for a puppy.
©1982 W. H. Morrison, III