When to start training your puppy

The first rule of having a puppy is teaching said puppy how to behave.
The first rule of having a puppy is teaching said puppy how to behave. Photo: Getty

Puppies are lots of fun. They are tiny bundles of energy who love exploring and getting themselves in a whole lot of mess. And all of that is very jolly and amusing – for a while.

The first rule of having a puppy is teaching said puppy how to behave. It's important that your puppy learns which behaviour is okay and which isn't, and that means getting stuck into some training. One of the most popular forms of training is puppy preschool.

The period in which your puppy leaves her mother and siblings to come live with you is a critical time in her development. From the age of about eight weeks (this is the youngest age a dog should leave their mother) to sixteen weeks, dogs learn all about socialisation and what they should be cautious of in their environment.

Puppies love to test boundaries, and they will do so frequently during this time to see how much they can get away with. If positive training doesn't occur early, it is likely that undesirable behaviour will follow – and it will stick. If this is the case, it becomes harder to alter the behaviour in the future.

What to look for in a puppy preschool

"Your puppy school should be a positive experience," says dog trainer Brydie Charlesworth. "Look for a puppy school that focuses on positive reinforcement and guiding your puppy towards giving the behaviour you would like. Avoid puppy preschools that 'Alpha roll' or use heavy aversives such as dousing the pup with water or smacking. The best puppy preschools are run by dog trainers, as they specialise in behaviour."

It's also helpful to do a little research yourself. Hop online and research the puppy preschools in your area. Read reviews. Talk to people who have been through the program. Find out if past participants would recommend the school. Doing this legwork will always pay off.

Before you head to your first training session, you must ensure that your puppy is up-to-date with her vaccinations. "All puppies need to have had at least one vaccination prior to commencing training and proof needs to be provided," says Brydie. "Some diseases such as parvovirus are life threatening, and preventable by following the correct vaccination regime."

What you will learn

Brydie says that at the very least puppy preschool should teach you the basics of puppy health care and some basic training such as the "sit" command.

In most cases you will learn:

  • how to socialise your puppy
  • how to control play
  • how to inhibit biting
  • how to encourage the puppy to be relaxed while restrained and being handled (especially important during trips to the vet or groomer).

While puppy preschool is an important first step, Brydie says that it isn't a replacement for obedience training. "Everybody should at least attend a basic obedience course after completing a puppy preschool to ensure they have the skills necessary so their dog is well trained," she says. "Having a well-trained dog isn't optional, it's necessary."

Why puppy preschool is important

Puppy school isn't just important for your puppy: it's important for you too, because learning how to take care of your puppy is your job, and it's a pretty big task.

"Puppy preschool is important to help owners learn the foundations of puppy care and to get some critical socialising done," says Brydie. "Puppies in between the age of six and 16 weeks are in their formative period and everything they learn sticks like glue. They need to be exposed to as many different situations, people and dogs as possible, and all in a positive way."

The puppy stage, while very full-on, is fleeting. Before you know it your little ball of fluff is all grown up, and it's at that point you begin to see how important positive training is. "You need to focus on teaching your puppy what you want from it first and foremost," says Brydie. "Every moment you are with your dog you are teaching them something, and you need to make sure the lesson is a good one. Training your dog never ends."

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