By Hilton Butler
Two questions I am routinely asked by my dog-training clients are: “How young is too young?” and “How old is too old?” Understanding the canine growth process will drastically improve your ability to train your new pooch—knowing the optimal time to work on certain skills or behaviors can help speed up the learning process and reduce some of the stress on both you and your pup. I’m not a veterinarian, but I’ve developed the following information based on my 20+years of canine training trial and error.
When Can We Start?
When it comes to any mammal species, learning begins at birth and continues until death. The old myth, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” is absolutely false. Older dogs simply have the disadvantage of habits, just like we do as human beings, and the longer one has been preforming the habit, the harder it is to break.
I’ve identified five distinct stages of puppyhood that start at birth and end when your dog reaches adulthood. Momma dog handles the teaching during the first two stages, and humans typically take over around the eight-week mark when puppies are weaned and head to their new homes.
• Neonatal Stage (0 to 2 weeks)
Puppies are born with the abilities of touch and taste, but that’s about it. During this period, they are most influenced by their mother and littermates. They’ll start learning simple social skills, coordination and their ranking in the social ladder, but mostly they’ll just eat.
• Transitional Stage (2 to 4 weeks)
With their eyes now open, they can now stand and walk. Their hearing, sense of smell and teeth buds develop, tails wag, and they’ll even start to bark. By the end of this stage, pupsshould be able to urinate and defecate on their own and see quite well. If removed from the momma dog too early, this is where crate/den training and potty training issues can take root.
This is an excerpt from the full article—get the whole story in the Spring 2019 Chrome magazine, which is sent to all current APHA members. Not a member? Join or renew at apha.com/join.