Puppyhood is the best time to start your dog’s education – that means early training and early socialization. This period marks the peak of learning for dogs and is therefore described as the sensitive period of their behavioral development. During this age, and especially at about 8-12 weeks old, your puppy is like a sponge absorbing and processing all sorts of information which determines the kind of dog he is likely to become in adulthood. An example of this is how easy it is for young puppies to befriend different species of animals if they are exposed to them during this time. Dogs can become great friends with cats, birds, rabbits and all sorts of animals if they are introduced to these animals early on and allowed to regularly socialize with them. Socialization is also important for getting puppies used to being around different kinds of people: men, women, children, teenagers, people of various builds, height and weight, skin color, etc.
Some families who own puppies get lucky and unwittingly socialize their dog without putting any thought into it. In general, well-socialized puppies belong to big families, or families with homes that always have lots of visitors, or to owners that take their puppy on lots of outings. However, not all puppy owners are lucky enough to have such a perfect setup for socialization. For the puppy-owner who would rather not leave things to chance, Puppy Classes are a very proactive way to expose your young dog to a variety of people and experiences, thus setting him up to be a confident adult dog who is not easily frightened or overwhelmed by new places, people or experiences. This is what some trainers refer to as a dog having developed good “bounce-back”, that is, the dog easily recovers from the initial feelings of uncertainty when faced with novel situations.
You want a dog that is confident and has good “bounce-back” because otherwise your dog could become shy, fearful and even aggressive – this can be dangerous for the people that he is around and that need to handle him on a regular basis. Take for instance your regular visit to the vet’s office: a dog that has no confidence for being outdoors or leaving the house will find even a routine check-up to be frightening, which makes the experience stressful for the owner, the dog and even the vet. With just some simple conditioning and training in puppyhood involving lots of treats when being handled and many positive experiences with your vet, you can set your dog up to accept and even love veterinary examinations, eliminating his and your stress for all future veterinary visits.
Another thing to teach your puppy early on is bite inhibition. I have written a more detailed article on the subject of puppy bites which can be found HERE. Basically, you want your puppy to develop a soft mouth – that means that your puppy should learn about regulating his bite force. This is a better thing to teach than simply forbidding or punishing a puppy for nipping. A dog who develops a regulated bite is less likely to inflict serious injury on someone in the event that he does bite out of fear or on instinct to defend himself. This is an especially important lesson for dogs that are around children a lot, because kids move and play with dogs in unpredictable ways and may unintentionally hurt and startle a dog into biting.
Lastly, your puppy needs to learn about where to poop and pee. House soiling is one thing that a lot of owners complain to me about. The odd thing about a lot of Filipino dog owners is that they actually prefer for their dog to do their business in their crates or cages, instead of in a designated spot in the garden or yard, and they wonder why their dog will just hold it while he is inside his place of confinement. But the thing is dogs will on instinct NOT soil where they sleep. Dogs that soil their crates have been forced to do so because they couldn’t hold it any longer. Over time crate-soiling becomes a habit. You see this a lot in puppies who have been confined in petshops for very long periods of time. These are often the puppies that can be difficult to potty train because they have lost the aversion for soiling their living areas. Before your puppy gets into the habit of having accidents in his crate and around your home, it is best to give him lots of opportunities during the day to visit his designated potty spot and reward him with treats and praise when he does it in the proper place. Over time, your puppy will develop greater and greater bladder and bowel control so that you’ll only have to take him out for his potty business about three times in a day.
To summarize, Puppy Education is IMPORTANT. If you want an awesome dog – a dog that is confident, behaviorally stable or balanced and trustworthy around family members and around your friends, then give him a solid foundation for his learning and behavioral development by starting his education and training early in life before bad behaviors become habits that will be very hard to break.