Is your Dog Ready to Learn?

Dogs can be trained at any age, but the best results are usually achieved with puppies. So start teaching your dog as soon as you bring him home. Dogs need routine and are keen to please their owners, so you should find yourself with an eager student. But remember, training takes patience and persistence – short cut won’t get you anywhere.

Training Puppies:
Puppies are learning all the time. “They’re capable of doing anything from seven to eight weeks,” says Amy Marder, Ph. D., animal behavior consultant to Angell Memorial Animal Hospital in Boston, and pet columnist for prevention magazine. “Maybe they can’t do prefect heels, but they can learn to sit at that age.”

Coordinating their body parts is another story. “Puppies aren’t very agile at that age,” says Dr. Marder. So forget perfection and focus on play training. Since young pups are curious about everything, seize those moments to begin your lessons. If you’re out in the yard together and a sudden breeze sends a leaf fluttering toward you, your puppy will naturally scamper after it. Tell him, “Get it, get it!” and when he catches it say, “Good puppy!” You’ve given his chasing a name that you can use again later when you want to teach him how to retrieve.

You can also train your puppy to “Come” long before he’s four months old. Whenever you set his food dish down, call his name over and over again in an excited, happy voice – “Puppy, puppy!” After a few times he’ll come flying to you when he hears this familiar call.

But it’s important not to go overboard with a new pup. “Keep your other training sessions brief, perhaps several five-minute sessions a day,” says Sharon Crowell – Davis, Ph.D., professor of veterinary animal behavior at the University of Georgia in Atlanta. “Puppies have a much shorter attention span than older dogs, and they’d rather play,” she adds. You want to make training sessions a treat, not a chore, for your pup.

The Older Dog:
Don’t believe that you can’t teach old dog new tricks. Dr. Crowell – Davis says the only difficulty in training older dogs is having to untrain incorrect behavior they’ve already learned. “If you’re teaching a new behavior, your older dog should pick it up right away. By age six to seven, a little earlier in larger breeds, a dog is in the prime of life and has the best attention span.”
Some dogs older than eight become less responsive to commands. They still want to learn but lack the energy. Their reactions may slow down and their memory may be fading. If your new dog is a senior, have your veterinarian evaluate his health before beginning his training program.

Training Techniques for All Ages:
Use the same training techniques with puppies as you do with older dogs. They work because no matter what the age, dogs want to please you and be rewarded. “Always use positive reinforcement and if you need more help with an adult, try a choke chain for training,” says Dr. Marder.

Different learning Speeds:
Every breed of dog has been bred to perform different tasks, and this affects how fast your dog will be able to learn. “There are real differences in the breeds’ anatomy, the senses and natural levels of motivation,” says Dr. Crowell-Davis. A narrow-chested dog, such as a Saluki, is extremely fast and ahs remarkable sight. He will have a hard time lying down and staying there, but if you ask him to run after an object he will be able to do that in a flash. More sedentary dogs, such as Bloodhounds, Labrador and Golden Retrievers, will probably be much better at learning how to lie down on command.

If you want quick results, match the tricks with the right dog. A Golden Retriever has been bred to fetch wildfowl, so teach him to bring back a ball. Don’t bother him with sled dog racing. But if you want a challenge, try training a Chow Chow, whose ancestors were guard dogs, to bring back a dumbbell in record time. It’s likely he will act as if it’s beneath him to fetch anything. “If one dog excels in one area, he may not be quite so good in another,” says Dr. Crowell-Davis.