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Can I bring my 10 week old puppy to a Class?

  The puppy I intend to use as my Service Dog was just born a week ago. So he will only be ten weeks old in April, when I want to come to your training class.  I know that he will not be old enough to participate by your guidelines. However, based on my previous experience handling dogs, I will have my dog understanding and performing basic commands by ten weeks.  If I am correct and my dog can perform the basics, is it possible to register him for the April session?  

With all due respect for any experience you may have training dogs, it would be wholly unacceptable to believe that a 10 week old puppy belongs in the type of class we offer for Service Dog training.  A puppy that age may benefit from a “puppy socialization class”, but it would even be too young for a basic, obedience class, in my opinion, and based on my definition of “basic obedience”.

Dogs go through life stages, just like humans do.  For a 10 week old puppy, nurturing and management are far more important than is “training”.  Training is the act of teaching a dog the meanings of words and expecting him to obey those words, on command.  This is similar to how we humans act towards our young children.  We don’t expect a 2 year old child to comply with all our commands.  We put the child in the cart at the grocery store because we know that she won’t necessarily “follow mommy”, when asked to do so.  So, we manage by holding the kid’s hand or confining her to the cart rather than rely on unrealistic expectations.   Can both a 10 week old puppy and a 2 year old child learn?  Of course they can.  Do you hold a 2 year old child to the same standards as those of a 10 year old child?  Never.  Do you expect a 10 year old child to hold a job and perform at Marine standards?  No.  Why?  It would be unfair.  It is just as unfair to ask a puppy to perform at standards of a young adult dog.  

A Service Dog must be trained at a very high standard.  Having been in the military, you probably can understand that.  When we teach a dog to sit on command the dog must sit on command, the first command, and stay no matter what.  If we bring a cat in the room, the dog must remain sitting.  If we drop a piece of hotdog at the dog’s feet he must remain sitting.  We should not have to remind him, verbally or physically, to remain sitting.  If a kid rides by on a skateboard, the dog must remain sitting.  If something bumps into the dog, the dog must remain sitting.  The handler should not have to remind the dog to remain sitting when a distraction presents itself.  Not only would it be unfair to ask a 10 week old puppy to perform at that standard, but it could ruin the dog’s long term potential to have such expectations.

Consider a wolf pack.  They tell their pups, “go in the den, we are going on a hunt”.  The pups look longingly at the adults, as if to say, “Can we go with you?”.  “No,”, the adults reply.  “Stay in the den”.  And, off they go to work to bring home the groceries.  The reason that wolves don’t take their puppies on a hunt is because the pups cannot handle the work, yet.  They would either muddle up the hunt or get themselves killed.  Essentially, young canines need to be managed so that they do not damage themselves, more than they need to learn complex tasks.  This is just like human children.   When a pup loses its baby teeth and replaces them with adult dentition, they move into “young adolescence” and they are both permitted more responsibility in the pack, and also get corrected for behaviors that, as a baby dog, were tolerated by most of the adults in the family.  Little puppies are given a “green card”, so to speak, and they are allowed to jump up on an older dog, or they may pull an ear or tug on a tail.  One day, around 6 months old, they receive a correction for such disrespectful behavior.  This coincides with the same time in a human child’s life, when we put them on a school bus and send them off for the first time (with missing baby teeth).  They can handle more responsibility for their own actions because they have begun to learn about self restraint and accountability.  But, we still must oversee most of their behavior in order to teach them properly.  I believe it is important for puppies to go through that stage and be moving through adolescence before putting very high standards on the dog.  That is why our basic obedience Workshops are open to six-month-old pups, and I would prefer the new Service Dogs are 8 months or older.  The In-Training phase of your dog’s Service Dog career will then begin around 8 months and end around a year old or longer.  That stage is when many dogs will challenge their owners’ authority.  I do not think it is prudent to have a pup under a year old donning an “In Service” dog cape.  It should still be in training at that time.

I believe that you can train your baby puppy to perform a sit or down or come when called at the wee age of 10 weeks old, especially if you use a food reward.  Puppies learn quickly when you use an incentive method and because they truly want to please you at that age since their life depends on being accepted by the “pack leader”.  While the pup is that age you should teach him anything that strikes your fancy.  Be certain to use a positive reinforcement method and coach him, lure him with treats or praise, and love on him.  However, when he turns 14-16 weeks old, you should assume that he may choose to ignore you, at times, because he is moving into the life-stage when he believes he is invincible and doesn’t really need your acceptable, since he already has it. What he did willingly for you yesterday will be completely ignored, today.  It is common and to be expected, and there are ways to combat it, but most puppies do go through such a rebellious period.

While he is a baby, and you are teaching him the meaning of words with food reinforcement.  A Service Dog must perform because you instruct him to do so, not because there is any food involved.  So, we need to employ different methods to set the standards for a Service Dog's behavior than you might use to teach your young puppy to sit for a treat.  Also, while you are working with your young pup, do not forget to set very clear boundaries for him. As a baby canine, there is nothing more important than that he feels secure in your leadership. A way to accomplish that is to avoid giving him more freedom than he can handle, and make certain that he gets enough down-time so that he does not get sleep deprived while he is growing so quickly.  Proper and disciplined management is more important than teaching him to obey commands, at that time of his life.

My 30 years of experience training dogs tells me that the earliest a dog should be asked to learn and perform at the standards required of a Service Dog In Training is 8 months, and then there must still be several months of continued practice.  For some dogs, 8 months would even be too early.  It would not be beneficial for your pup (in fact, it would be deleterious for his long term potential), in my opinion, to come to our class prior to that age.  Dogs have such a short puppyhood that we owe it to them to grant them the time to develop mentally and physically at the rate that nature intended. 

For puppies 8-20 weeks old, we offer a New Puppy Consultation.

Our One Day Workshops are open to dogs six months or older.

The Committed Canine Phase One class is open to dogs 8 months or older (10 months is optimal for many dogs).  Phase Two is open to dogs that have gone through Phase One, completed the required minimum hours of training and no less than 3 months have elapsed since Phase One training.  Of course, depending upon the complexity of the tasks that the dog must learn to perform at a high standard, it may be more than three months between the Phases.





  © 2010  Tammie Rogers - all rights reserved.   For permission to reprint email Tammie.  





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