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
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.