How Young Can a Puppy Be Trained?

How Young Can a Puppy Be Trained?

This is the most common question we get! And the answer may be surprising.

For some reason, it seems to be common belief that puppies can’t or shouldn’t be trained until they are about 4months old. Some people will even tell me six months! But, the truth is, if you wait this long to start training and conditioning your pup, you’ve missed the prime learning phase your puppy naturally develops as he grows.

Puppies begin learning at birth; starting with smell. As they get older and their eyes and ears open, widening their world substantially, they learn important social and conditioning skills from their siblings, their mom, and their human caregivers. Priority number one for pups is food, of course. And that’s mom for a while, until mushy puppy food is introduced. This is about the time when we believe conditioning* begins. Puppies begin to learn how to associate people with food (although they’ve already associated us with fun and love!) and this is when you can begin to charge certain behaviors. (Charge means to give a behavior value.)

At this age, pups are subconsciously learning much like how toddlers learn before they can process information. That’s why we call this work conditioning, and not really training. Actual training like sit, heel, stay, and name recall can begin around 8 weeks. Some puppies even excel at this work as young as six weeks! The important thing to remember about early-puppyhood training and conditioning is consistency. Puppies are mostly learning through patterns, and you can use this to your advantage.

The best part about puppy training and conditioning is that it’s fast, and it’s virtually forever! When a pup learns certain behaviors get him certain responses he needs (like food or attention) this turns into a natural response or “muscle memory.” He doesn’t remember how or when he learned it, he just knows that he knows it and it works! When he’s confused in a new environment or dealing with a new person, he will rely on his previously learned skills (like sitting for attention or food) rather than reverting to more instinctual responses like jumping or mouthing.

Early conditioning can nip unwanted behaviors in the bud before they ever truly form. You will have a well-behaved pup from infancy into adulthood, with much less effort than later-life training requires. So, get to training early and watch your pup mature and learn faster than you thought possible!

Bonus: Did you know that early puppyhood training can help develop a larger and more active brain in dogs? It’s true! Work that brain muscle young, and you’ll see that your dog can develop above average intelligence and problem-solving skills. He will also be more in-tune to human cues and verbal language.