Dear Uncle Matty: My puppy is almost 6 months old, and I'm wondering how old she should be before we start training. My neighbor said not to worry because you can train a dog anytime and dogs learn best when they are a little older, at least a year. The problem is that I don't know what to do about the fact that Hildi won't come when I call her, and I can't walk her on a leash anymore because she drags me around. She is an Akita and quite a handful. — B.G., Denver
Dear B.G.: This is about the time all those holiday puppy parents start crying for help. The ideal time to start training a puppy is when it is from 7 to 10 weeks of age — before those little problems turn into big, bad habits. The sooner, the better.
Of course, you can't take your dog to puppy classes or other doggie socials until all her shots have been completed, so your options are a personal, well-qualified trainer who will work with you and your dog at your home, or following a video or comprehensive book and teaching your dog yourself. The self-training option is appropriate if you are consistent and committed and work with the right material. The results are better with one-on-one training because each dog is unique, and you learn to work with your dog based on its temperament.
What does early puppy education accomplish? It aids the bonding process between you and your new best friend. Communication is established, so you and your dog understand each other.
Have you ever heard someone say, "My dog doesn't listen to me. I say, 'Come here,' and he ignores me"? That's a dead giveaway that the dog and owner are not communicating. The poor pooch hasn't got a clue about what his owner is expecting. Then, the owner shouts at the dog, and the problem is compounded. The dog is now fearful and still doesn't get the message. The owner is frustrated, and life is chaotic.
Puppy training is cost-effective. Your dog learns how to behave and what is acceptable. When puppy starts chewing a no-no, you can say, "No," and she will understand.
Dog training during the first year can also put a stop to a host of aggressive behaviors before they become too serious. For example, puppy nipping can turn into problem behavior without modification. If you think there is an aggression problem, consult a professional, experienced dog trainer.
A well-trained dog can also be kept out of harm's way. Training is truly a lifesaver.
Start training right away, and take heart in the fact that you don't have to live with the crazies! It's all about being a responsible doggie parent who understands the importance of puppy training and the benefits.
Dog trainer Matthew "Uncle Matty" Margolis is co-author of 18 books about dogs, a behaviorist, a popular radio and television guest and host of the PBS series "WOOF! It's a Dog's Life!" Read Uncle Matty's columns at the Creators Syndicate Web site at www.creators.com and visit him at www.unclematty.com. Send your questions to dearunclemattyunclematty.com, or mail your questions to him at P.O. Box 3300, Diamond Springs, CA 95619; © Creators Syndicate