The Right Age for Training

Puppies who have yet to leave their moms and litter mates are capable of learning.  That young, they respond to and interact with humans.  Through puppyhood, adolescence, and into adulthood, a dog’s capacity to learn changes with maturity and life experience.  The dog’s temperament impacts his capacity to learn, too.  When introduced to training at an early age, dogs learn how to learn, and training is increasingly effective.


Puppy brains are “half-baked”.  Their thresholds are super low, and they can maintain focus on a task for very short periods of time.  Let your puppy show you what he enjoys playing with and take it from there.  If he doesn’t fetch or like a certain toy today, try again in a week or two. 

Start with a program to help your puppy develop a preference for eliminating outdoors.  Unlike play, don’t rely on your puppy to “tell” you when he needs to eliminate.  Housetraining is too important for guesswork.  You need a plan.    

Most puppies easily offer to sit.  Shaping is the best way to train it in.  When your puppy offers to sit, mark the behavior, and reinforce it.  With increased frequency, you can begin to ask him to sit on cue.  Puppies are capable of learning other basic cues, such as lie down, come here, and wait.  Encouraging a puppy to walk beside you is fundamental to building leash walking skills.


Adolescence begins at around seven months of age and lasts almost until adulthood (2-3 years).  Behaviors change as does the dog’s perception of many elements in the world around him.  These changes puzzle (and frustrate) many dog owners.

This period can feel like a regression in training.  Think of it as a refresher with new criteria.  This is a time to teach more challenging focus and impulse control cues, such as stay.  Build recalls with increased distance and distractions.  Observing your dog’s responses and reactions to stimuli play an important part in training success during this phase.  Always work gradually using your dog’s duration, distance, and intensity thresholds as guides.

Adolescents spend most waking hours in a “seeking” mode.  Provide appropriate outlets, including play and cognitive games.


Who says that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?  You can, indeed!  The brain is plastic throughout life.  For sure, one should expect that it takes longer to change established behavior patterns. Anyone who wants to change the dog’s behaviors must be willing to change their own routines and responses, too.

The good news:  adult dogs have maturity and focus, and they enjoy a positive reinforcement training program and respond well.  Consistency is important; it’s very easy to revert to old ways.  Many training programs that start in adulthood are designed to address a conditioned emotional response that is driving undesirable behaviors.  Those training programs are more complex than the basics.   

Copyright © Kimberly B. Mandel   CPDT-KA, 2019 all rights reserved

Kimberly Mandel Canine Behavior and Training LLC