When Should I Begin Dog Training?

We all worry about trying to do too much too soon with the puppy we bring home. Likewise, there's a worry of trying to unsuccessfully train a dog at an older age. Some of the more common questions that I get are, "At what age should I begin training my puppy?", and "Is my dog too old to train?" Let's start with the first question.

At what age should I begin training my puppy? Regardless of your puppy's age, you can begin training. As soon as I bring a puppy home, I immediately begin working on crate and potty training. These are both areas that you want your dog well versed in for its entire life. The earlier you start this, the easier both you and your puppy's lives will be. *For information on how to crate and potty train your puppy click here.

Is my dog too old to train? I'm sure you've heard that saying, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks." This is a myth. In fact, it's actually an excuse. It doesn't matter how old your dog is, it is capable of learning. We have worked with several dogs 6 years and older, the oldest being 13 years old. This old guy came to me a year ago with separation anxiety and dog aggression. With his owner's help through continued training and support, even at 14, he continues to improve. He is now trustworthy to enough that his owner can tell him "no" when he looks at another dog and he completely ignores it. His separation anxiety has also improved drastically. No more drooling and no more trying tearing up crate trays.

Here's the truth behind dog ownership and training. As long as you are interacting with your dog, you are training. In all the things you require from your dog, allow your dog to do, and refuse your dog to do, your dog is learning.

Our programs are set up to help you with your beginning at 12 weeks old with no maximum age. Click here for more information about each of our training programs.

Coco’s Story

Little Coco has an interesting story. She came to me back in May of 2020. Her owner was having health problems, and Coco was being very aggressive with one of the other dogs in her family. In addition, Coco has some serious anxiety and fear of people. In her early years, she had been used for breeding and was kept in a crate/kennel her whole life without any real socialization. So right out of the gate, we’re dealing with fear and dog aggression towards a specific dog.

Before coming to me, the owners had tried rehoming her with somebody else. During her short stay with this person, something had caused her to become afraid when he took her out to potty. He had been warned not to pick Coco up, but felt that was the best method to getting her back into the house. In response, Coco attacked his hand and messed it pretty bad. She ran away, but stayed close as food was left out for her. The ‘new owner’ was never able to catch her, so her family came out and was able to spot her, catch, and take her back home. Without many options left to her to family, Coco was surrendered to me.

After three days of having Coco, I took her out on leash for a potty break. We were walking back to the house together, and when I looked down, the leash had slipped off of her collar. (Leash malfunction) At the very same instant that I realized the leash was no longer on her, she did too, and she took off like a shot. She was able to get past the fence and was gone. Despite doing everything we could to find her and lure her back to our property, there was no sign of her – for five months.

Then, in October, Coco’s owners messaged me to let me know that somebody had found her! I was amazed. She had been hanging around a dog boarding facility about 3 miles away from me. They had been feeding her and trying to coax her to come close enough so that they could find who she belonged to, and were unsuccessful. The day she was contacted, Coco had somehow dropped her collar that had her information on it. Her owners picked her up, and decided to try to make things work with her. She was acting like a different dog – a dog with much less anxiety and human fear.

But, four months later, three days ago, Coco was once again surrendered to me. While she has been doing better with her owners as far as the anxiety goes, she was still attacking the other dog. Due to the owner’s health issues, the stress of trying to keep the dogs separated and stopping fights was too much.

I certainly can see a difference in Coco from nine months ago. She is still very nervous and afraid, but she doesn’t give that “I’m going to attack you” vibe that she was communicating before. If she has an opportunity to take off, I know she would, but we are already making much more progress than before. Her rehabilitation is going to be slow. Coco will receive the same obedience training that all dogs do, but with a different approach. She will also be socialized with both dogs and people, and I will be working to help her build some confidence. Stay tuned.

*This video is a kind of ‘before’ look at Coco taken this morning.

Jake’s Story – Day 205

It’s Time. :'( Jake is ready for his forever home. This little guy has wiggled his way into my heart (the challenging ones always do), and I have no doubt that he will find his way into anybody’s heart.

…BUT that’s where the problem lies. Because of his ability to pull at the heart strings with those sweet eyes and warm affection, Jake has been able to also reverse the roles in his relationships so that he is the one leading, and as a leader, Jake is a tyrant. His next owner will need to be a firm leader – one who is very capable of being equally believable in the departments of accountable AND love. One who can set firm rules, give fair corrections, and know when the time is right for affection and play. This owner will need to be balanced in order to allow Jake to continue on in his new balanced behavior.

This boy who came to me attempting to bite me because he didn’t want to work, or because I used the word ‘no’, or because I needed to clip his toe nails, is now responding as a follower. He is happy to work with me. When he is told ‘no’, he now responds by correcting himself. If he feels uncomfortable in a situation, he looks for guidance. The toenail clipping is still a challenge, but he is fine wearing a muzzle when it’s time – and with the muzzle on, even though he is tense, he doesn’t try to bite. (This is a far cry from the guy who had to be put on medication for two days prior to being taken to the vet to have his nails trimmed.)

With all of this in consideration, Jake will not be going to just any home. The person who is interested in adopting Jake will meet both of us, attend two training sessions with me to learn how to be the leader Jake needs, and agree to the protocol I have put into place. This is not a quick process. It will likely take a week or two. In addition to providing owner training, I will also provide an e-collar and prong collar and agree to a three week trial period. As with all the dogs that are rehomed from here, there is a rehoming fee of $150 (this barely covers the cost of the two collars).

We need to find a home for Jake to make room for another rescue. Please share this with somebody you may know who fits the requirements and is looking for a dog that needs a great home.

Faith’s Story

Meet Faith! This sweet girl is the unfortunate/not-so-unfortunate victim of circumstance. Unfortunate because she had to be surrendered by her family due to a military move to Germany. Not-so-unfortunate because I already have a home in mind for her! You will learn more about her new home as her story progresses.

Faith comes to me with some issues – just like the majority of the dogs that go through this program. She has a dominant tendency towards other dogs, and if the dog on the receiving end refuses to play the game, she becomes aggressive. She is timid around men and teenagers, and sometimes that is displayed as aggression as well. Her owners claim that she nips at their faces when she wants to play, she gives them trouble when it’s time to put her collar on her, she jumps on people, steals objects, darts out doors, and jumps on the furniture. As I read this list, I realize that the real thing that needs to be addressed with Faith is her following skills. This girl tries to be the one who makes all the decisions in the household – is this person dangerous? This dog needs to follow my rules. It’s time to play now, and we’re going to play my way. Etc. – Over the next several weeks, Faith will spend a lot of time learning how to be respectful and how to follow the leadership of humans. There will also be quite a bit structure put into her day-to-day life – structure that will prevent her from making all the decisions, and instead teach her what kind of choices she should be making. The hope is that in 6 weeks she will be ready enough for her new home that her owner will be able to continue the work and the good habits she has begun developing.

Jake’s Story – Day 44

While Jake progresses in a lot of areas, he still has is occassional set back. In total, there has been three times that he has tried to bite me. Each time, it was for something he thought I shouldn’t be doing. The first time was before muzzle training and during a walk. We were working on turning at 90 degrees, which includes some prong collar pressure. He didn’t agree with it, so he went after me. The second time was the second time that worked on clipping his toe nails. He wasn’t hurt in the process, but he sure didn’t think I should be holding his paw. The third time was just yesterday. He was working on Place duration, and decided to sneak off several times. Each time, I put him back. The last time, he tried to run into the living the room, and as soon as we got back into the room, he tried to tell me he was not going back to the mat with his teeth. The interesting thing is I’m beginning to notice when he is going to have that kind of a day. He starts his day off with attitude – head down and moving very slowly as if to say, “Make me.”

On a high note, each session in which he has tried to bite me has ended on a note of success for him. After the nail clipping incident, I was able to finish trimming his nails. After the multiple attempts to escape the Place command, he finished his hour long duration. It also seems that each fit-throwing escapade is shorter lived.

While I haven’t been progressing with Jake as quickly as I do most board and train clients, he is making steady progress. He has been moved into the dog room. He is now being socialized with certain dogs. And he is beginning to spend more and more time out of the crate since I am able to hold him accountable to obey. I am really looking forward to the day that I can say that Jake no longer snaps at anybody.

Jake’s Story – Day 3

Since showing up, we have been unable to get Jake to go potty. The first night/morning here I got up to find poop in his crate after an unsuccessful day of trying to convince him, but even after the accident, he was still refusing to pee at all – not even in his crate. He isn’t the first dog that I’ve run into this problem with, though. So I decided to just wait it out. Most nervous dogs won’t eat for the first day or two (Jake hadn’t eaten either), but the ones who are really wound tightly also refuse to potty. Then, yesterday, Jake had his first Aha! moment. 🙂

I could tell he was finally beginning to feel more comfortable going in and out of the crate. He was more comfortable following me around the yard, and he was even coming to me unprovoked to stand beside me as I waited for him to use the bathroom. Yet, it wasn’t for me that he went to the bathroom. I had Faith (my daughter) take him out for the first time (since he was showing signs of cooperating a bit better). And he finally peed “the longest pee of his life.” (In the words of my daughter. ) When it was time to take him out again, I took a little food with me so that I could reward him if he did it for me. He didn’t, but I offered food anyway, and he finally took some for the first time. (Yay!) NOW I can work with him. 🙂

Dogs that have Jake’s behavior issues are typically dogs that have never had to earn a thing in their life. Call them entitled. This is exactly where Jake comes from. I need to flip that upside down. So instead of getting everything for free, Jake must earn everything. Everything. Food, affection, play time, freedom… Everything. This is how respect is won, trust is built, and guards are let down.

I started with the crate. From day one, Jake has been learning to wait for permission to leave the crate (earning freedom) or to enter the crate (earning comfort). At the door, he is required to wait for permission before either going outside or coming in. And now that he is accepting food (and gobbling it up), he must earn that too. Today he earned food by way of the muzzle. (See the video below.)

This has only been his first Aha! moment. There will be many more. Stay tuned.

Jake’s Story

Meet Jake. His story with me begins with a phone call. His owner called me looking a recommendation. She had this dog that she loves dearly, but in the last 2 1/2 weeks Shadow had bitten people on four different occasions. His growling and biting was enough to cause considerable fear for the 9 year old in the house. The child would just shut herself in her room to avoid him. With this history of biting, his owner knew that a shelter or rescue was very unlikely to take him, and her only other option was to put him down. All she simply wanted was the name of a place that might help her.

Her cries of relief when I told her that I had an open space in my Rehab to Rehome program took me by surprise. After finding my voice (I can’t cry and speak at the same time), I had her fill out a form to get a full list of the things Shadow struggles with. The dog formerly known as Shadow struggles with:

  • food aggression
  • Unprovoked growling and lunging
  • Resource guarding aggression
  • Growling when told “No”
  • Fear of loud noises, sudden movements, vehicles, and raised voices
  • Dog aggression
  • Human Aggression
  • Refusal to obey

Along with a new start, Shadow gets a new name. The transformation I will be working on for Jake will be a more balanced dog. One that is more confident, more willing to cooperate, trusts people enough to follow rather than feeling the need to lead, and thus is more willing to cooperate. Then, I will begin the search for Jake’s new forever home.

Hope – Day 90

Hope has been with us again for another 30 days. Since her return, her kennel time has been spent in seclusion (just like she would be if she were an only dog in the family and the owners had to go to work). For the first week, there was some whining. She was corrected for that. Because the correction came early, it never escalated.

Additionally, Hope has been given quite a bit of freedom and affection just to see how that would affect her behavior when she is alone. Since our concern was separation anxiety, I wanted to give her ample opportunity to show that to us so that we could see what we needed to do to help her. We just have not seen any of the issues that her first trial family claimed to have. I certainly am not suggesting that they made anything up.

What I am thinking may have happened was that they just did not have enough information under their belt to address any issues that arose or recognize the possibility of escalation at the beginning. We met at a half way place (they live in Conway), so there was little time for training and teaching. This will not happen again. Any family that is interested in a Rescue to Rehab dog will have to come to me to pick up the dog and make time for a session. All of this being said, Hope is officially available for adoption again. I still 100% believe that she will be an excellent companion for somebody.

Hope’s Story – Day 60 – The Return

We thought we found a home for Hope. She had gone to a new home, and things were great, until they had to leave her alone for an extended amount of time while they worked. This is when some pretty ugly separation anxiety showed up. It was something I had never witnessed. She dug into the tray in the bottom of her crate, and tore up a little bit of the carpet below it. The following day, her new owners tried leaving her out of the crate. (They really didn’t have much of an option since she had messed the crate up badly enough that the door on it wouldn’t lock.) She took the opportunity to try to dig under the bedroom door, tearing up the carpet in the bedroom and some of the tile from the next room under the door. Of course, they can’t afford to the damage she may cause to the apartment, so she has come back to me.

So now I focus on Hope spending time alone. Separation anxiety happens when dogs rely on somebody or something else to help them cope with their insecurities. The reason I had never witnessed this is, because she stayed in the dog room with other dogs when she wasn’t in training or spending time with the family. When she wasn’t with us, she was able to rely on the other dogs. For the next few weeks, Hope will be spending increasingly more time alone in my office learning how to self-soothe. As soon as she masters that, we will begin the search for her forever home again.

Hope’s Story – Day 17

We are fast approaching the end of the honeymoon period. After two weeks of watching me, and learning that there is structure and rules, Hope is now testing the boundaries of those. It is only natural that any dog, any child, any person would do the same at some point of being in any situation – and it’s a good thing.

I do not want a dog that is so fearful that it never learns what is the wrong thing to do. If a dog only learns what is right, it can never learn what discipline means or how to respond to that discipline. It’s something a dog must learn. When this testing is done in a controlled environment, it can be fair and consistent.

By testing structures and rules, Hope is also testing my leadership skills. Am I somebody she can trust to follow? She has watched as I have shown leadership to the other dogs she comes into contact with. She has witnessed my protection of her as I have demanded that the other dogs treat her fairly, and that they don’t push her beyond what she is comfortable with. She has also seen my loving and playful side. What she hasn’t seen yet is my punitive side. This is just beginning.

It is important to also be fair with discipline. When it comes to following a command, are you punishing for something the dog has not yet learned? This is why I say seeing my punitive side is something that is just now beginning. I want to make sure she has practiced each and every command hundreds of times and completely understands each one before punishing for noncompliance. (What if her noncompliance is actually confusion?) As we come to the end of learning each command, the corrections she receives are very light, and she is guided back to compliance so that she equates the proper response to obedience. Once the teaching period is over, her corrections will be stronger – what she needs so that repeated offences are extremely few.

By providing this type of structure, Hope will understand that there is a clear difference between yes and no. That clarity is something she can depend on – something a good leader provides.