Here's what you should know about training puppies. You can never start too young. There's this myth that is still making its rounds among dog owners and even dog trainers. "You should wait till the puppy is a little older before you start training it", "Let him be a puppy", "What could he possibly learn?"
These innocent comments lead you to believe that you have time on your side but what people don't realize is that dogs develop very quickly, they grow up fast unlike children. Before you know it, the puppy is 3 to 4 times as big and weighs 3 to 4 times as much, not to mention the learning history that is taking place in puppyhood can make or break its home manners when they get older.
WHY DID THE MYTH START IN THE FIRST PLACE?
As stated in the video above, it's because dog training decades ago, and even in some instances to this day, involve the use of corrections as a primary way of learning. Many prominent trainers decades ago would suggest waiting till the puppy was at least 6 months of age before training started. Naturally, it makes sense that if training is based on Negative Reinforcement and Positive Punishment, you would have to wait till the dog was a little bit older for the sake of its wind pipe. This is not to say that dog trainers who suggested this were cruel people who hated animals, it's just that it was the norm as a general rule. As an industry, we have evolved and it's now common knowledge that we should start training a puppy ASAP.
Below is a list of things you can do with a puppy as young as 7 weeks of age (This is typically the age many puppies get ready to go to their new homes):
*Target Training (Foot and nose target)
*Puppy Manners (polite greeting)
If you're a dog trainer, remember that is is something you can offer prospect clients, unless you don't like puppies that is. Some dog trainers I know even charge more for training puppies because they're actually more work to train, particularly in the potty training and crate training department!
I am genuinely interested in making you a better dog trainer, owner or handler. When I asked which topic you, the audience, were interested in learning more about, I took it as a personal assignment to point you in the right direction. So without further ado, here's the topic that consistently came up: HOW TO INCREASE DRIVE
WHAT IS DRIVE?
First, let's get on the same page. Drive is a strong desire to satisfy a "need". Genetics and breed tendencies play a huge role on "drive". This doesn't necessarily mean all German Shepherds want to be police dogs, all Labrador Retrievers want to retrieve, or all "add breed" want to "add stereotypical activity". It does however mean that the individual itself, many times regardless of breed, may have a specific urge that compels it to engage in a certain activity due to its particular genetic envelope.
Let's say for example that "Fido" loves to chase balls and play with tugs. Now let's think of another dog; let's call him "Sparky", and let's say Sparky has NO interest in chasing balls or playing with tugs. We now have two different dogs with different interests. Maybe Sparky happens to be really social and loves human contact. Fido might also love human contact, but Fido might be the type of dog that will chase a ball off a cliff. We can now say that Fido has a lot of drive, while Sparky has very little or no drive, at least as far as toys are concerned.
Can we increase Sparky's toy drive?
ONLY AS FAR AS HIS GENETICS WILL ALLOW.
If you're Sparky's owner and suddenly realized you wanted him to be police dog, a retriever, or anything that would require some type of prey drive, you may be gravely disappointed. Of course this doesn't mean you can't do some sort of activity with him. Maybe you can elicit enough drive to get him to enjoy chasing the ball a few times, maybe do some agility even, but to expect Sparky to do what comes more natural to Fido, would be unreasonable.
DRIVES PEOPLE NORMALLY WANT TO INCREASE:
When it comes to increasing drive, trainers and dog owners typically are concerned with a few things: Food, Toy, and Human Contact(engagement)
Every time this has come up on my feed, or in a conversation, these are the types of drives dog people are normally interested in increasing.
HOW TO ACTUALLY INCREASE DRIVE!
OK, I wont keep you waiting. Here's the "secret": ESTABLISHING OPERATIONS
These are events that alter the value of a reinforcement. This is how you can increase and decrease drive. Chances are, you're probably more interested in INCREASING drive however. There are two events that hugely alter the value of a reward that many people aren't aware of. Deprivation and Satiation.
Here's how people normally mess this up by accident. They have their dog surrounded by toys all day long, their dog has a toy in the crate, a toy for the bed, a toy for outside and a box of toys in case the dog wants something different. If you have the type of dog that is insanely driven, you probably wont have a problem, but if you have a dog that has a low to moderate level of drive that fluctuates from time to time, this can affect you immensely!
Here's something else people do, their dogs eat 3 meals per day: huge meals, or worse, they are free-fed; so the dog is constantly eating at its own leisure and probably getting treats on top of that. Then the owner/trainer wonders why the dog doesn't want to take treats during training.
Here's yet another example. You might actually be pretty good with the management of treats and toys because, well, you know better! You're not like those people who don't understand dog training! You're much more sophisticated than that and your dog has great genetics and comes from great bloodlines! You are more interested in learning how your dog could be more interested in you. Here's what people accidentally do: They sleep with the dog, they go with the dog everywhere, they watch TV with the dog, they take naps with the dog, they go hiking with the dog, etc. etc. Are you getting the picture?
In all of the examples above, your dog is getting satiated, so the reward isn't as valuable as you'd like it to be. One thing I ask every class I teach is this: How many of you like chocolate cake? A good handful of students will raise their hands. My next question is "Would you still like chocolate cake if you got to eat it every day, 3 times per day?" That's about when I get the look that tells me they're starting to understand.
DEPRIVATION is the key to increasing drive!
"But that is so mean! I don't want to starve my dog"
Starving is not what I'm suggesting. Deprivation, in terms of Establishing Operations simply mean that you back off a little. If there's an area of dog training you want to increase a certain drive for, deprivation simply implies that you withhold a certain reward(activity) enough to make the dog more eager to engage in said reward (activity). This works with people as well.
Don't you notice that when a certain relative, friend or loved one eventually get on your nerves and you even get a bit tired of them when you see them all the time? I'm sure you've heard of the term "Distance makes the heart grow fonder". I'm sure you have; because when these relatives, friends or loved ones are gone for a period of time, you miss them and can't wait to see them! It's the same with a lot of things.
If you've worked with high drive dogs enough, you've probably noticed that when one of these high drive dogs gets injured and they have to rest so they can recover, they come back to the activity with a high level of intensity!
So in conclusion, here's what you wanna do. If you want to increase food drive, feed during training or feed before a meal, not after.
If you want to increase toy drive, limit play time or toys to training sessions primarily.
If you want to increase engagement with you while you train, maybe decrease cuddle time during the day and make your dog earn some of the affection. Crating your dog and letting it spend time by itself can be a huge help as well.