Canine Learning Center, Inc.
The Importance of Early Training

                The Importance of Early Training

 by Leah Spitzer

Many new puppy owners do not see the need for puppy classes.  As I talk to potential clients on the phone, I find that there is a common misconception that puppies will "outgrow" chewing, biting and housebreaking.  There is a belief, even if it’s not verbalized, that all the puppy needs is to grow up. 

Veterinarians and trainers know that  puppies do NOT grow out of biting, chewing and housebreaking.  They need to be redirected and trained.  They need socialization during their critical developmental periods and they need direction and guidance before bad habits become ingrained.   

In this economy, that's a tough sell.  Shortly after 9/11, dog trainers all over the country saw our businesses drop as dog owners tried to economize on canine expenses.  Reports indicated an increase in puppy purchases, but class enrollment  dropped substantially.  This frightened me for more than the obvious reasons.  It frightened me because I knew that I’d be seeing those dogs 2 years down the road in a different capacity.  I’d be seeing them for serious behavior problems such as fear and aggression.  Sadly, my concerns have been realized.  I now receive almost as many calls for behavior problems as I do for classes.  I sometimes have a long waiting list for dogs with behavior problems.  

I spoke with a woman just the other day.  She has a 6 month old Doberman who is “not a bad dog, he’s just being a puppy.”  

“What’s he doing?” I asked.   

“Well, he’s really a good dog, he’s just a puppy.  But he is jumping up at me and biting my arms.  He’s also chewing. He’s just being a puppy.  I’m sure he’ll grow out of it”.   

I began to try to help her understand.  “Well,” I said, “Dogs don’t really grow out of those behaviors. My 10 year old dog still chews.”  

The caller interrupted me, “What? You’re kidding!” 

"Not at all,” I said, “It’s just that now she knows what she is allowed to chew.  I had to teach her that.  I had to teach her that she couldn’t chew my shoes, but she could chew her rope toy or her bone.  She doesn’t learn that with maturity.  It has to be taught.”

There’s a difference between maturity and training.  Training guides the dog.  Training teaches the dog to greet people without jumping, to respect the owner and not bite and to chew only items that are permitted.  Maturity simply exaggerates whatever behaviors the dog had as a puppy.  If the maturity follows training, you have a calm, in-control dog that respects you, your family and your home. If maturity does not have a solid foundation of training and boundaries, then maturity will develop a dog that thinks he has the right to body slam you and bruise you, to bite you when you are in the way and to destroy your house.  You have a dog that feels he has the right to defend your house without your approval - even against your friends.  You have a dog that feels he has the right to discipline your children and your children’s friends.     

But let's get back to my caller.  Still having trouble making my point, I tried the hard and fast wake-up call. 

“It is always better to bring a dog through training.  Dogs are creatures of habits.  If you allow them to develop bad habits, those habits will become exaggerated as the dog grows and matures. Biting will become harder, jumping stronger and the chewed shoe will become the chewed couch.” 

Interrupting again, the caller said, “How’d you know about the couch?”    

I smiled, though she couldn’t see it. “I’ve been doing this a long time.  I see the patterns and I know what’s next.  Basically, you have two choices.  You can bring your dog to classes now and make the six week commitment to turn him into a dog you can enjoy, or you can wait for his bad habits to become unbearable habits and call me a year down the road when he’s become a danger to himself and others.  Sadly, that becomes expensive.  Fixing serious behavior problems can cost hundreds of dollars and sometimes, the best we can do is minimize the problems and learn how to control them.  Once certain behavior problems are ingrained, they can be hard to extinguish completely.” 

In this economy with all of us trying to count every penny, doesn’t it make more sense to invest a small amount of time and money now rather than a large amount of time and money later?   


copyright June 2003 by Leah Spitzer permission to reprint with appropriate credits

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