I have a two month old Border Collie and I was wondering when the best time to start obedience training him would be, in terms of age? He is so little and young that I feel that he would not be able to concentrate for very long or physically do any training at this stage. He is a smart fellow though so I think he would really enjoy doing something, but what should I be doing with him?
Hi Mia. In the ‘old days’ it was thought that obedience training should not start until the puppy is six months old. There were two reasons for this, first, training done back then was quite regimented and consisted of lots and lots of boring drill work, much like the army. A young puppy would simply not been able to perform in this situation. Second, young pups did not have the sturdiness to cope with the physical corrections that were dished out. Most professionals have come a long way since then and we are now able to see the benefits of motivational training, the main one being, we can start obedience training our puppies as soon as we bring them home.
You are right, your puppy is still very young and his concentration span will be limited, but as long as you make your training sessions fun, short and frequent he will be doing all of the basics in a matter of days or weeks. Then, all you need to do is increase distractions as he gets better and better at each skill.
Mia, the first step in your training will be to develop a bond between you and your puppy. This is never mentioned in any training manuals, but is probably the biggest factor in developing a good partnership. Training is all about team work, you and your puppy are partners, you have to work well together to achieve good outcomes. You can only work well together by developing a strong bond.
What is the best way to develop a bond? Play, play, play and then play some more, puppies love games. Any games that you both enjoy will be fine, chase, tug, fetch, hide and seek, all of these are great building blocks for obedience skills. Do not take things too seriously at this stage, just enjoy one another, laugh, and get your puppy’s tail wagging. If you put too much pressure on your puppy, training will become a bore and you will have a very stale dog on your hands in 12 months time.
Puppies love to play, use the many play times they have throughout the day to incorporate skills like ‘come’, ‘watch me’ and ‘heel’. I call these my Big Three, these are the skills you have to teach first. Yes, your puppy will be able to do these exercises for you for short stints. If you reinforce these behaviours with food and play you will make training so much fun that your puppy will have the drive to be with you, and to train through any distraction (eventually).
Enjoy your puppy, find a good trainer who can show you how to shape the skills you want using games and food. Take things slowly and do them properly from the start.