Dogcharmer: Truffle the schipperke

You’re already training your puppy; might as well make it official.

Puppies like Truffle are ready for training as soon as they make eye contact after birth. — Courtesy Tom Shelby

Dear Dogcharmer,

At what age should Truffle start obedience training? Thanks!  

Paul and Jared  

Dear Paul and Jared, 

In the 1960s, many thought the optimal time to start obedience training was when the dog was no longer a puppy, and considered old enough to retain commands. Well, even though I often refer to young puppies as “egg for brains,” the reality is training begins as soon as they can see, hear, and walk. In the old days, and more often than not today, initial training consists of redirecting already established bad habits and unwanted behaviors into desired responses.

Even if the puppy takes out the garbage and loads the dishwasher, it’s no good if it is still peeing or pooping in the house. Dogs have a natural “den instinct,” the desire to keep their den clean. So the very first thing is enhancing and enlarging the dog’s “den instinct” from the crate to your domicile. (The expression “dirty dog” comes from the dog that will lie in its own excrement and not care.) Many years ago I was introduced to an 11-month-old Rottweiler whose body was covered in dried poop from lying in it in his crate. Took a while till I could cuddle with him. (Suggest you read the housebreaking section in my book, “Dog Training Diaries”). 

Now, for all the basics, which mainly consist of preventing unwanted behaviors from developing by creating the responses you want to become habitual. (It’s easier to prevent than to correct). Teach him to sit by saying the word as you bring a treat over his head and back, and the moment his butt hits the floor, he sees your smile as he gets the treat. Once that’s established, call him to come multiple times in the course of the day, having him sit the moment he arrives, followed by the treat. When he jumps up on your leg, turn away from him as you shrug him off; smile when he has four feet back on the floor. He’ll get the idea when you’re happy and when you’re not. I’m a very strong advocate for the term that I’ve coined, the “Dog God” concept. If he starts chewing on a chair leg and you tell him “Uh-uh”, he may learn that he can’t chew that in your presence, but if you’re not looking or not around, it’s fair game. The “Dog God” sees all, all the time, and doesn’t like it when the chair leg is being accosted! With most young pups a startling sound can be quite effective. Were you to surreptitiously shake an empty soda can with a dozen pennies in it just as his teeth touched the chair leg, he’d probably jump back in startlement, but he’d relate the negativity to chewing the leg — has nothing to do with you, as you’re smiling at him with the can hidden by you. The Dog God has spoken! 

So when does training start? The moment you set eyes upon each other. 

Congrats on your new family member, and best of luck! 

The Dogcharmer

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