Dog on the Couch

2016-02-18 06:00

Hello Susan,

I HAVE a six-week-old Rottweiler. When is it safe to start training and how do I know how to choose a good trainer for my dog?



Training should begin as early as possible in order to take advantage of the optimum learning window in the dog’s life which is about four months. Some people are concerned about starting puppy training before the three necessary inoculations are completed and effective. However, the downside of this delay is that the critical learning and socialising period will be over before training begins, potentially resulting in an anti-social or even dangerously aggressive adult dog.

There is wide consensus among vets that the risk of dogs being given up and euthanised due to the inset of difficult aggressive behaviour is far greater than the risk of their contracting a disease at a good puppy school. A precaution could be to start training a week after the first vaccination, which is done when the puppy is six weeks old.

This will make the youngest safe age seven weeks, which will incorporate much of the learning window, but ensure that the training facility is strict on proof of vaccination. Only healthy, vaccinated puppies are allowed in the training area so the area is free of infectious disease, and that it is not open to unknown dogs.

Make sure your trainer asks for vaccination history and requires that you cancel an appointment if the puppy appears at unwell.

My answer to the question of choosing a trainer is that the most important attribute is empathy because it is this that enables the trainer to identify a problem from another’s different perspective and to avoid treating the dog as an assembly-line product. It is also important that the trainer takes note of the human and canine family situation in which the dog will live, and recognises problems that may link to relationships at home.

The trainer should ideally be experienced and be up to date with psychology and dog science and be willing to discard outdated training practices that proliferated in the past. I would strongly advise the avoidance of choke chains, shock collars or other means of force-training. The trainer should be willing to explain and answer questions relating to the methods they employ. One hopes that a dog is taken in mainly as a companion.

In order to form a good relationship with the dog, it is important that good foundations are laid as a first step in the training.

My experience with problem dogs makes me advise strongly that you avoid trainers who use aversive methods. It is unfortunately not common knowledge that when an animal is stressed by the use of harsh techniques, the learning part of the brain shuts off and the amygdala takes over in order to prepare for fight, flight or freeze.

Other than a failure of the human-dog relationship, nothing can be gained when thinking stops and panic takes its place.

Susan Henderson© - accredited animal behaviour consultant - info

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