“One Doggie Step at a Time: Importance of Developmental Based Dog Training” was first published in the Santa Monica Spotlight, October 2020 edition.
Dogs are social by nature, and their physiological health plays an important role in shaping their behavior. By understanding the social and emotional development of dogs, we can set appropriate training goals and give dogs a holistic training experience. The ultimate goal is to have a well-adjusted and confident dog.
There are four developmental periods to consider when training dogs. For each stage, you’ll learn about what to expect, the training focus, and recommendations.
Socialization Period: 8 to 12 weeks
During the socialization period, your dog’s experiences (or lack of) have a significant impact on your dog’s future behavior. This period is sometimes referred to as the “Fear Impact Period” because many of your dog’s associations are formed during this time frame.
Dog developmental training at this age should focus on socialization, exposure, setting boundaries, and play.
To get started, let your puppy explore their world and follow the Four S’s of Socialization: Site, Sounds, Smells and Surfaces. The more your puppy is exposed to, the less reactive they will be as an adult.
Puppies can also safely be socialized in puppy groups or at trainer-led puppy socialization and training programs.
Establishing Hierarchy: 4-6 months
Your dog is testing their dominance and undergoing changes in social preferences and habits.
Training is focused on basic obedience, leash walking and learning manners (how to behave in the human world).
Daycare and dog parks are not recommended for this age group. Puppies are immediately put at a disadvantage in larger groups because they don’t have a strong understanding of social cues. In addition, puppies can learn inappropriate behaviors from adult dogs.
Instead, look for puppy play groups, age appropriate training programs, and continue to use the four S’s of socialization at home.
Adolescence: 6-12 months
Your dog has entered adolescence and is testing boundaries. Your dog will also have grown into their adult personality. Training should focus on reinforcing boundaries, higher intensity exercise, and obedience training.
This is the time to get started with an obedience program which will help reinforce good behavior. At home, maintain boundaries and be consistent. Focus on reinforcing good behavior and ignoring bad behavior.
In addition, dogs at this age have more energy and need higher intensity exercise than they did previously. Since most dogs’ growth plates are fully formed by six months of age, it’s safe to get your dog started in outdoor activities (like hiking or running) and dog sports (like scent works). This will keep them mentally engaged as well. Remember, bored dogs are destructive dogs.
Social maturity: 1-2 years
Your dog has reached adulthood. During this time, your dog may re-test their status within the social hierarchy.
By focusing on your dog’s social and emotional development, you’ll achieve the best training results. Plus, you’ll have a happier dog and a better life with your dog.