Everyone knows the familiar phrase "You can't teach an old dog new tricks." It's not true of course, but what about the opposite? Can you teach a very young dog new tricks? It depends on what you are attempting to teach as well as the intelligence of the dog.
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Very young puppies are unable to hold their urine more than three hours. The general rule of thumb is that a puppy can hold his bladder approximately one hour for each month of age. To housebreak a 6-week-old puppy, you should be taking him out every hour or so. This will help your puppy to get the idea. But don't expect him to be reliably housebroken at this age. If you are not home to take him out, or lapse in taking him out every hour, he may not be able to hold it and have an accident. The puppy is considered house-trained after he has not had an accident in four weeks. Each time the puppy has an accident, the four-week period begins anew. Getting your puppy on a regular feeding schedule will also help, since what goes in, must come out pretty soon afterwards with puppies.
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The best way to train your puppy in basic training is to enroll her in puppy kindergarten classes. However, most puppy kindergarten classes do not allow puppies under the age of 16 weeks to join because that is when they are fully vaccinated against communicable diseases. You can start some pre-kindergarten activities, however, while waiting for your puppy to be old enough to join a class. If your puppy is still with her mother and littermates (and at this age she should be, unless there are extenuating circumstances), encourage your pup to interact with her littermates. This will help you distinguish among their personalities. Toss a small ball and make note of which puppies go after it and which ones hold back. The ones who hold back may learn from the others. Begin early crate training by allowing each puppy to spend an hour or so a day in the crate to prepare them for when they go to various homes and will have to learn to be away from the litter.
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According to Eukanuba, puppies can begin training as early as 7 weeks of age. Six weeks may be a little young for puppies to be able to grasp the idea of training, but so much depends on the intelligence and willingness-to-please of the individual puppy. Try teaching your puppy to sit by incorporating it into play. Hold a treat over his head so that he must lift his face toward the treat, causing his rear-end to naturally sit. When he sits, say "sit" to attach a word to the act, then praise him. You can try this method with "stay" and "down" as well, each time holding the treat and only giving it to the puppy when he completes the act. With "down," hold the treat on the floor and when his tummy touches the floor, say "down" and give the treat. With stay, hold the treat in front of him, say "stay" and then give the treat after a few seconds of his staying still. This lays a foundation for more formal training later.
Short Attention Spans
Puppies have very short attention spans, much like human children. Teach each skill for only a few minutes at a time, several times a day. Try to make it so the puppy cannot fail. For example, if you see your puppy is about to sit anyway, say "sit" and reward her when she does it. If you are teaching her to fetch a ball, throw the ball only a few feet away, and encourage her to run towards it. If she makes a move toward the ball, praise and treat even if she does not pick it up right away. Patience and understanding is the key to training very young puppies. Low expectations help too.
Michelle A. Rivera is the author of many books and articles. She attended the University of Missouri Animal Cruelty School and is certified with the Florida Animal Control Association. She is the executive director of her own nonprofit, Animals 101, Inc. Rivera is an animal-assisted therapist, humane educator, former shelter manager, rescue volunteer coordinator, dog trainer and veterinary technician.