How long does it take to train your puppy?

Author: Alexander Gonta

Many people have asked me: “how long does it take to train a puppy from scratch”?
In dog training and puppy training, whether at the pet level or competition level , this question often comes along.

    To which I usually reply with some follow up question to the person asking the question:

  • a) What do you mean “train” a puppy. Do you mean house-braking a puppy?
  • b) Do you mean good manners, such as not jumping up on people, or not stealing food from a table?
  • c) Do you mean obedience commands? Or do you mean competitive obedience or IPO level of training?

So some basic understanding comes into play. First, it is understood that the puppy has learned the meaning of the word “no”. He also must learn confinement, such as a puppy crate. You also must teach the puppy impulse control. All these things are tied done above and beyond obedience training. He must also bond closely with his handler, and be shown love and affection, because that’s where it all starts.

So my answer is usually broken down into explaining the training process, and what’s involved in looking for in a good trainer. I also have hyperlinks to training videos I recommend. I also have a link to my page where i recommend certain professional trainers.

In order to understand dog training you must first understand training is a gradual process. The first phase is to build a verbal association between the verbal command, or hand signal and the behavior you want shown. This means short training sessions, many times per day, rather than one long training session, once a day. Puppies simply don’t have the attention span to do that. The next phase is to add distractions to the command learned earlier, and later add duration, and finally, you need to proof the behavior, so it can be done at any time, in any location, and at any time. You must be in a position to enforce the command, not request the command, at this stage of training

So first and foremost, what do I recommend in a good trainer?

We strongly recommend that you look for a trainer who will give individual attention to your puppy: Private Lessons. We also strongly recommend against puppy group classes, although they are much cheaper, they offer you very little training in a distraction proof environment and a young puppy would be too busy trying to play with the other pups in the form of play-time, to be focused on your enough to learn anything.

You as the handler, the leader, must be the one that is trained, in order to bring out the best in your puppy. So dog training is more about coaching the owner, than in coaching the animal! You must also understand that there are different methods of training. Some old school methods involve the William Koehler method, a method used from the 1930’s until the 1980’s that uses correction based approach and uses averse methods. The newer methods of training use pure positive methods, sometimes called “clicker training’, but more correctly called “marker training”. There is yet a third method of training called “balanced training’. This method combines the food and toy reward methods of clicker training, but also uses corrections, once the exercises have been fully mastered and understood by the dog. In other words, it uses both positive and negative re-enforcement combined, as a way to achieve results, but only much later in the training process, and when age appropriate.

The first thing I would do is Avoid the Old School trainers that use excessive force, which is also called the Koehler method, or the more humane, but still correction based Winifred Strickland’s method. Koehler’s method went out in the 1930’s and Strickland’s method went out in the 1960’s but you’d be surprised how many dogs were trained with these methods.

I am also keenly aware when I hear that more and more trainers are using the E-Collar on puppies. It is so much Quicker to shock your puppy into submission vs taking the time to build a strong lasting bond using proven techniques. To some of them time is money and the end seems to justify the means. Any trainer that wants to train the shortest amount of time, and promises full off leash obedience in 2 weeks will definitely use the E-collar. I also would recommend against a trainer that wants to do a board-and-train for a very young puppy to get a certain result in a certain amount of time. Would you send a 2 year old child to a school far from its parents, where you don’t see how things are done and why they were done?

Remember that the German Shepherd is a strong Breed and requires an experienced Handler to bring out the Best in your puppy. Ask the trainer what techniques and tools he uses for training. You want to use the appropriate training tools for your puppy and his goal needs to be bringing out the best in your puppy. Keeping these sessions short and fun will encourage the puppy to want o learn. Remember, even a 12 month old dog is still a big puppy!

Anyone that strictly uses compulsion based techniques i would steer clear of. That is not to say compulsion has no role in dog training! But not for a young puppy who you are trying to bond with. Remember, you are not there for 1 hour per session, or 2 hours per session. Some people may drive 2 hours to go to an IPO trainer, and the dog might only be able to do only 15 minutes of training that day, because it either lacks good attention span, or it lacks enough engagement at the early stages of training. I would ask the trainer “how long does a training session last?” The correct answer should be something along the lines: “Enough time for you as the owner to get the idea, but not too long, so we can end the training session on a happy note, and not the puppy being tired or exhausted.”

What type of trainer would I recommend as a breeder? I think that the initial training should be done with pure positive methods only. What kind of training certification should you be looking for? I recommend some trainers on this website that have no special certification and I worked with them personally, so I know their training methods and I know their training style. However, you may be reading this blog article in a different part of the country and are using it for guidance. So you need to find a trainer in your local area that adheres to some sort of standards. There is no formal certification for dog trainers. There are 3 certifications that have existed since 2016, and these are: the CTC, the KPA CTP and the VSA-DT

The CTC is an advanced, two-year program from the Academy for Dog Trainers, which covers both dog training and behavior. The Academy is known as “the Harvard of Dog Training” and is run by world-renowned dog trainer Jean Donaldson. You can find an Academy dog trainer here.

KPA CTP means that someone has taken the Karen Pryor Academy Dog Trainer Professional program. This is a six-month program and you can find graduates here.

VSA-DT means that someone has graduated from the Victoria Stilwell Academy Dog Training program. This is a six-month program and you can find graduates here.

Question the trainer on how long each training session is. The Proper response should be that we keep the sessions up beat and we will end each session on a positive note! Every puppy is different some might have a fairly short attention span; After 1 minute they lose interest, while others can go five minutes or longer and still be upbeat! Remember, a good trainer is a coach..and he’s there to train you, the owner, more than he is there to train the dog! Training a puppy is done in stages. I describe the process on a 2 month to 18 month timeline

Stage I: Is building engagement and focus. (Good video: Mark Keating video

Stage II: Shaping commands of sit, come and down via luring and marker training. Good video: Engagement DVD

Stage III: Generalization: taking the commands learned in distraction free environment and now adding distractions, noises and people and getting the commands still done.

Stage IV: Proofing. Here is where you add distance and corrections for non compliance of commands already fully learned and repeated for months. The above stages are done from 2 months to 8 months and done with purely positive training using food and toy rewards. The proofing phase, is stage is from 8 months to 12 months, depending on the dog. You layer in corrections, but you still keep the training 99% positive. This is where we switch from pure positive training, to “balanced” training, which uses a combination of positive and negative a layered and logical approach.

Stage V: Completely off leash. Advanced obedience.

This process is done over 12 to 18 months of time, to get a competition dog, so I’ll only focus on Stage I: here, to get you the main idea, and I’ll post links to training videos.

Remember, the goal is designed to develop a confident and strong dog that approaches all situations with a successful attitude and not to teach the dog just the trial exercises.

1. Start with focus. Never try to train an unfocused dog! Focus is a large part of Schutzhund, competitive obedience, and all other forms of training, and is closely linked with engagement. Doing focus work and focus games help lay the foundation for the stages of engagement. In focus work, the dog learns that turning his attention to you is highly rewarding and enjoyable. This is explained on this page: Engagemement in Trainining

2. Learn luring, marking and shaping. These techniques are explained in these videos:

How to train your new dog

Marker Training: a Reward Based System

How to use Food as a training system? and How to use Toys as a training system? and how to use Platforms as a training system?

We have listed on our page some trainers we recommend. You can find this information toward the bottom of this page.

I urge you to read as many articles as available on the web, watch youtube videos, but your goal should always be the same. The puppy will respond to YOUR LEADERSHIP and Energy. Your puppy will very quickly consider himself part of your family. He wants to be with his people, not strangers. I hope you find this information useful.

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