Why teaching sit to your puppy is a waste of time
Getting a new puppy is often a time that’s very exciting. What is your puppy going to learn? What adventures are you going to take them on? What kinds of preferences will they have? The unknowns and newness certainly is thrilling. For training, most owners try teaching sit, or any other number of things, like shake, down, speak, etc. However, when your puppy is young, these skills are wasting valuable time and can actually be working against you when it comes to raising your pup into a confident dog.
What's actually going on
Your puppy, from 8 weeks to 6 months of age, is going through many many developmental stages. They’re learning all about the world, where to focus their energy and attention, what is scary, what is valuable, and of course most importantly, who you are and how you influence their life. Your puppy’s brain is extremely flexible at this age and things that they experience or learn leave a lasting impact that often CANNOT be fully changed or fixed as an adult. The potential of your puppy is set when they are developing in puppyhood, and as they age, habits become stronger and much more difficult to change.
Why is this important?
Your puppy’s entire outlook on the world is being set at this age and this is something to capitalize on. There is no second chance. Once your puppy exits puppyhood, if there are behavioral things going on, like fear, reactivity, over excitement, or inappropriate play, we’re now going to be rehabilitating the dog.
THIS CAN BE PREVENTED. Holding off on the training for basic obedience and instead focusing on life skills, confidence building, and relationship with you is soooo much more valuable to your dog and your life with them than a sit ever will be. After all, a sit doesn’t prevent fear, doesn’t teach your dog how to view the world, and really doesn’t involve any sort of productive interaction with you.
Let me tell you a little secret. Sit, down, stay, tricks, etc, all of these skills can be taught to any dog at any age. Your dog’s world view, how they react to things, how confident they are, these things are very strongly affected by the dog’s age. The older the dog, the harder they are to change, and the level of change that we’re able to make will NEVER be as much as we would be able to make in a puppy.
We want our puppies to view the world as being good. As a challenge they can meet and handle. As a place they can experience WITH us, not something they’re choosing to explore away from us. We want them to feel comfortable enough to just be a dog, not a mess of stress every time they stick their nose out the front door.
Preparation for life
There are a whole slew of skills that get commonly neglected in favor for simple obedience like sit. Impulse control, building confidence, strengthening relationship to you, these are the ones that I see most often fall by the wayside. Owners come to me with puppies that as a result are fearful, shy, uncertain of the world, or puppies that have no idea how to moderate themselves and are hyper to the max. Neither of these pups listen to their owners or have strong connections to them outside of the home. These puppies often get labeled as being stubborn, willful, or unruly, to name a few. There are often problem behaviors happening in the home as well that range from being destructive, having guarding problems, or being overly sensitive to various triggers. Owners can get lulled into thinking it’s phase and because of how heartbreakingly common these problems are many owners think it’s normal and just a part of having a puppy. While it is true that the average owner will experience these things if they aren’t working with a trainer, that absolutely doesn’t have to be your experience at all with your pup. And frankly it’s not doing you any favors if it is.
Things trainers know and skills we focus on
Trainers and owners who have been taught by trainers do not start training obedience in their puppies first at all. Instead we focus on core life skills that the puppy will need to be the best they can be. Confidence is built and protected, because this is the best way to inoculate your dog against fears later in life. We teach the puppies to be resilient, so that if they do experience something scary they are able to bounce back from it. This makes your dog much less likely to have behavioral problems as an adult and truly helps determine what you’ll be able to do with your dog later in life. Your dog’s fear will not restrict you from participating in adventures and traveling, or just having guests over.
Another life skill that we set the stage for is how we want our puppy to view us. Are we just a food dispenser? Is it only important to listen inside the home when we have treats? Are we as important as other dogs or guests? How will we address things that make them uncomfortable? Will we even notice their discomfort and help them deal with it? How predictable are we? Big mistakes can happen here, and often times you’re left with a puppy who you don’t mean too much to unless you’ve got that bag of treats, or are raising your voice at them. Personally neither of those things are how I want my dogs to think of me, and not how I strive to make my relationships with them.
Handling. It’s no secret that a lot of dogs HATE being handled or touched in certain ways. From a health standpoint this can be pretty detrimental. Even something as simple as lackluster tooth hygiene can pretty drastically effect your pet’s life; potentially shortening it by years and leading to painful complications. Poor nail care is another common issue that leads to unnatural joint wear and pain. Being fearful of the vet and uncomfortable being touched by the vet, this is yet another facet of the same issue. All of these problems at the end of the day usually come down to the dog’s discomfort with being handled. Something that would be very simple and easy to teach to a puppy, can now be a mountain to move with an adult dog.
A Backbone of Success
There are several other life skills that trainers teach their puppies, and together these are the backbone of our success with dogs. It’s not a bad thing to teach your puppy obedience or tricks, but it is one of the least important areas to focus on when your puppy is going through their critical stages of growth. It’s ok to not know how to teach you puppy life skills, no one has taught you how yet! Being proactive and taking the first step to getting help can be challenging, but the results you will get with your dog will be well worth it.