In this post we are going to talk about training your six week old puppies. I met with Sean Knudsen of Innovative K9 Academy. He trains dogs in Utah to be able to have off-leash obedience. He knows the importance and influence of breeder puppy training.
If you’d like to watch the interview, you can do so here:
With a very young 6-week old puppy, it is all about socialization, environmental work and building confidence. We want them to be comfortable with all kinds of sights, sounds, colors, textures, people, dogs, everything. We want them to think the world is their oyster. We want them to go explore and check things out.
Most breeds are naturally nervous about new things. This is hereditary from millions of years of evolution. When dogs were wolves they learned that not everything was out to pet them and love them.
So, we have to overcome some of the negativity and bias that most dogs have. We start that when they are puppies. We just want them to have fun, we use dog food and we allow them to explore. This allows us to feel confident when we send our puppies home.
Food is a Tool
One great thing to do is to provide a bowl of food. Introduce them to the bowl of food and then move it onto a different surface like a plastic lid. This is the best way to praise and treat young puppies when introducing new stimuli.
Once everyone has inspected the plastic lid and is satisfied with it, place the food on another surface. This surface could be a soft dog bed or any other suitable option. Again, give them a chance to climb, explore and get comfortable by eating food on the new surface.
The KEY is that you DO NOT want to scare the puppies. It's fine if they feel nervous, but we must be careful not to frighten them. This could create superstitions and fears.
We use various noise makers, toys, and other things to distract puppies while they eat. Food is a positive thing for dogs. So, we want to use food to create a positive association with all these different things.
At 6 weeks of age the puppies are weaned and eating solid food but should still be with their breeder. This is the best time to start training your puppies. The first six weeks the puppies are with their mother and littermates. From six weeks to eight weeks is some of the most critical time for the pups.
The puppies can interact with each other without mom there and they are also interacting with us. So we are introducing them to all kinds of these sights and sounds before the puppies leave. Those last two weeks are critical. The more exposure you can give them in a positive way, the better the puppies are going to be as adult dogs.
Especially with emotional support, therapy and service work it is really important to teach your puppies.
Introducing puppies to new things and ensuring they have positive experiences will benefit them in the future. They don’t have to see everything but they need to see enough new things. If they have enough good experiences they begin to assume that new things are ok.
During our interview, we let the puppies out and immediately got their attention to show them where the puppy food was. Once they all found the food we moved the food onto a plastic surface.
Some puppies checked the plastic lid before stepping on it, but they all stepped on it and ate some food. While this may seem silly now, this can be a big deal later on. Working dogs need to be prepared for anything they might encounter.
We then took the food and moved it onto a fluffy dog bed. We got their attention and provided encouragement for them to explore. We wanted to use food to teach them to explore, climb over obstacles, and experience different colors and textures.
Shawn brought a long pole with caution tape attached, which made noise. It is an example of something that he uses around his puppies.
We took the noise maker and just gently waved it around. We did not want to scare them with it, we wanted them to have a positive experience. We wanted them to be interested and excited about it.
If Shawn had swung the tool crazy, he would have scared away all the dogs. They would now be scared of the tool and anything similar.
It is very easy for dogs to create negative associations with things. We want to be very careful to help them create positive associations with all of the things we introduce to them.
Dogs generally don’t like uniforms. Anything that is different they generally don’t like unless we teach them to like them. We want to help them with mailmen, police officers, and others by doing food work to create a positive connection.
One suggestion is to take them to the vet and do food work there. This will help them see that the vet's office is not a negative place. It’s not that scary going to the vet. If they frequently go to the vet without any negative experiences they will not have any objections to visiting the vet.
Some dogs only go to the vet when they need shots or other scary things. It’s these dogs who have bad experiences that never want to go back and have problems with the vet.
We just want to help the puppies have as many positive, fun experiences as we can.
Service and Therapy Work
In service and therapy work, you expose them to things like wheelchairs. They may not typically see wheelchairs, but they might come across them in a hospital or during therapy work.
When doing that sort of training you have to be so careful. It would be so easy for a puppy who is being introduced to a wheelchair to get its paw run over. If that happens, it’s going to be terrified of wheelchairs. That is what we want to avoid.
We want them to have many good experiences and avoid bad experiences that could create negative associations.
Puppies are very skeptical and superstitious. If they have one bad experience it can cause them problems throughout the rest of their life.
Although puppies have a short attention span, they have long memories. Shawn had a puppy that he worked with that had a negative association with fireworks. When he was a four month old puppy his owner (the husband) took him outside to go potty. Just as he began to pee, some fireworks went off.
Five months later, when Shawn started working with the dog, the dog would not take potty breaks with the husband. If the husband took the dog outside, it was terrified the whole time. The wife could take the dog out and it would go potty, but it would not go with the husband. So this one experience had convinced the dog that it was not safe to go potty with that one person.
We just have to be really careful to constantly be building up their confidence. We want to help them to be social and happy by giving them lots of good experiences. We are not working on obedience training, potty training, crate training or other training, we are working on confidence training. It should feel like a play session for your pup.
So for our breeders out there, make sure you are introducing them to lots of different things. Sometimes we do ball pits, emptied out water bottles, etc. Just do lots of things with them when they are young so they can be great puppies when they are older.
Shawn also would love to have breeders reach out. He prefers to train a happy, social, and confident dog rather than a dog that is scared of everything.
It is so difficult and challenging to overcome negative associations. He offers free help and advice to breeders who need it, sharing his knowledge and answering any questions they may have. He wants all breeders to put out the best possible puppies.
Shawn can be found on Instagram @InnovativeK9, on Facebook at Innovative K9 Academy or online here
Between the 6 and 8 week period is crucial and should really be considered sacred time for the breeder.
I am also happy to help any breeder that is looking to raise their puppies the right way. Feel free to check out my website
or complete the form that follows for more information about mentoring with me!