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What age should my dog ____?

A lot of our puppy owners struggle with knowing exactly what their puppy ‘should’ know at a certain age. We get asked things like ‘when should they be able to walk on a loose leash’ a lot. And honestly the answer is never.

When it comes to puppy development, learning the skills that we prioritize as humans doesn’t need to be on a timeline. You can teach your dog basic obedience skills at any age. After all, you can adopt a 9 year old dog and teach them how to walk on a loose leash. Is it easier to teach them to a brand new puppy who doesn’t have bad habits? Absolutely. But you aren’t on a clock.

The other thing to think about is that word ‘should’. “What should my dog know?” is a question that we get a lot from adult dog and puppy owners alike. And, honestly, the answer is another question! What do you want them to know? What will make your life easier to live with them?

Typically when we talk about training dogs, our minds tend to go right to that set of basic obedience skills. Sit, down, stay, leave it, loose leash walking and coming when called. Don’t get me wrong, those are all super helpful skills for our dogs to have, but do they need all of them? No. It very much depends on what type of life you want to live with your dog.

My personal dogs are a great example for this. The border collie knows all of those things, and much more. She has a lot of fancy show off skills and tricks. This is partially because I use her a lot for work, partially because I’m a training nerd and I enjoy teaching her things, and partially because she’s a border collie and our life is a lot more peaceful when she gets to train regularly. My senior lady knows sit… she has a decent recall (coming when called)... end of list. She has a couple of goofy tricks that she can perform under exactly the right circumstances and her leash walking is pretty nice, but I didn’t teach her the leash walking and those tricks she can really only do in my garage with just me and her. That’s all I've needed her to know. She is a shy/fearful dog and our time together has been much more focused on her learning life skills of confidence and not being afraid of the world. My husky mix joined our family as a puppy while I was pregnant, so her start with us came at a busy time when training my dogs really hit the back burner. Recall was the first thing I taught her and for a good while it was the only thing she really ‘knew’. We have recently started working on getting some more formal obedience training on board so that she can start joining me and the border collie on our training journeys, but until recently all she really needed was that recall so that I could take her hiking with us.

This is all a very long winded way of saying that the only skills your dog ‘needs’ to know are the ones that make your life easier to live with them. If you just want your dog to hang out at the house and go on nice neighborhood walks then they don’t need to know everything under the sun. If you want to take them to stores and restaurants and on adventures with you then you might need a few more skills under your belt. But there isn’t a standard for everything your dog should know. The standard is for you to create.

As far as our puppies go, there are certain things that we should be working on in those early months, they just aren’t obedience skills. (We also can work on obedience skills in those early months of course, it’s just not always necessary). What we should be working on instead is life skills.

Okay, but what does that mean? Life skills? Life skills are the things that are a lot harder to teach at a later age: building confidence, the ability to settle and hang out while stuff happens around our dogs, being calm when life is exciting, being able to watch the world pass them by without inserting themselves in the mess, feeling comfortable in strange situations, being comfortable around other animals, walking on weird surfaces, being handled in strange ways. All of the things that we expect dogs to just do naturally that actually aren’t all that natural to them. These are the important skills to start building while your puppy is still a baby that ensure you will have a well mannered adult dog. All of the obedience skills can come later, but those skills are a lot harder to teach to a dog who has baggage.

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