newtracie2People used to think that you couldn’t start training classes with a puppy until he was six months old, but behavioral experts now believe that as a puppy enters the “juvenile period” of development (by the end of the twelfth week) he is ready for obedience training. There is evidence that the twelve-to-eighteen-week age is an optimum learning time for a puppy, who will develop into a better behaved dog by participating in puppy classes.

Dogs mature at a much faster rate than humans, so while you may think your roly-poly three-month old puppy is still only baby, in fact you can think of him as being equivalent to a child in his early teen years. That age comparison gives you a good idea of how important it is to set boundaries and be firm and clear with such a puppy, which you can achieve by participating in group classes, which may be a good investment in your dog’s future and in your relationship with him.

Many puppy classes encourage the whole family to attend so that everyone can be aware of simple training techniques. Children can be guided in how to handle themselves and their puppy, getting that relationship off to a good start. Getting used to other dogs is an important part of the puppy’s socialization, and doing so in a group under a watchful eye is a good place to start.

This is the age when most puppies should have gotten all of their vaccinations, which makes it safe to mingle with other dogs. The classes should be aimed at having fun and meeting other puppies and their owners — a training system based on positive praise and rewards will make the class enjoyable for both of you.

The best way to provide that positive reward for anything the puppy does that pleases you (in the class our outside it!) is to keep a pocketful of Halo Liv-a-Little freeze dried protein treats (chicken, salmon or beef). You want to reinforce good behavior by giving the puppy “a little bite of heaven” each time he is a very good boy.

Liv-a-Littles are small and light in your pocket, yet pack a wallop of pleasurable taste for the puppy, further encouraging his learning curve. And you can be generous and feel comfortable with liberal use of treats because they are not as filling as a biscuit, and the extra protein is healthy for a growing pup.

Tracie Hotchner is the author of THE DOG BIBLE: Everything Your Dog Wants You to Know and THE CAT BIBLE: Everything Your Cat Expects You to Know. She is also a renowned pet radio host and producer, having spent 7 years on the Martha Stewart Channel of Sirius/XM with CAT CHAT® and even longer with her award-winning NPR radio show DOG TALK® (and Kitties, Too!) that continues to broadcast in the Hamptons and the Berkshires. Her most recent accomplishment is the pet talk radio network she has created on the Internet called The Radio Pet Lady Network.

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