It was previously recommended that puppy training should start after your dog has had all of their vaccines and boosters. As a result, dogs developed behavioral issues during the Critical Period of Socialization, which ranges from 3-17 weeks of age. The other timeframe for training is the Fear period.
The Dog Developmental Periods
The first Fear period begins at around 8-10 weeks of age. During this time the owners should be managing their puppy’s environment and exposing her to lots of different stimuli for socialization reasons. This first period usually passes without any obvious signs or behavior changes.
The second period is varies, but for most dogs occurs as a 2-3 week period in late adolescence, ranging between 6 and 14 months of age. During this time owners have usually given their dog more independence and freedom, so it can be a shock when their dogs behavior changes and they do things so seemingly out of character.
During this developmental period your dogs brain is hyper alert and sensitive to anything bad that may happen. A single frightening experience can have a permanent impact on your dog for the rest of their life.
This hypersensitivity is a phenomenon called single event learning, where it takes only one negative experience to result in an intense, permanent emotional reaction. For this reason it’s important that you are proactive in minimizing their chances of exposure to negative events and when bad things do happen, you respond calmly and set the right example for your dog.
When to start dog training
Because of the Fear period, veterinarians and trainers now recommend that puppies begin classes as early as 7-8 weeks old.
The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) states: “In general, puppies can start socialization classes as early as 7-8 weeks of age. Puppies should receive a minimum of one set of vaccines at least 7 days prior to the first class and a first deworming. They should be kept up to date on all vaccines throughout the class.”
The idea here is that inadequate socialization during the first two to three months of the puppy’s life can result in behavioral issues (including fears, phobias, avoidance, and aggression) that extend well into the dog’s life. For more see the complete Position Statement on Puppy Socialization.
While there may be some breeders and trainers who disagree, the current thinking in the medical and behavioral world is that the benefits of attending classes early outweigh any possible health risks.