For the first week or two that you have your puppy home, you will both be busy getting to know each other, and you'll be learning how to take care of your new pet's physical needs. But very soon it will be time to begin some training. Once a puppy is settled into the household comfortably and has begun to trust you, you should start what many people call "kindergarten" training and I prefer to call early basic puppy training.
Whatever you call it, these early weeks of training are extremely important if you want your puppy to grow up to be a well-mannered dog. Just as it is never too early to socialize a puppy to handling and touching, it is never too early to begin to teach it some elementary social skills such as going to the bathroom in the right place, wearing a collar and walking on a leash, and learning its name.
Many people still hold the theory that young puppies aren't ready to learn anything until they reach a certain age and that they should be allowed to simply grow up with no rules or parameters. In my experience, this is not true. Because they are pack animals by nature, all canines, no matter how young, are happier and more secure when they know what is expected of them. Young wolf cubs are not allowed simply to run wild until they reach a certain age. Their mothers and the other adult pack members keep careful watch on the cubs and clearly show them exactly what they are allowed to do, where they should eliminate, and so forth. In other words, wolf cubs are given rules to live by from the moment they leave the den, for their own safety and for the good of the entire pack. Puppies need this kind of direction, too.
This is not to say that a very young puppy is ready for rigid, sophisticated training. But it is receptive to you, eager to please, and will be hapier and less confused if it gets clear signals from you, its combination mother and pack leader.
One good example of early puppy training that was very successful is that of Mr. and Mrs. Ed Finkelstein (he's CEO of Macy's), and their golden retriever, Candy. Candy was three months old when the Finkelsteins got her from a very good breeder, and they immediately hired me to help them to start her off on the right foot. I worked together with them and Candy all the way from beginning housebreaking through advanced off-leash training. I'm pleased to say that she turned out wonderfully. Her owners are delighted with her good behavior and take her everywhere, from the townhouse in New York to their estate in Connecticut. What's more, all their friends are impressed with how well behaved and responsive Candy is to them. Her good behavior is a testimony to what time, energy, and the proper training methods can accomplish.
When their friends the Kissingers got a Labrador retriever puppy, Amelia, the Findelsteins referred them to me for the puppy's early training. The Kissingers, however, decided not to begin to teach Amelia right away.
Then, last summer, when Amelia was four months old, a picture appeared in the New York Daily News of Dr. Kissinger holding Amelia on a leash with the large headline "Heel, Amelia! Please," and a caption that read, "As Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger had little trouble making nations listen, but he isn't getting any attention from his 4-month-old Labrador, Amelia. The puppy has a mind of her own about taking orders." The next day I received a call from the Kissingers' secretary. The media attention had convinced them that Amelia needed some early basic puppy training. I gave her some lessons and she responded very well.
The advantage of early training is now recognized by many people. Under various names, there are now group classes for puppies to help them learn basic skills. These are excellent for puppies and owners to participate in, because they help socialize the animal to other dogs and people at the same time provide an owner with professional help and guidelines that make training a puppy easier and more successful. However, you can't take your puppy to a group class until it has been fully protected against infectious diseases, and this usually isn't until it is at least four months old. So, there is a great deal that you will want to begin teaching your dog yourself.