How early should I begin training my dog?

The most common question I get asked down here in San Antonio, TX is how early should I begin training my dog or when should I take it to you for dog training?  This in itself is a question loaded with various answers.  The first thing I say is PLEASE do not wait until you bring it to me for it to start learning "stuff".  At that point you'll probably have a dog that is just looking for answers or direction but is getting into all sorts of trouble instead because it lacks answers.  After all that's really what it's about when it comes to dogs.  We bring them into our homes and sometimes just expect them to know what to do.  Your dog needs direction.  From the very moment I get an 8 week old puppy I skip the food bowl and head straight to hand feeding them.  This does a lot of things for a dog but most importantly I spend the 5 minutes requiring them to just look at me and then I feed(4-5 kibbles) when they'd normally have their head buried in a bowl.    I do this over and over so that my dog wants to make eye contact and knows how to sit politely.  I also will mark the eye contact with a clicker.  I'm using the dogs free will at this point to shape this behavior.  This helps later in life when he really wants something like a toy that I have but now understands these basic rules to this game.  I also by doing this reinforce that jumping gets you nowhere and its easier to teach this when they are small and not a 5 month old 40+ pound dog in some cases.  From here I can use this skill when hooking the leash up(sitting politely) or before going out the door I have them sit politely.  I may even keep some of their morning meal back for training scenarios throughout the day.  This combined with gentle little light pops of the leash will greatly improve your dogs understanding of right from wrong.  It is not the end all but it's what I've done for years and seems to have great success.  Just remember there are so many ways to train a dog.  Those that are willing to learn as many as they can will have the greatest success!

-Benny