A professional dog trainer will look at the dog you have right now (as best they can in the time they have) to determine the right path to start down. A dog owner who is honest with themselves can begin to assess this too. None of these traits determine how well a dog will be trained, but they do guide you to what ways will most likely efficiently and effectively train your dog to the best of your ability.
Some things to honestly think about:
- Does your dog really "know" the commands you think they "know"? Think about if you need to repeat the command many times, or do they only do it if there is a treat around, or do they only perform the command when there is nothing around to distract them. How many times in a row can your dog repeat the command correctly in different settings?
- When your dog growls are they just vocalizing happy because you are petting them or is it over resources in the house (couch, food, toys, your attention)? Or are they possibly in pain and having old age or medical issues? (the latter would need a vet check and possible tweak to any training plan)
- When your dog jumps up and/or humps your guests, are you really feeling that is safe and good moving forward because they are "friendly"? When they go to do this, are you really able to call them off and redirect them?
- Is your dog really only reactive on leash, and when off leash totally safe to others? (usually this is a sign that you have much work to do, and it is only a matter of time until your dog does react and feel uncomfortable off leash)
- Your puppy will be bigger, and if they are a small breed will have working teeth. Are their behaviors really appropriate for later on right now? Should you be actively working on some things with your cute puppy?
NOTE: THIS IS ALL GENERALLY SPEAKING, THERE IS ALWAYS THE POSSIBLITIY THAT A SPECIFIC DOG CHALLENGES YOU ON THE BEST ANSWER FOR THEM.
Here of some hypothetical examples of why your training plan may differ depending on the dog you have in front of you right now:
- A typical 8 week old puppy has extremely limited life experiences and a fear period coming up. Mentally, although they can do more than most human babies, they are just babies at this point. Training sessions will be short, positive, not so much performance driven as just teaching and preparing, and the very basics (housebreaking, not chewing on leashes et) will be worked on. There are many training techniques, tools, and methods that you would not want to use until a dog has reached six months old (loosely speaking, some dogs mature faster than others).
- A two year old with no training experience or real leash experience that is large, powerful, and active has several options available to be trained efficiently and effectively. As a dog trainer, I don't count the ability for a dog to sit for their food bowl, as real training experience. Typically, we have to start very close to the beginning of a training plan for these dogs. Let's also say this is a friendly dog who is of a confident temperament. Depending on your time constraints and the make up of yourself and your family (health, age, small children, older family members), you have a lot of options to train your dog (generally speaking, sometimes the dog has something to say about these options and whether they motivate them or not). If you are active and have plenty of time to train your dog, you may want to dabble in toy training. If your dog is in danger of regularly knocking down your small children or older relatives, you may want to seek training that is more about calm and control at first. These dogs also benefit from behavioral chill and calm exercises weaved into their training plan.
- An older dog with reactivity towards other dogs and physical issues, may be better off trained with treats first, and depending on how that goes and the freedom wanted a remote electronic collar as a piece of equipment (no stress on neck and joints, and can be used at very low levels). When I say "reactivity" here, I am not talking about "viciousness" or the more commonly understood definition of "aggression" (there are more than one in the dog world---including just a confident forward dog).
- A dog or young puppy with extreme fear issues of humans, will need a concentration of behavioral exercises, especially in the beginning. They usually need very calm and more confident handling to mirror your hopes for their state of mind. When they progress, you will want to note what really motivates them, and then work that into the training plan. The dog's will always have their own ideas on their motivation, you may need to do some detective work and experiment. They may also grow into a motivation as they grow more confident.
- An older dog with a lot of training experience, who is still exhibiting some behavioral problems, may need polishing up on the training they do have, while simultaneously working on more behavioral exercises as well. You can start these dogs at the place that they can perform the things they learned as tools to go further. These dogs generally go slower and need a lot of patience to improve. Typically they can not be forced into changing out their fears. Also typically, they may improve gradually but over time, and should not be forced into situations they are not prepared for. To do that is to risk staying in your same place or going backwards. This is not to say not to challenge them, but you truly don't want to give them too much freedom and responsibility to behave all at once.
I hope that I have given you all the information as to why it is important to honestly assess your dog before designing a training plan for them.