Puppy Training – Capitalizing On The Developmental Stages – 009

In DLU Podcast, Dog Lovers Unleashed podcast by Julie Miller2 Comments

Quick Summary:

In this episode (009), I interview Kirsten Tolley, who is an experienced dog trainer and the head trainer at Free State Canine. She enjoys specializing in early intervention training for puppies to capitalize on their developmental stages.  The outcome of starting her puppy training approach at 8 weeks of age is that it makes for a better and smoother experience with your dog for life. Obedience training at a later age is significantly easier.  And, Kirsten’s approach can help minimize the risk of problem behaviors that could develop, such as separation anxiety, fearfulness, reactivity, aggression, and other pesky behaviors like jumping up on people, barking at them, stealing food, and more.  Listen in and discover how early training from day 1 with your puppy can be life changing!

More Details:

Kirsten Tolley is a dog trainer who works with clients worldwide. She is a great resource for helping people determine which breed or type of dog is ideal for them and/or their family, for preparing for your puppy’s arrival, and of course she is an expert in helping people train their puppies, starting as early as possible.

Listen to the story of Kirsten got into dog training. Funny thing is that she fell into it when being determined to make it so that her husband “wouldn’t even notice the dog.” Lol.

Kirsten discovered through her learning and experience that there are very specific things that can be done at each stage of a puppy’s developmental age that can make a massive difference in their lives…and yours!

Early puppy training based on the developmental stages (a system that Kirsten uses when she starts working with puppies at 8 weeks of age) can help prevent so many problem behaviors later in life.

I asked her what unwanted dog behaviors can be prevented with early training, and she mentions jumping, barking for attention, nuisance barking, and prevent more severe issues, like fear problems, separation anxiety, different expressions of aggression, and reactivity.

These are some serious behavioral problems that we really don’t want our dogs to develop, so that makes it seem absolutely essential to make sure to learn how to properly train our puppies from day one.

I then give Kirsten an example of an annoying dog behavior and she laughs and says that my dog has me very well trained! I confess that they do, in some ways. 😉

Early puppy training intervention is so much more than potty training and socialization. Listen in to hear the details of Kirsten uses these critical developmental stages of puppyhood.

“Puppy Blues?” What is that? People often really struggle with early puppyhood. We talk about how there are support groups in which people talk about “puppy blues” and are at their wits end and just about ready to give the puppy back.

To avoid experiencing “puppy blues,” it really pays off to learn everything you can prior to getting a puppy. The life lessons learned between when you get your puppy at 8 weeks of age until about 16 weeks of age are critical. They learn so much during these weeks.

A lot of group puppy training classes require the rabies vaccine ahead of time, which means you can’t even take your puppy to these group classes until 4 months of age at the earliest. And it’s also not the best place given all of the distraction. Online puppy training courses provide a great solution on so many levels.

With early intervention, we can nurture resilience, nurture a cooperation with us, nurture a desire and curiosity to learn, and prevent a lot of behavioral problems down the road by addressing them at the puppy stage.

We can also prevent separation anxiety and much of the aggression and reactivity problems that could develop later in life, simply by doing the foundational training during puppyhood (8-12 weeks), which is huge!

I ask about the “pecking order” (or dominance) and how I don’t want to “overly-train” my dogs. Kirsten has a really great explanation of how this is okay, but why dogs need a sense of who is responsible and in charge, or they will feel insecure or act out in other ways.

“We do our dogs a big favor by being the leader they need!”

I ask Kirsten what else we need to be doing to train our puppies (other than potty training and socialization). She talks about some key things to teach before 12 weeks of age.

One example of what we need to teach is separation. She discusses an interesting study investigating different ages of separation and how it plays out.

Another example of a key lesson to learn is that of confinement. Think of boarding, hospital stays, being in a crate in the car, etc. I talk of one of my dogs who might go “insane” if he were separated from me for a hospital stay.

I also talk about how I’ve heard hundreds of past clients of mine talk about how their dogs struggled with confinement when there was a need for their dogs to be crate rested for a period of time. This highlights the importance of teaching our puppies and dogs these important “life skills” to prepare them for various life situations they may encounter one day.

Puppies need to learn being restrained and handled as well. Think of grooming, trimming your dog’s nails, being still to get their blood drawn at the vet’s office, etc.

I ask about car rides and what is ideal in terms of early training for puppies to help them like the car and keep them safe in the car.

Next we jump into teaching puppies cooperation and seeing their “dog parent” as their ally and teacher and source of good things. We don’t want to be “irrelevant” or it will be very hard to train our dogs… I ask Kirsten to explain more about that.

Then we get into her awesome tagline of “Real Training For Real Life” and how we dog parents have different needs based on how we live, where we live, and all sorts of other considerations. It is very useful to listen in and absorb why obedience training is NOT just for those who care a lot about having a very well trained dog (for example, one who can heel on leash and do a down/stay for an hour).

I’m one of those dog moms who doesn’t care all that much about having a highly obedient dog or an “overly-trained” dog. So, what it comes back to is: What is “real life” for you?

Through our discussion, I realized that some of these obedience skills can truly be a life and death situation, so it’s hugely important!

Kirsten talks about how she has ONE “golden nugget” for us all toward the end of the episode, but truly there are so many golden nuggets in this episode. I learned a lot and I hope you do too!

Treats For You:

Kirsten has created a special bundle of FREE gifts, specifically for the Dog Lovers Unleashed community. To get your hands on them, simply click below on the “New Puppy Starter Kit.” The kit includes the Puppy Prep Cheatsheet, the First 48 Hour Survival Guide, and the Potty Training Success Guide!

New Puppy Starter Kit (aka “Puppy Prep Starter Kit”)

(Yes, I accidentally called it the “Puppy Prep Starter Kit” at the end of the episode…it’s the same thing!) 😉

Here is Kirsten’s website: www.freestatecanine.com.

Also, if you’d like to follow her on Facebook, her page is called, “Free State Canine.” Here is the direct link: https://www.facebook.com/FreeStateCanineLLC/


  1. Gained an understanding that to gain a proper “best friend,” for real life, I first have to be the leader. Thanks!

    1. Author

      Awesome! I’m so glad that the episode helped you! I personally learned that too. I think I can be a much better “leader” for my dogs. 🙂

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