Puppies. Lovely little cute bundles of learning potential. A dog trainer’s dream! Puppy classes. Often crowded, badly managed and focused on teaching irrelevant things. Some dog trainers’ idea of a nightmare.
So, how do you pick a good puppy class? Here are some things to look for:
How big is the venue?
If it is small and cramped with lots of puppies all bouncing and barking at each other you will struggle to learn anything regardless of the quality of the information. Look for a large venue or small numbers – or both!
Off lead play encouraged?
This a such a hot topic amongst dog trainers! Good puppy play can be literally life changing. Bad puppy play can be literally life changing as well. What’s the difference?
Good puppy play is between pairs of puppies of similar age, size and temperament. It is CLOSELY supervised and any inappropriate behaviour is interrupted promptly. Puppies are called apart frequently and play sessions are short and interspersed with interaction with the handler. This set up teaches excellent inter dog communication. It also teaches the pups that leaving a play partner is a positive thing to do and that focusing on Mum or Dad is worth the effort, even with a tempting distraction.
Bad puppy play is a free for all with multiple pups of different sizes, ages and temperaments basically having a bun fight. It teaches bigger, stronger more confident pups to be bullies and small, shier pups to be scared of incoming dogs. Often these sessions of puppy play are not interrupted and go on for far too long. Pups that aren’t traumatised learn that Mum and Dad are irrelevant and charging about in a huge out of control pack is the best thing in the world. Perfect for the dog park, not so good for everyday life.
What is the focus of the teaching?
Puppies need life skills. They need to be confident in the world around them. They need to be able to settle calmly. They need to LOVE being handled all over their body. They need to learn how to regulate their emotions (impulse control). They need to be able to make good behaviour choices. They need to come when called. They need to learn how to learn.
What they don’t immediately need is to learn how to sit/down/stay ‘on command’. They don’t need to formally ‘heel’ on walks. If the class focus is on formal obedience type exercises then the instructor has missed the point of puppy classes. ANY dog of any age can learn these things. Only a puppy is totally open to having his world view moulded and shaped appropriately by positive experience – focus on teaching life skills and concepts before tricks and exercises; get your priorities sorted at the start and the rest is pretty easy!
A good puppy class will include the following:
- positive introductions to novel things and experiences
- structured interactions between appropriate puppies
- fun ways to teach your pup to love being handled
- basic skills such as name recognition/recall and sit
- basic impulse control games
- play skills
- calming strategies
- management ideas to keep you sane and your puppy safe
- The instructor will be knowledgable about puppy development and what to expect as your puppy grows up.
– Sarah and the Gang
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