Puppy school is arguably your most important responsibility as a new pup parent and is without doubt the best thing you can do for you and your puppy. By enrolling your puppy in a reputable training school, you’ll provide her with the basic tools she needs to grow into a well-behaved, sociable dog who will make your heart swell with pride and joy.
Puppy classes are specially designed for puppies between 8 to 16 weeks old. The earlier you can start the better because it’s much easier to teach a puppy good behavior from the outset than it is to undo bad habits later. Puppy school provides a controlled environment in which pups can learn social skills and basic obedience, and puppy parents can learn how to train, manage and take care of their dog’s needs. Classes include mental stimulation, emotional state, physical exercise and general care.
It’s important that you take the same care in choosing your puppy’s school as you do in choosing schools for your children. Badly run puppy schools that use outdated methods can do more harm than not taking your puppy to school at all.
A good puppy school should provide the following:
There is a critical period for puppies when all their basic social skills are established. The window ends at 16 weeks. After that dogs have a natural suspicion or fear of anything new, including people, environments, and animals. Good puppy schools facilitate socialization by providing a range of novel stimuli for pups to ‘survive’ and advise pup parents on how to safely expose their dogs to novelties outside of the class.
Note: It’s not enough to take your dog out and about and work on socialization during the critical period only. Socialization is an ongoing exercise.
Identification of potential problem behaviors
There are some behaviors that most people consider problematic but which are natural to dogs, including jumping, biting, chewing, digging and barking. Good puppy schools provide pup parents with the information they need to address or manage these behaviors. Some problem behaviors are more serious than your puppy burying your slippers in the veggie patch, resource guarding, for example.
Good puppy trainers teach parents how to prevent these behaviors from developing in the first place. Unfortunately, even the best intentions and mad skills can’t prevent all problems. Experienced trainers spot potential problems during puppies’ interactions and advise parents how to work on them. They also teach parents how to spot the signs of problem behavior so that if they emerge later, they know what to do. As a last resort, pup parents are advised which behaviorists to contact. That’s if the puppy school doesn’t employ any behaviorists of its own.
All dogs need basic obedience skills: sit, down, stay, leave it, loose-lead walking and recall. Good puppy schools do two things. They give parents the skills to train behavior using force-free, aversive-free and positive reinforcement methods. They incorporate some brain work in the classes. Brain work, like targeting exercises, teach puppies to problem solve, improve confidence and generally provide fun mental stimulation. Targeting exercises also have practical applications, like teaching pups to lie down on a mat or hand target into heel position.
Most puppies aren’t aware that anything exists behind their ears. You just have to watch a puppy try navigate stairs to see that they have no idea what their back legs are for. Training schools should have puppy-specific equipment, like mini obstacles and agility courses, to help puppies become more aware of their bodies. They also have touch and handling exercises so that pups are ok with strangers greeting them. It also helps veterinarians when they need to put fingers in mouths, clip nails and take temperature.
Paying attention to their parents should be default behavior for puppies. They need to learn how to give sustained eye contact and that the default in new situations should be to look to their parents for direction. Focus and attention exercises help calm overexcited dogs and can be used to distract and manage dogs who are nervy around horses, children on bikes and dogs twice their size.
First-time and experienced pup parents always have loads of questions for the trainers. Common topics include best food, safe tick and flea treatments, best age for sterilization and how to speed up house training. Puppy classes should always allow time for questions and answers. Great classes provide practical information on environmental enrichment, bite inhibition, separation anxiety and safe play with puppies.
Puppies should bring love and joy into your life; love and joy which should grow exponentially as your pup gets older. Puppies shouldn’t be a source of frustration and desperation. Puppy school gives you the tools and the confidence you need to raise a happy, healthy and confident puppy who will provide more contentment and satisfaction in your life than you can imagine.