Why should puppies attend a puppy class?
Early puppy training can give puppies the best possible start in life. Puppy classes provide the building blocks towards social development and future well-being and are aimed at puppies aged 8 to 16 weeks. This timeframe takes advantage of an important developmental period known as the Critical Period for Socialisation.
A puppy’s first six months are the most important months of their entire lives. This is the age when learning takes place rapidly. Anything the pup experiences during this time will make a greater impression than it ever will again. It is important to capitalise on this critical period and make every effort to set the pattern for a well behaved dog and the best place to start is in a puppy class.
What about the risks?
You may think your puppy is too young for socialisation at this age because of the risk of disease, however puppy class is designed to meet the need for socialisation in a clean, safe and supervised environment.
So, as long as your puppy has received its first vaccination, the risk of exposure to disease during class is low and the benefits far outweigh the risks. While puppies’ immune systems are still developing during these early months the combination of maternal immunity, primary vaccination and appropriate care makes the risk of infection relatively small compared to the chance of death as the result of a behaviour problem. In fact, behavioural problems are the number one cause of relinquishments to shelters. Behavioural issues, not infectious diseases are the number one cause of death for dogs under three years of age. That said, prevention of problematic behaviour is better than cure!
Positive reinforcement training
Positive reinforcement focuses on creating a positive and enjoyable experience rather than a negative and forcibly controlled unpleasant experience. This method of training is a gentle, humane and kind approach to facilitate learning that helps to develop a closer relationship between you and your puppy. Positive reinforcement training is based on modern, scientifically proven methods of learning, so simply put, it works!
Puppy class should establish that learning is fun, and an enjoyable experience can foster a very special bond between you and your puppy and reduce their fear of visiting the vet. Utilising positive training techniques to reward good choices, puppies can be taught good manners and puppy parents can learn how to prevent puppies from displaying unwanted behaviours.
What will I get from a puppy class?
Using positive reinforcement and motivation techniques, puppy classes offer the building blocks to teach basic training cues such as ‘sit’, ‘drop’ ‘stay’, ‘come’ and ‘leave’. It is not expected that a puppy should graduate from puppy class as a fully trained dog.
Socialisation by definition is the process whereby an individual learns to adjust to a group and behave in a manner approved by the group. Puppies should be handled from birth, learning to accept manipulation of all body parts. Every effort should be made to expose a puppy to as many different people, well socialised animals, situations and places as possible. Puppies should be encouraged to explore, investigate and manipulate their environments with these exposures continuing into adulthood to maintain an outgoing and sociable dog.
Your puppy class trainer usually manages puppy play and ensures that the puppies engage in compatible interaction by pairing two or three dogs with a similar level of confidence and personality. This ensures the experience is positive for all dogs involved.
Managing common puppy behaviours and environmental enrichment
Puppy class offers an opportunity for you to seek counsel regarding certain aspects of your puppy’s behaviour that can be perfectly normal behaviours for puppies, but may be deemed inappropriate by you as their owner. These behaviours can include:
- Biting and mouthing
- Jumping up on people
- Inappropriate or rough play
Many early indicators of problem behaviours can be combated by using suitable environmental enrichment. Rubber chew toys are an excellent way of establishing healthy chewing habits, when a puppy is found chewing on anything inappropriate (shoes, furniture etc.) a rubber chew toy is an excellent way to help redirect the behaviour, rather than scold a puppy for what it shouldn’t chew, redirect the puppy to what it can chew. As the puppy matures it will often seek out these toys for chew sessions.
Many puppy class trainers will utilise toys in class, either to entertain puppies who become bored during discussion time, as a diversion for the boisterous over-excited puppy or simply as a reward during training exercises. Toys are useful for not only play, but also as a training tool used to reinforce good behaviour.
Whilst the majority of information regarding vaccinations, parasite control and nutrition will be covered by your veterinarian, a puppy class is an ideal setting to ask questions about general health care topics including:
- Nail clipping
- Dental health
Your puppy class trainer may include some of this information in your class syllabus or in the form of handouts.
The puppy class graduate
Once your puppy has graduated from puppy class, this is simply the first step in your training journey. Your puppy class trainer or veterinarian will be able to provide you with training options in your local area, including a clinic-based training service, community-based obedience clubs, or private training consultants who offer group classes or one-on-one in-home sessions.