Puppy classes are much more than an opportunity to mix with other pups. Effective puppy classes are structured to give your dog the skills to deal with all the challenges of life as well as the correct foundations for future training.
What it’s all about
In order to build your puppy’s confidence, you will have to get him out and about to meet friendly people and animals of all shapes and sizes, and experience everyday sights and sounds such as cars and lorries. Another great thing to do with your new pet is to attend puppy socialising classes. In a safe environment, a puppy will not only learn to interact with other dogs but also begin to learn the rudiments of obedience.
How to pick a school for your pup
You can find trainers by asking your vet or pet shop for a recommendation, or looking for ads in the back of Animaltalk magazine. This is an important decision, one that will impact on your relationship with your dog in years to come.
Visit the puppy schools you are considering and look at:
- Is there enough space for the puppies to work in?
Is it securely fenced?
Are basic conveniences provided?
What kind of methods do they use in working with the puppies? If the puppies are being pulled and forced over obstacles, or if the trainers use punishment, shouting or disapproval as methods of training, you’re in the wrong place. Positive reinforcement is the best method of training.
Are the trainers approachable? Do they respond comfortably when people ask questions? Are the owners relaxed about asking anything they want to know? Are they polite and patient with everyone?
Look at the owners: are they having fun?
Puppy class should be an activity that you enjoy as much as your puppy. It should feel more like playing a game than being in detention writing out lines.
How long does the class last? Too much stimulation can be counter-productive.
What to expect
Puppy classes differ from trainer to trainer. The best will provide:
* Some basic training in commands such as sit, heel, down, stay and come.
* Some advice and exercises for you, the owner, in how to handle your dog.
* A chance to expose your pup to other people, teaching him trust and preparing him for encounters with strangers.
* A little bit of learning how to deal with unfamiliar situations.
* All puppy trainers should be ready and able to offer advice on any wrinkles you encounter in your new life with the puppy.
* A chance to have fun with other puppies and learn some social skills.
Socialisation starts early
Ideally, socialisation starts before puppy even comes to live with you. It starts in the breeder’s home. The phases of development between three and five weeks are critical. Animal behaviour consultant Karin Pienaar says that during this time breeders need to do quite a lot of work with the pups. Puppy classes are the next step in your puppy’s journey to adulthood.
What comes after puppy school?
After puppy classes you can start obedience training. This will help to establish a line of communication between you and your dog and gives you a good foundation on which to build your relationship. Trainers will also be on hand to help you through your puppy’s ‘teenage’ phase when lessons and manners may go out of the window!
Socialisation vs habituation
Dogs have a critical learning period under approximately 16 weeks of age, where they learn about the world around them. During this time they need good experiences with other dogs, children, people of all different shapes and sizes, people carrying articles and people in wheelchairs. They also need good experiences with other animals such as horses, cats and rabbits. Then they need to learn about their environment: walking on different surfaces, riding in the car and getting used to traffic. This is habituation.
Talk to your vet before enrolling your pup in a puppy programme. A pup may not have his full immunity yet, so ask your vet for advice on how to keep the risk of infection as low as possible.
Text: Mandi Smallhorne
The full article appears in the March 2015 issue of AnimalTalk