Puppy class is the most important class you will ever take your dog to. Let me repeat this – Puppy Class is THE most important class you will ever take your dog to! Here’s what I want you to think about when you take a puppy class. Don’t worry about learning commands like sit and down. Yes, those are all great, but you have your dog’s entire life to work on commands and fun tricks. What I want you to think about is socialization, proper socialization. Being around other puppies, other people and different environments in a positive and structured manner. Let me explain…
How to pick a puppy class
There are many different dog training schools out there, and sometimes it’s difficult to choose just by looking at a web site. Here are some tips to help with your decision:
What to look for in an instructor
Your instructor should be knowledgeable on dog behavior and pack mentality. He/she should be aware of puppies that are overly confident (they can easily turn into bullies) and puppies that are overly shy (they can easily develop fear aggression). Having certifications after their name is always nice, but not always needed. Like other professions, there are many different companies that will take your hundreds of dollars to give you initials after your name. You can have a really great instructor that does not have certifications, but can still be savvy with dog language and has the proper experience.
What the curriculum should include
If your puppy is under (around) four months old, don’t be worried if your class does not include too many commands. It should have a few basic tricks, like sit, down, pay attention. But it should mostly include socialization time. Structured interaction with the other puppies. Structured interaction with the people. Safe introductions to scary objects (like vacuum cleaners and big brooms) is always great, because your puppy will go through a few different fear stages. Your instructor should be coaching you on how to work with your puppy so he/she can learn that none of these are worrisome. This is also a great class to teach you more about crate training, house training and other “age appropriate” experiences.
Be your puppy’s advocate
When you finally pick a training school that meets your requirements, don’t forget that you are your puppy’s advocate! If your puppy is in a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable, don’t be afraid to put a halt to it! This is a very fragile age, and one bad experience can alter the way your dog feels about things for the rest of their life! Some puppies will be afraid the first couple times they go to puppy class, that is very normal. But, if your puppy is put in a situation that makes you feel worried – Speak out! Let the instructor know that you are going to pick up your puppy, or take your puppy out of that situation. Yes, it’s okay to do this! It’s also okay to remove your puppy from a situation in that moment, and then talk to your instructor about it later. Any instructor that is confident with what they are doing will not put blame on you, or tell you that your puppy is bad, or talk bad about others. They will (or, they *should*) encourage conversation and use this as an education time to share knowledge about how to prevent the situation from happening in the first place, or how to correctly work through it if it happens again.
If you can find a good Puppy Playgroup near you, consider yourself very lucky! Take advantage of it as often as you can during these first few months after you bring your puppy home. The more supervised socialization you can give your puppy during this time, the better! Playgroups will often offer a larger group of puppies, so the chances of your puppy finding a fun playmate are even greater.
The two biggest things we see in puppies at this age, and to look out for, are the puppies that want to jump on everyone (overly bold), or the puppies that want to hide and become invisible.
If your puppy is overly confident, you may want to become a “hovering” owner for a while. This means always being within arms-reach of your puppy, so you can quickly and gently redirect him if he gets too rowdy with his playmate. Your class instructor should be able to coach you on good timing with this. I am of the opinion that continually diffusing play will help to elevate it from escalating in the first place. Simply showing your puppy a treat and having him turn his head towards you while he’s playing is great. Do this every 30-60 seconds while he’s playing. This also teaches him that when he’s playing and you approach, it’s a good thing!