Like I mentioned yesterday, I already have foster puppy signed up for a training class. He will not be here in time for the first class but he will start on week two. I am a firm believer in the importance of puppy class. For me, the value of the puppy class is not in the training but in the continued socialization. When I got Rio he was already 15 or 16 weeks old and was too old for a basic puppy class by the time I found a training center that was based in positive reinforcement training. It really bothered me the number of puppy classes I found that showed pictures of puppies wearing prong or choke chains starting around 4 months old!
Although I’m a strong supporter of puppy classes, not just any puppy class is a good puppy class. I have seen some pretty poorly run puppy classes in my experiences. I quite honestly think the most expert trainers should be the people teaching puppy classes because they are so impressionable at the young ages. When inexperienced trainers lead puppy classes they can easily miss potential problems, not police the play very well, or push puppies over threshold when trying to ‘socialize’ them to potentially scary things.
So when I look for a puppy class for my puppies/fosters there are certain criteria that I find important.
Focus on puppy play–I really think the biggest value in a puppy class is the ability for puppies to continue to socialize with other puppies. There is so much learning happening in these interactions that is critical for puppies learning manners. They learn bite inhibition, learn how to appropriately play, learn how to negotiate social situations, self regulate when playing with smaller puppies, and build confidence in their social skills. These are things that are best taught by other dogs/puppies which is why puppy classes that I choose focus mainly on this type of learning.
Experienced trainer(s) instructing–Like I mentioned before, I think it’s really important that puppy class trainers are very experienced and have a wealth knowledge about canine body language. I want an instructor who knows how to balance exposing puppies to novel stimulus with keeping puppies under threshold and confident about the experiences. This really is a delicate balance–not enough exposures and the puppy may develop fears/issues about certain things because they were never exposed to them (like kids or bikes) but too much exposure by a trainer not paying attention to body language can lead to a dog who becomes afraid of something (kids or bikes) because the socialization was not positive.
Socialization to novel stimulus–I want a puppy class that will be exposing my puppy to a range of novel stimuli. Although I can, and will, do my own series of exposure to various stimuli, I like having a puppy class that will help me expose my puppy to things that I personally don’t have like walkers, crutches, wheelchairs, and small children in wigs. They also will desensitize to different sounds and weird environmental changes like a box falling or a chair tipping. Plus puppies may learn to walk on different surfaces like rubber matting, through a tunnel, on a textured agility table or a flat A-frame.
Kids Allowed*–I really like puppy classes that allow well-behaved children in class–particularly now that it is winter. I do not have access to many kids–especially since it’s cold out and my neighbors aren’t out as often–so having a class that allows kids in it can be a great opportunity for socializing around kids. Now, I would change my tone if the kids were being disruptive but I’ve had good luck.
Positive Training Methods–although training is not the primary reason for me taking a puppy to puppy class, going to a class that has a positive approach to many of the common puppy training troubles is important to me. I would be rather upset if I heard a trainer suggesting to “grab the puppy’s jaw and squeeze until they yelp” as a solution for nipping so I want to make sure the class would be based in positive reinforcement.