By: Dr. Janet Cutler, PhD, CPDT-KA
      Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON, Canada
      Landmark Behaviour Inc

      December 15, 2017



When you get a young puppy, it is very important to make sure that they are properly socialized, or have positive experiences with many people, dogs, other animals, as well as different environments and noises.

New research at the University of Guelph has shown that people that have gone to puppy classes with their puppies see many benefits. At four months of age, puppies that had gone to puppy classes were more socialized, showed less fear to noises such as thunder and vacuums, and were less fearful of crate training. Owners that had attended classes with their puppies also reported to use methods of training considered to be more positive, such as redirecting their dog or only rewarding correct behaviour, as opposed to yelling or holding their puppies down on their backs for punishment.

Puppy classes not only help you teach your puppy some basic manners, but also give you an opportunity to socialize your puppy. Since this is such an important period of time for your puppy, you want to make sure that the puppy class you are taking your puppy to is helping to set you up for success.

To help you find the right class for your puppy, you should talk to the school or the instructor about the following things.

What to look for in a puppy class:

1.     Is there supervised puppy play time?
It is sometimes hard to find time for your puppy to play with others their age.  Puppy classes typically offer this opportunity and allow your puppy to learn how to play with other dogs in a safe manner.  However, you do not want class puppy play time to be unsupervised where they are allowed to run around out of control.  Play time should be in short, structured periods throughout the class.

2.    Is there plenty of handling and interactions with other people?
Getting your puppy used to being handled by other people is very helpful.  They learn to be calm when being handled, get used to unfamiliar people, and it can even help with vet visits since they will be more comfortable with handling by strangers.

3.    What kind of training is included in classes?

A majority of puppy classes have a training component, including working on sit, down, stay, loose leash walking, recalls (coming when called) and others.  Even if you are comfortable teaching your puppy these things, working on them in a new environment will just help to strengthen them.

Just as important as the behaviour taught is the method used to train. You want to find classes that use positive reinforcement, or giving treats, praise, play, or another reward for the behaviour you want.  This helps to build a strong bond between you and your dog, and lets them know when they have done the right thing.

4.    Will they offer help with any problems you are having?

If you are having any problems at home with your puppy, your instructor should be able to offer suggestions to help you work through them, ensure that they do not become more serious, and be able to refer you to someone that can help if they arenot able to.

5.    Do the instructors have certifications and/or education in behaviour?

Making sure that your trainer is up-to-date on the best methods for training and continues to learn about dog behaviour is important. Researching certifications in the dog training field allow you to be informed about the knowledge and experience of your trainer.  Some certification bodies require certain amounts of experience, continuing education, and compliance with a standard of ethics.

6.    Do they require proof of vaccination?
The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) recommends that puppies have at least one set of vaccinations 7 days prior to a puppy’s first class as well as deworming.  Your puppy class facility should require proof of vaccine to ensure safety of all the puppies in the class.

7.    Do they allow your whole family to attend?
Some facilities will allow children and others involved with your puppy to attend classes.  If you are hoping to bring your children, make sure you check first to see if the facility is set up to have children come in and participate safely.

Finding a good puppy class that allows you and your puppy to learn together while allowing you to socialize your puppy will set you up for success.