How To Run a Successful Puppy Class

Puppy Classes in Auckland

Did you know the idea of a puppy class was once an absurd notion?

Training puppies? Hah! Everyone knows you can only train a dog: a puppy won’t be able to learn, nor is it proper.

This once popular line of thought was proven wrong in two ways:

  1. Puppies are indeed trainable, meaning we can start the learning process and integration into our society early.

  2. The dogs that were trained as puppies had an unimaginable head start socially over those that didn’t.

See, in a world with dogs, we don’t just have dogs that are ‘well trained’ and those that are ‘not well trained’. I like to think of dogs existing along two paradigms: dogs that are well trained and dogs that are well socialised.

A trained dog is a dog that responds well to given cues for commands such as sit, down, stay, leave it, take it, etc, under different circumstances of distance, distraction and duration. This relates to all dog training principles too, such as their level of exercise, your bond with them, etc.

A socialised dog is a dog that has had exposure to many different dogs, people and environments, from early puppy-hood through to their current age. They’ve learnt to cope in a broad range of situations and readily infer that most encounters in life are positive, or at least neutral.

A social dog has seen and experienced people and dogs of different shapes, sizes and colours. It has seen trucks, cars, grasses, bush, ocean, plastics, metals, ducks, deer, pigs, cows, and any other combination of landscape, animals, and man-made products. Pretty much anything you can think of: has your dog experienced this before, or will it be a novel experience when they do?

Simply put, the more exposure your puppy has while young, the better set for life they’re going to be. They’ll understand trucks aren’t frightening, noisy dogs that sprint and yell at the park are just loopy, and that people of all shapes and sizes are a good time.

Cute Puppy

More importantly, they’ll learn boundaries. After having multiple play sessions with dozens of other dogs, people and puppies, they’re going to learn what is, and more importantly, what is not acceptable in this society they are now part of.

So what does all of this socialisation have to do with training your puppy at puppy class?

Well, everything!

Ideally speaking, a puppy class should follow closely to the tenants of a puppy party - a space where your puppy gets to meet and interact with other puppies, dogs, people and environments. A puppy class shouldn’t be a discussion around the practice of positive reinforcement in dog training - it should mostly be a chance for your pup to gain experience.

Don’t get me wrong - learning this theory and having is explained by a trainer is incredibly important. Unique to our disposition as humans though, we have this wonderful skill called reading. We can sit down at night for a short period of time and literally absorb the learned experience of others. It’s an amazing tool, so let’s incorporate that into our puppy training.

Studying Positive Dog Training

Here’s how I’d like a puppy class to look:

  1. Weekly readings before the puppy class. 30 min - 1 hour of information & videos.

  2. Come along to class. Meet and greet, brief discussion on topics. Best practice training methods, cover the basics.

  3. Puppy Party!

  4. Ending words, introduction to new topics that will be sent out for reading.
     

What I’m doing here is making as much use of the hour as possible to have your puppy experiencing life. Throughout the puppy party, we’ll engage in training to an extent: we’ll practice recalls and sits with tasty treats, and we’ll encourage good behaviour with positive reinforcement, while mitigating negative behaviours by instead showing the pups what we’d like to see instead. Most of the time, this will just be removing a pup from a situation that is too high energy, and reinitiating play when a semblance of calm has returned.

One thing many people get stressed about is their puppy misbehaving. I’m going to allay your concern with a single reply: in a puppy party, I actually want this to happen. Remember earlier how I mentioned a well socialised dog is one that has learned boundaries? This is where it happens.

Did you ever wonder why a puppy, of all things, has incredibly sharp teeth? Evil little needles that poke and prod, cause pain but never really much damage? Did you ever wonder why they are not just a smaller version of adult teeth, like a humans?

It’s because dogs interact with the world through their mouths. They greet, play and eat with their mouths. How then, do they learn to be gentle in some regards, and chomp down in others?

Practice! A pup will explore the boundaries of every situation with their teeth until they find a limit. When a playmate yelps because they got too vigorous, they can immediately infer that the fun stops and they went too far that time. Next time, chew less hard!

Razor sharp teeth help with this. It makes it impossible for the pups NOT to find boundaries, hence their purpose as a learning tool.

Coming back to our puppy party, this is the kind of interaction we want to see happen. We want children making loud noises, puppies biting another a little too hard then learning a lesson, and everything in-between. The more exposure and lessons learned, the better.

Puppy Socialisation

Keep in mind, when I say lessons I really mean ‘positive experiences’. Things that are going to create better associations than the ones previously held. Children that run around screaming now drop treats behind them. Big, tall men generally mean nice tasty treats. Biting gentler means more play time.

Training is something that can happen mostly at home: you just need a bit of guidance about the best ways to go about doing this, then a little practical experience when you come down. You can train a dog at any age, and you can always bring in trainers later if you’re having trouble.

What you can never get back, however, is your pups early weeks as an absorbent sponge, ready to learn the ways of the world. At this young age, they’re experiencing countless novel experiences, and making associations early.

If you walk past noisy trucks on the way to the park every day and you communicate it’s no big deal by ignoring them, then your pup too will understand that smelly, loud, roiling behemoths that roll along the ground warrant no concern.

If your pup meets 10 new people AND 10 new dogs every day, then they’re very quickly going to realise the world comes in many shapes and sizes, and that’s okay.

If your pup doesn’t get to experience all of this, they’re going to create associations based off the limited interactions they’ve had. If they only met a couple tall men in their first few months of life, and one of them acted kinda weird, then tall men might become an uncomfortable situation.

We want to mitigate as many of these potential triggers as possible, by having our puppies experience as much as possible. Pretty simple sense, right?

Just remember, as much as we'd like to think, our dogs cannot learn proper socialisation tactics from the image below. 

What A Puppy Class Shouldn't Be

So that’s what an ideal puppy class looks like for me. A place for pups to interact, learn lessons, and form positive associations with other people, dogs and environments. Cover the basic training fundamentals, and explain the reasons for positive reinforcement over other, less effective methods. With the right tools in hand, you learn and train your pups week by week, and come back each time for another jam-packed play session.

When you’re looking around for a puppy class to join in on, make sure interaction is at the top of the list!