|Dfer as a puppy. A time when I can really make a change and prevent behaviour problems.|
We meet a lot of puppies in a week and a whole lot more people who have puppies who aren’t bringing them in to puppy class. We hear a lot of reasons for not coming to puppy class. “He doesn’t have any problems, so we don’t really need it.” “The breeder did socialization.” “It takes so much time.” “I went to puppy class with my last puppy, so I know what they do.” “She is so timid, I think it would be overwhelming for her.” “It is too expensive.” “We go to the dog park, so we don’t need it.” We have heard them all.
It would surprise most people to know that most professional dog trainers take their puppies to puppy class. I like to take my puppies to our puppy classes, but I also take them to the classes offered by my competition. Why would I do this? It is just as time consuming, expensive and onerous for us to do this as it is for you, and we certainly understand both how to train a dog and what we need to expose our dog to in order for him to be well socialized. Why would I do this?
Quite simply, puppyhood is the only time in my dog’s life when I can actually prevent behaviour problems. If I get a puppy who is a little shy, I can help her to over come that. If I have a really bold puppy, I can teach him early and often that self control will get him the opportunity to do things he loves. Until my puppy is about 20 weeks of age, he has a special trait that I want to take advantage of. He has plasticity. Plasticity, specifically neuroplasticity, is the ability of the brain to change. This plasticity is a double edged sword. If your pup has problems this is the best time to change his brain so that he won’t have those problems as a grown up. And if he doesn’t have problems, this is the time when he will develop them if you give him the chance to do so.
Puppy class is less about skills than it is about building confidence and setting boundaries. I can often pick out the puppies who came to our puppy classes just by how they greet me. The puppy who had the chance to learn that jumping up gets you nothing or a meaningful time out approaches greetings politely and with care for my personal space. The puppy who doesn’t often flings himself at me or avoids me. The pups we see who walk nicely up to the dog park, sit and then get their leash taken off and look up to ask permission to play are the pups who understand the boundaries of pleasant social behaviour, and these rules and boundaries are what are learned in puppy class. It is like teaching a child to shake hands. The kid who never learns this important skill will have much difficulty later on when someone offers his hand and he is reticent to take it. The puppy who learns that easing off the leash and making eye contact is the polite way to ask to play in the dog park is the puppy who doesn’t end up coming in as an adolescent for remedial behaviour training.
Not only do we learn about boundaries and confidence in puppy class, but we have fun. Puppy class is fun; for people and for puppies. Where else would you see three puppies at the same time all trying to get into the toybox? Or the puppy who has discovered that people will give you attention and treats when you approach nicely and sit? Where else would you see a puppy sitting quietly to the side, looking in on the play group for two weeks and then suddenly decide to try it for himself? Where else would you meet other people who are as excited as you are to be starting on the first stages of a life time journey with their dogs.
When we do public demos and events, we often meet people who tell us about their puppies from years back who took puppy class. People often remind us of dogs who shared puppy class together. Just this weekend at a public mall display, someone came up to tell me about her 12 year old border collie and how twelve years after puppy class they still regularly walk with one of the other puppies who took puppy class with them. The puppies who met in puppy class spent the rest off their lives together, visiting and going for walks. People in puppy class make connections too; these two families walk together, hike together and in the summer go camping together. Where else will you meet other people who have dogs the same age as your own who can be friends for life?
As I look at D’fer, my ten year old Chesapeake Bay Retriever, coming up to retirement, I think back to his puppyhood and all the fun we had in puppy class together. Deef actually went to two different puppy classes, and we loved both of them. In puppy class we discovered that D’fer could be quite defensive about giving up valuable resources like bones and pig ears. Because puppy class happens during that period of neuroplasticity we were able to completely change that behaviour and at ten, he will still give up a bone or chew items he loves. His brain changed and he learned that he can give us things he finds valuable and nothing bad will happen. As a professional dog trainer, I am looking forward to the next dog who will come into my life, and I am looking forward to puppy class both at our school and at one or two local schools, where I can get to know other puppy owners, expose my new friend to all the special things you see and do in puppy class and all of the fun we will have together.
Every Puppy Deserves Puppy Class. Even the shy pups, the bullies, the good puppies and the naughty pups. At our school we offer a three week free puppy class so there isn’t even the reason that it is too expensive to come now. Yes, it takes time, but if you don’t want to spend time with your puppy, what do you want to do with him? Come to puppy class. If nothing else, it will be a whole lot of fun for you and your puppy. Every puppy deserves puppy class, especially yours!