Puppy-training classes are designed for dogs younger than 16 weeks, at a point where the dogs go through a number of stages of development. The classes help establish foundation behaviors to prevent the development of problems in adolescent and adult dogs.
In my classes, we teach the puppies that people and other animals are friends, and to accept being touched and groomed without biting or mouthing. We teach puppies that human skin is very delicate. We prevent resource guarding.
Puppy classes prepare dogs to thrive in a human world. While some puppies are naturally more fearful than others, exposing them to these things in a fun, patient, and positive way can teach them confidence and trust in their handlers.
Such classes are about preventing problems before they occur. Unfortunately, some people wait until the problems occur before seeking a class.
Say your dog has already spent several months learning bad habits: that jumping pays off, that chasing the cats and kids is fun, that nipping at heels and chewing the carpet gets your attention. The dog is pulling your shoulder out of socket as he drags you down the street. He’s biting your hands when you try to trim his nails or brush a snarl out of his tail. He hates the bath, he’s afraid of the vet, and he doesn’t really like riding in the car.
A dog like this needs reactive training, where we are untraining bad behaviors instead of preventing them. The dogs have had lots of practice getting in trouble, so they’re really good at misbehaving.
The worst part is that many of these adolescent pups’ owners have been sitting at home, their rowdy dogs chomping on their sneakers, waiting to start training. Why didn’t they go to puppy class? For many, it is because their veterinarians told them not to.
There’s good logic behind this common recommendation: You can limit your dog’s potential exposure to illness and disease during the time his immune system develops and immunizations take effect. It is true that puppies are quite vulnerable to parvo and other illnesses. It is heartbreaking to watch a little one die of parvo.
But for all the hundreds of puppies who have entered my classroom over the years, I’ve never had one become ill with parvo. I’d reckon my classroom is about as safe as a vet’s office because we follow the same sanitization protocols. We also don’t allow puppies to share water bowls or drink from the community bowls made available to adult dogs.
We check vaccination records on dogs of all ages, and we require that dogs showing signs of illness are removed from class until cleared as healthy by a vet. And unlike your vet’s office, we don’t allow in dogs known to be suffering from parvo, and the whole place is disinfected every day.
I believe it is dangerous to recommend that you wait until your dog has finished full puppy vaccinations before bringing him to class. It’s not just that dogs can develop rude or unwanted manners. The truth is that puppy class is your dog’s vaccine against serious behavior problems. All too frequently, behavior problems lead to dogs losing their homes or losing their lives.
If you are a vet and hesitate to refer your clients to puppy class because of concerns about illness, talk to your local trainers. Ask about their sanitation protocols and offer suggestions for improvement where things might be lacking. Make sure the trainer checks vaccination records for puppies and adult dogs entering the classroom.
To answer some of the most common questions about puppy socialization, it’s best to find a source that is a veterinarian and an expert in behavior, such as veterinary behaviorist R.K. Anderson, who issued this letter about the importance of puppy class and how you can mitigate the risks.
Another great resource is the American Society of Veterinary Animal Behavior’s Position Statement on Puppy Socialization.
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