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25/10/2018 - Puppy Training
When people decide to add a puppy to their family one of most common pieces of advice they hear is ‘take it to puppy school!’ Unfortunately, not all puppy classes or 1-2-1 trainers are created equal, and many people don’t realise that a badly run puppy class can do their puppy a lot of harm and potentially long term damage.
For a long time now, puppy classes were the norm for your new puppy. You would collect your puppy at 8 weeks of age, have him vaccinated and then enrol him into a local puppy class (that is if there is one in your area) usually by the age of 12-14 weeks if not older. The problem with this is that the crucial training period in any puppy’s life (0 -12 weeks) could be missed altogether.
There is an ongoing debate within the doggy scientific community that is questioning what use to be the norm in any puppy’s life i.e. the puppy class. As our knowledge of dogs continues to grow, this once perceived essential part of a puppy’s education is having doubt cast upon it. Unfortunately for the owner, many puppy classes are simply not fit for purpose in as much as they are run by ‘old fashioned’ trainers who have not bothered to catch up with the progression in science of dog training and behaviour. The other problem is that many classes lack structure which means the class ends up being nothing more than a play session. This will be an issue especially if you have any competition aspirations with your pup.
So what choices do new puppy owners face when looking for education for their puppy and themselves.
Here we’ll take a look at the good and the bad between 1-2-1 puppy training, your traditional puppy classes and vet run classes.
1-2-1 Puppy Training - The Good
This kind of training has huge benefits so long as the person conducting the training is properly qualified and by that I mean someone with a recognisable qualification such as a degree. You will then be assured that the training you receive is scientific, modern training based on up to date research. Because these sessions are 1-2-1, they are generally conducted at your home or a suitable training ground meaning you get plenty of time to ask questions and to practise training techniques. If the course is run by a behaviourist then you should get a lot more information on the things that truly matter such as; collecting the puppy, puppy’s first few days at home, crate training, toileting, diet, proper socialisation, the developmental stages the puppy will go through including puppy biting, flight instinct period, fear periods…….the list is endless and all information you simply do not get at puppy school.
They are also usually held at times convenient to you and tend to be more relaxed affairs. The sessions should be conducted to cover everything you need for the puppy to fit into your lifestyle.
The problem within the dog industry is that there is no regulation whatsoever. This means that anyone can set themselves up as a dog trainer or behaviourist. This applies to anyone offering services or classes.
A trainer/behaviourist that guilt trips or forces puppy owners into using certain methods should be avoided at all costs. Good trainers will never force you to use methods you aren’t comfortable with, and no one should ever handle your puppy for you without explaining to you first what they are planning to do and making sure you are comfortable and happy for them to do it.
It is not necessary to use excessive force or heavy physical corrections with puppies, and I would steer clear of any trainer/behaviourist that requires owners to fit tools like head collars or check chains before training can commence. These kinds of tools aren’t necessary to train a puppy and often result in conflict between the owner and the dog.
Most importantly remember that you are your puppy’s guardian If you are ever in a situation where the instructor or trainer does something that you are not comfortable with, don’t let them. Don’t feel you need to continue with something that you aren’t comfortable with or which isn’t working for you or your puppy.
And also, 1-2-1 sessions can sometimes be price prohibitive.
Puppy Classes - The Good
There are far fewer classes that can be rated as good than there should be. However, if you can find one, their classes will be run by experienced and qualified trainers or behaviourists who have raised pups and advised people on raising pups that have met the goals you are looking for.
Always look for a trainer that not only has experience but whose training style and class structure suits your needs and goals. You are more likely to be happy with the results if the trainer shares and understands your goals and aspirations for your puppy.
Almost all of the dogs that come to see me for behaviour therapy were taught how to sit, lie down and shake paw as puppies. A good puppy class however should focus on teaching owners about behaviour, not just how to teach the puppy basic obedience commands.
Your trainer should also help you with your current problems without trying to up sell you to more classes. Some trainers will only cover set topics in their classes and will encourage you to pay for more lessons if you want to understand how to tackle a problem you are having (such as loose lead walking) obviously trainers want to keep their clients training with them, but they shouldn’t do this by deliberately setting owners up to fail so they have to come back for more classes later.
A good puppy class wont guilt trip you or make you feel like you are failing if you and your puppy learn at a different pace to other owners and puppies in the class. A good trainer will give you the tools you need to feel confident about training your puppy, and will teach you how to enjoy it. Every puppy and owner is different and a good trainer will have many tools in their bag to help inspire confidence in each handler.
Puppy Classes Run By Vets Or Vet Nurses - Bad
Without question there are some great vet nurses out there who are knowledgeable about canine behaviour, but there is very little in the vet nurse or vet curriculums on dog training and or behaviour, so be cautious about attending puppy classes run by vet nurses if your choosing this class based on the fact that the vet nurses are qualified in some way. They are but not in dog training and behaviour so you may not get the best result.
There are companies around the world that have sold the puppy school franchise to vets as a supplementary income, meaning they sold the format and process and the vets bought it as a business venture.
If you are attending a puppy class run at a vet surgery, make sure you ask who the instructor will be and what their experience is when it comes to training dogs.
‘Free for all’ Puppy Classes - Bad
One of the most common reasons people take their puppy to puppy class is for ‘socialisation’. However, owners very rarely understand what ‘socialisation’ really is or that it could mean something different at every puppy class. However, any puppy class that allows free for all play amongst puppies should be avoided.
I have seen far too many puppy classes where large breed pups are let loose with tiny toy breed puppies, where bossy pups are allowed to terrorise softer puppies who are already frightened and cowering behind their owners or under a chair. Do not believe an instructor who tells you that the way to fix timid or fearful puppies is by forcing them to run with larger and more confident puppies. This can do irreparable psychological damage to a puppy that already has a negative association with other dogs.
Teaching your puppy that other dogs are of a high value and are extremely rewarding is only going to lead to obedience issues down the track. Puppies need to learn how to focus on you, the owner, around other dogs. A puppy class that instead focuses on letting your pup play with others is not setting you or your puppy up for success.
One of the most common reasons people come to see me for behavioural consults is because of issues that have arisen from their dog having problems that have been developed in puppy class such as having too high a value for other dogs, or their dog becoming too reactive and excitable as soon as it sees another dog. Owners not being able to walk their dog on a loose lead or achieve recall around other dogs who value play with other dogs more than any rewards the owner has to offer. More often than not, these owners took their puppy to a puppy class that allowed free for all play which is when their puppy started developing too high a value for other dogs.
It is all too easy for owners to think doing the wrong thing is right at a bad puppy class.
Puppy Classes That Are Run By Inexperienced Trainers - Bad
Often, especially at training clubs, puppy class is assigned to new instructors or trainers to teach them how to run a class. This is a big mistake as puppy class is one of the most important classes you could attend and one of the hardest ones to get right as you are working with puppies in their most critical development phase.
A puppy class run by a trainer who is completely out of their depth and as the owner of a harder, quite challenging puppy, it would be incredibly disheartening to find the trainer didn’t have a clue how to handle the puppy or how to teach you how to get the best out of him/her. It generally means you will be relegated to the ‘back’ of the class and ignored for the rest of the course.
Every puppy and owner are different and this is why it is really important to make sure you either go to a puppy class run by someone who has experience and knowledge working with lots of different breeds and owners. The same applies to someone offering 1-2-1 training.
Before you sign up to a puppy class or 1-2-1 trainer, make sure you talk to the person to ascertain their level of experience and to ask them what their sessions/classes will cover. Tell them about your puppy and any problems you may already be having so you have a good understanding of how they will help you overcome these problems. The trainer should be more than happy to talk to you about their methods, experience and how they will run the session/class to help you and your puppy suceed.