Puppy School: What Is Puppy Kindergarten?
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You have a new eight-week-old puppy and want to ensure that he’s given every advantage. Of course, you want him to have some basic obedience training.
But you wonder whether you should wait to enroll him until he’s older. Or should you start now and enroll him in puppy school?
I’ve taught puppy kindergarten classes for over 25 years. And I’ve taken puppies that I’ve raised to puppy K too.
Most basic and advanced obedience classes after puppy kindergarten teach mainly obedience commands for dogs who are at least six months old.
But classes at any puppy school should cover so much more.
In this article, I’ll describe why it’s very important to take your young puppy to puppy K.
A well-run puppy class can give your pup a “paw up” in his development. And it can teach him skills that will last a lifetime.
When Should You Take Your Puppy to Puppy School?
Most puppy classes require a set of vaccinations before a pup can enter the class. Generally, a puppy need not have the entire series of vaccinations prior to attending.
Puppies between 10 and 12 weeks old should receive their second set of vaccinations. This is usually enough to start attending a puppy class.
Antibodies from his mother’s milk protect a puppy against some puppy diseases but the protection wears off between 12 and 14 weeks of age.
The first 12 weeks is a key developmental period for a puppy’s development. Puppies are blank slates and should be very receptive to learning new things.
The sooner you start in a puppy class, the better. A world-renowned veterinary behaviorist, Dr. Ian Dunbar, believes that puppies need to be extensively socialized.
He indicates that, ideally, a puppy should meet at least 100 different people by the time he’s a month old. Of course, this occurs before you get your puppy.
But he also stresses the importance of ongoing socialization. I’ve attended Dr. Dunbar’s lectures and read many of his books.
He believes that the importance and benefits of attending a puppy class far outweigh any minuscule chance that they’ll contract an illness. I’ll discuss what socialization means below.
In fact, according to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, it’s more likely that a dog will be euthanized before the age of three because of behavior issues rather than for catching an infectious disease.
What To Look for In a Puppy Class
It’s important to choose the right puppy class. Not all classes are created equal.
The facility should be clean and well-maintained.
It should be cleaned with appropriate, safe cleaners before each class so that any possible diseases, like parvovirus or distemper, aren’t spread.
It should also have a good air filtration system.
And there should be a safe potty area for the puppies to go to the bathroom outside that isn’t visited by unvaccinated dogs.
You should carry your puppy into the class if you’ll need to pass an area where other unvaccinated dogs may have passed.
This is so that you don’t inadvertently expose your pup to parvovirus or distemper through the saliva and feces of other animals.
Always remember to have your puppy potty before the trip to the class, which will lessen his need to go on the way to class or during class.
Ideally, you should be able to observe a class without your puppy when you’re deciding whether it’s the appropriate class for him.
The people who run the program should be knowledgeable and friendly.
And the instructor should have training and experience in working with puppies.
A positive reinforcement trainer who has studied canine behavior should be teaching the class.
The trainer should be able to teach a puppy commands as well as monitor and guide all interactions between puppies.
The program running the classes should also require age-appropriate vaccinations for puppies in attendance.
And the puppy-to-trainer ratio should not be too high. In my classes, we allow up to six puppies.
I have an assistant who helps run and set up the class. So the puppies receive a lot of attention and guidance.
Benefits of Attending a Puppy Class
There are many benefits beyond socialization regarding why a puppy should attend puppy class.
He will learn many important life lessons such as bite inhibition, socialization, confidence, and obedience commands.
And you’ll learn how to housetrain him, handling skills, and the importance of crate training.
Attending a class can also help answer any questions you may have.
Of course, it’s a great way to bond with your pup.
And it’s a bonding experience with humans to be with other “puppy parents” who want to give their puppies the best start possible in life.
Puppies who attend puppy class are more likely to be exposed to other real-life situations, such as traffic, loud noises, and visitors at home.
Puppies attending puppy kindergarten were also less likely to have fear-based issues and separation anxiety.
And people who attend class are more likely to use positive reinforcement rather than punishment. This is important because it makes someone more likely to want to train their puppy.
And it’s crucial to establish a great bond with your puppy–and for your puppy to be a willing, happy participant in the training.
Rather than correcting a puppy verbally or otherwise punishing a puppy, attendees of puppy class were found to be more likely to redirect a puppy’s unwanted behavior.
So, if they see their puppy chewing on the furniture, owners who attended a puppy class are more likely to redirect his behavior with a toy rather than correcting him.
This makes for a more secure, more confident puppy who will trust you.
Everyone talks about socialization. But what does it really mean?
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, it means: “the process of preparing a dog or cat to enjoy interactions and be comfortable with other animals, people, places and activities.”
The key sensitive period for puppies occurs between about three and 13 weeks.
Does this mean that you can’t socialize an older dog? No!
But, if you can, the ideal start occurs during that window.
So what does socialization really entail? It basically means getting the puppy comfortable with all the sights, sounds, smells, and surfaces that he’ll encounter during his life.
This includes meeting all types of people in a positive manner.
Meeting men and women, people of different races and ages, and people of different heights and weights are important.
He should encounter people with and without glasses, with and without hats, and so on. You get the idea.
Of course, the interaction should be a positive experience for your puppy. Never force him to interact.
You can reward the puppy with small treats when he wants to interact.
If your puppy isn’t too shy, you can even give people a few small treats to gently toss towards him. New people shouldn’t stare at the timid puppy or he may be intimidated by them.
Socialization also involves appropriately meeting friendly animals such as dogs and cats.
When you view the puppy class, the instructor should monitor all interactions between the puppies and should redirect or separate puppies when appropriate. No bullying should be permitted.
Socialization includes exposing the puppy to new surfaces and obstacles.
In my puppy class, we have the puppies walk over various things like bubble wrap, go up a few carpeted stairs, go through a small tunnel, walk-on small platforms, and go through a hula-hoop.
It’s all about building the puppy’s confidence in new experiences. We reward each success with praise and treats.
At home, a puppy has to be exposed in a positive manner to other everyday items, such as a television and a running dishwasher or blender.
I instruct puppy owners to ensure that their puppies have something good happen when exposed to such items, They can play with their pup or give a great item such as a stuffed Kong.
In classes that I give after puppy class still involve socialization to some new experiences.
But I don’t let dogs interact with each other. Not every adolescent or adult dog wants another canine in his space.
And I don’t allow people to pet other people’s dogs unless I agree to the interaction.
Some dogs haven’t been properly socialized with other dogs or people. Safety always comes first when deciding what interactions the dogs in my classes are permitted to have.
This is another big difference between puppy kindergarten and basic and advanced classes.
In puppy class, I encourage appropriate interaction between the puppies and the people in the class.
We even play a supervised game of “pass the puppy” in which puppies are guided on leash around a circle where other owners can pet and give treats to the puppy.
Everyone passes the puppies on my cue and I and my helper supervise the interactions.
Eventually, the puppy makes it around the circle to his owner. It’s a very popular part of my puppy classes.
It’s really important for every dog to have bite inhibition. This is different from teaching a dog not to put his teeth on our skin at all.
Bite inhibition means that a puppy learns to control the pressure of his mouth and to use a “soft mouth.”
He needs to learn that other living beings, including other puppies and humans, have sensitive skin and that he shouldn’t bite down too hard, even in play.
Puppies who are left with their littermates and mother until they’re at least eight weeks old usually learn this.
If a puppy bites down too hard on his mother, she will correct him. And if he bites down too hard when playing with a littermate, the littermate will yelp and stop playing.
The puppy then learns to regulate the pressure of his mouthing.
In a well-run puppy kindergarten, puppies can engage with each other.
When another puppy yelps and stops playing because puppy Bailey has bitten down too hard, Bailey learns to regulate the amount of force when he plays.
Otherwise, there are consequences: the game ends.
In my puppy kindergarten, I have the puppies meet for a short time and play. I watch that the puppies are all having fun.
And I make sure that there’s no inappropriate, over-the-top rough play.
When there are puppies that greatly differ in size and play styles, I group appropriate puppies together.
But I’ll also have all of them meet various puppies briefly on a loose leash so that the brief interaction is positive.
So, even though private training is great for teaching puppies some commands and for training their owner, it can’t compare to a well-run puppy kindergarten class.
And dogs over about five to six months old generally aren’t permitted in puppy class. So, if you miss bringing your puppy to puppy kindergarten, the window for teaching appropriate bite inhibition will be closed.
In addition to socialization and bite inhibition, puppy kindergarten can be a great place for your puppy to learn obedience commands with distractions.
Many puppies attending class will just be learning their names.
A great puppy kindergarten instructor should help you learn how to teach your puppy many things, including his name, how to pay attention, how to sit and lie down on cue, the come command and an emergency recall, leave it, loose leash walking, and more.
I also like to cover some impulse control exercises such as having a puppy sit and wait for his food, how to settle down, and stay/wait.
And it should cover giving up items such as toys and chews willingly in exchange for a treat or another toy.
A puppy class can also help teach you how to housetrain and crate train your puppy as well as discuss appropriate games and exercise for puppies.
Ideally, a puppy kindergarten will cover information on puppy body language so that you’ll understand why your puppy acts as he does–and how to deal with any issues.
Information should be provided about common puppy problems, such as jumping, mouthing, submissive or excitement urination, and puppy potty training regression.
A trainer should also stress the importance of properly getting the puppy used to handling.
This is really important because, during his entire life, your puppy will need to be groomed, have his nails cut, have his ears cleaned, and be checked over for lumps, bumps, fleas, and ticks.
I always stress the importance of teaching a puppy to enjoy handling.
I’ve rescued dogs who weren’t used to being handled and had become aggressive when grooming.
Mikey was a Lhasa apso who was a stray found in a horrible, matted condition. He was very defensive when being handled.
Of course, I worked with the issue and, through counter-conditioning and desensitization, he even learned to love being groomed.
But it’s much easier–and safer–to teach your young puppy to love grooming than waiting until an issue develops.
And, last, but not least, the class should provide some time for participants to ask questions and to answer them.
What To Bring to Puppy Class
It’s important to be prepared for your puppy to have the best experience possible in class.
Bring small treats that your puppy likes and that won’t upset his stomach. You can even bring some of his kibble.
In order to not give too many treats, I tell my students that they can have a baggie ready mixed with some high-value treats and some kibble that can absorb the smell/taste of the “better” treat.
PRO TRAINER TIP: Use very high-value treats when teaching your puppy to release an item or to come to you. Both of these behaviors can ultimately save his life. Kibble won’t do then. Use meat, cheese, or fish treat that he can’t resist. And mix it up during various training sessions, giving different treats sometimes, so that he doesn’t get bored.
You can bring a small mat/bed for your puppy to relax on during downtime, such as when the instructor is just lecturing.
It’s always important to have potty bags too. Your puppy may have an accident or you may have to pick up his feces in a designated potty area.
Puppy classes should have equipment and disinfectant to clean up puppy indiscretions–especially to wipe the area clean after any waste has been picked up.
You should have a six-foot leash on your puppy. It’s important to have identification on your dog too.
Of course, your instructor can require other equipment such as a long line for your puppy or a bait pouch for you to hold the valuable treats for your furry friend.
Usually, it’s best to wear comfortable clothes, as you may be required to even sit on the floor. And safe shoes with traction are often required.
People attending my classes must wear closed shoes such as sneakers. For safety reasons, no sandals or open footwear are permitted.
My friend said to wait until my puppy was six-months-old to attend dog classes. Should I wait?
NO! Current information demonstrates the importance of a puppy attending a well-run puppy class after he’s had two sets of vaccinations (around 10 to 12 weeks old).
It teaches socialization, bite inhibition, and obedience commands. And a class should also provide other important information regarding how to raise a puppy.
Is a puppy kindergarten class just a play group for puppies?
No! There are puppy socialization classes some places hold which are mainly just playtime for the pups.
But a well-run puppy kindergarten class involves socialization to new experiences, obedience commands, and teaching how to appropriately play including bite inhibition.
It also should cover other matters you’ll need to raise a well-balanced puppy, such as learning about how to house and crate train your dog.
I found a puppy kindergarten near me, but the trainer said negative things about my breed–a mastiff. Should I take the class?
I would advise you to take a class where the trainer accepts all breeds and is knowledgeable about them.
Puppy classes can help ensure a well-socialized, trained, confident puppy.
A well-run class can provide a great foundation for your pup. And it should teach you about important things such as housetraining and crate training as well as how to deal with or prevent problem behaviors.
Have you taking your puppy to school?
How was your pup’s first day at puppy kindergarten?
Tell us about your experiences in the comment section below.
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