Monday, October 25, 2010

Why Puppy Class

Zachary as a puppy
Dog Blog Post #144: This post is in response to Magnus’ mom’s Puppy Class question in her blog post The Issue of Puppy Class. Tenses of her questions have been converted to present tense to apply to Henry’s current class.

Do you do a puppy class? Yes! Beau did puppy class in a large group setting with a positive but more traditional approach (owners marching around the building in circles while the instructor called out sit, heel, sit, heel, about turn!…) while Zachary had the same class/instructor Henry has now with much smaller sizes, clicker-training, individual attention, and no marching (for which I am forever grateful, Wendy!)

What benefits do you feel it provides for your 4legged puppy?

  • Socialization with “trainable” people and puppies under an instructors watchful eye. I can’t overstate that one!!!
  • Opportunities to show holes in training – it’s easy to either focus too heavily on the disaster areas and miss out on things that should be taught, or focus too heavily on the successful areas and sweep problem spots under the rug.
  • Opportunities to try out shiny new behavior in a hopefully supportive but definitely more challenging environment.

What benefit do you find for yourself as handler? A chance to get fresh ideas and fresh perspectives. It’s also useful to listen to the other owners and take a few moments to assess their puppies. For example, hearing others bemoan their puppies housebreaking skills (or lack thereof) made me feel all warm and glowy about Henry, while seeing how calmly the 10 week old lab lay by his owners made me realize I still have a long way to go on that front.

What would you recommend in looking for a new puppy class? If possible, I’d try to attend a class to see if I agree with the instructor and their approach. At best, this would be one of the previous sessions classes, before the session my puppy would be enrolled in. If not, then I would like to talk to the instructor and see if their philosophy is not incompatible with mine. Possible questions include:

  • Is this a positive (non-punitive) class? Food is required, clicker-training a plus but not mandatory, so long as the instructor doesn’t mind if I discretely use one.
  • Is there play time? That’s a large part of why I go, so the answer had better be yes. A puppy needs to meet a variety of its own kind, and at that age it’s hard to do that outside a class setting.
  • How is play time handled? A free-for-all, where all puppies are released to mug-and-be-mugged at will can’t possibly be good. Wendy has 8 puppies and made three groups of them, mostly by temperament and boldness, it seemed. I image that as the weeks progress, there is a good chance we will get down to two groups. Last time, with Zachary, she cycled the bolder (but not mugging) puppies into the area with the less bold puppies. Zachary fell into the bolder-not-mugging category, and he (on leash, to level the playing field) learned he had to be calmer and quieter if he was going to find a play companion. The shyer, smaller dogs saw that not all bigger dogs are bullies.
  • How many puppies in the class? I don’t actually know what a good number would be. Like kids in a classroom, the more you get relative to the number of instructors, the greater the potential for chaos and result in a lack of learning. But you also have more puppies to mix-and-match playmates with, should the instructor choose to.
  • What do you cover? In addition to the usual sit/down/come, a puppy instructor should go over, or at least encourage questions about, home-life (house-training, mouthing, jumping, … etc.)

Are you pro puppy class or do you feel you can provide similar lessons at home? I am pro puppy class, and think it is virtually impossible to provide similar lessons at home. However, if you have raised a puppy before and are familiar/comfortable with puppy growth stages, have trainable friends willing to help work on greeting skills, know some puppy-tolerant adult dogs to remind puppy that manners are important, and feel you will be able to face those teenage years without a shoulder to cry on, then you can probably do quite a bit yourself, with the glaring except of puppy play time.

If you do, how? The hardest part (other than finding appropriate doggie friends) is probably finding people who will help your efforts to socialize instead of hindering them. At least in puppy class the instructor tells everyone what to do, and everyone has a vested interest in being a good socializer. The General Public just wants to pet the puppy, play with the puppy, get the puppy wound up!

So, in summary, a Good Puppy Class is a Very Good Thing, but good luck finding one!


Katie, Maizey and Magnus said...

Thank you SO much Kathleen! A whole post is more than I could have hoped for!! Really having access to so many experienced people through the internet is awesome. I think I may have found a class, and your post gave me some more good points to check with the instructor. I will let you know how it goes. Thanks again!!

BZ Dogs said...

I look forward to some great Puppy Class posts!