Puppy training and education is essential for a young dog, but will puppy classes fulfil your needs? It seems that today every veterinarian or pet shop is running puppy classes. New puppy owners are told of the necessity of participation and strongly encouraged to take part in these classes.
We receive many enquiries from dog owners throughout Australia that explain to us that they know their dog is naughty because it didn’t go to puppy training classes.
Or that they don’t understand why their dog in misbehaving because “we went to puppy classes”. We are also regularly told by clients who did attend puppy training that they were a waste of time and they didn’t believe they learnt anything or that they didn’t agree with the training and advice they were being given.
So how important are puppy classes really?
It is my belief and experience that the importance of puppy classes is grossly exaggerated and we are seeing that often they can create more negative than positive. Now I’m not saying that the concept of training a puppy and educating at an early age is bad, or that there are not some great puppy classes out there. I absolutely agree that new owners, especially if they have not owned a young dog before, need advice and guidance about vaccinations, health care and feeding etc. It’s just that it appears that most puppy owners are not getting their real needs met through them and in my opinion some of the advice being given at these classes is very questionable.
How Experienced is your Puppy Trainer?
The advice being given in these classes is (in most cases given by a relatively inexperienced person) and is aimed at the class as a whole. In this class, there will likely be a range of personalities and puppies, all with uniquely different needs and lifestyles. The advice can only be general at best, and owners need to understand that the advice they are given may or not be the best way for their own puppy.
A dominant terrier pup needs a different approach to a submissive cavalier for example, and a high energy kelpie needs different management to a low energy bulldog. Some puppies may bite when faced with a problem and others may bark. Every puppy has a different personality, temperament, and level of innate instinctive behaviour. Just as every dog owner has a different character and ability to communicate effectively. The advice given should be thought about carefully and is not a job for an inexperienced person who does not have the depth of knowledge and understanding that is necessary.
Not all Puppies Are the Same!
Much of the typical advice that is handed out is in our view ineffective and while not altogether wrong, it is very misleading as it only applies to a small percentage of puppies. A common one is the advice given as to what to do when your puppy bites you. While squealing/yelping with a high-pitched voice might work on some puppies, very often this is bad advice as it is usually seen as weak behaviour and energy by nature and actually encourages the behaviour you are trying to discourage. It may be the very reaction your puppy was looking for. Is that how the puppies mother would react if she was bitten by the puppy? Would you act that way if your toddler bit you?
Similarly, is turning your back on a dog that jumps on you the best advice for every dog? Absolutely not. Is this what the mother would do? Again, this is weak behaviour and not great advice for a more dominant puppy (they will also probably try to convince you there is no such thing as dominance or hierarchy within a pack). Also, new owners are regularly being encouraged to constantly reward the puppy by talking in a high pitched voice and/or giving treats. This is not only condescending, unnatural and disempowering but can easily create a demanding, hyperactive and anxious dog that sees you as a treat dispenser that they simply do tricks for. Is this the relationship you want with your dog? Personally I would rather my dog followed requests and co-operated with me because I am seen as a worthy, loving leader and because I have earned their trust and respect.
More Effective Alternatives
One of the other common and confusing pieces of advice taught on a regular basis is giving “time-out”. Sending a puppy to ‘reflect on what it has done’ is a human construct and not one used by other dogs. It is a pause button at best and can be useful to distract and calm, however, does not teach as such. There are much more effective alternatives.
In regards to socialising , we completely agree that this is a highly important part of raising a balanced, confident and socially healthy dog. However, puppy training classes are certainly not the only way or necessarily the most beneficial or effective way to do this. They are certainly better than doing nothing, however, in our opinion, puppy classes are similar to taking your kids to a birthday party – lots of fun and lots of stimulation and exposure to other kids, but not a lot of benefit in terms of self control, respect or manners once you’re back home. We encourage puppy owners to spend time around both other puppies but also with older balanced dogs who will set them boundaries and teach social etiquette.
Know What to Expect
We suggest if you choose to take your puppy to classes that you are clear about what you expect from puppy classes and what they will deliver. Be careful to assess the advice you are given and that it sits comfortably with you. Trust your gut feeling or intuition – it is your companion, not theirs. You may know more than the person giving the advice, especially if you are a parent. Ask about the experience of the person taking the classes. If you want to meet other owners and let your puppy have a play, great. But if you want a deeper understanding of your relationship and communication with your dog and how to form a deep connection, we suggest exploring your options.