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Can puppy classes be the wrong start?

I’m not here to condemn puppy classes and I definitely think they can have great value in helping an owner navigate the first few months of caring for a puppy. If done right. However they may be better suited after the first 16 weeks, when the puppy has some successful training and socialisation around the home and outdoors first.

Most puppy classes focus on teaching the basic ‘commands’ such as sit, down, and touch on recall and loose lead walking. And a lot do it very well. I often hear of peoples delight with how puppy classes went, and rightly so, they teach us the basics of how to train, and we get our pups to interact with other puppies at the same time. Unfortunately, for as many good stories I've heard from puppy classes I've also heard from the negatives people had with their pups.

Although these seem a great place to start and is the most appealing for people who gauge how good their puppy is on how young they taught it to sit. They don’t teach the puppy the essentials of how to navigate living in a human world. I experienced a lot of this working In rescue centres a dog who knew all the basics and many of the fun and cool tricks. Yet feared the world and so never got to shine at how brilliant they were.

Puppies do not start out on equal levels. Each puppy is individual and genetically different and therefore will have different paces to learn at. Some puppies also have a much more pessimistic and reserved view of the world, they can be more fearful than others. If the classes are not well led, then the timid puppies can get left behind and often overlooked. at best your puppy just didn't learn to sit as reliably, or their lead walking wasn't great because they were too stressed or distracted and wanted to get away. At worst they may also develop fearful or anxious coping strategies if they are overwhelmed. This can result in barking at dogs and humans in later life out of fear or anxiousness.

I have spent years researching how dogs behave and following the latest scientific methods on how to effectively train them. Seeing common occurrences with intakes at rescues and an alarming amount of young dogs under-socialised and given up on.

What modern science tells us is the importance of early socialisation to all things novel. Puppies experience critical fear periods at a young age that teach them what in the world is safe and what to avoid. It’s an innate survival mechanism that their wild counterparts would use to ensure safety. These fear periods are often overlooked or simply not understood.

An excitable puppy in a brand new environment does not need to be taught how to put its bum on the floor or how to spin in a circle. They need to understand where they can and can’t go (in and out of the home), what they should and shouldn’t chew, the value of proximity to us, calmness, And that environments and other living things can be friendly and rewarding. Therefore, we want them to experience as many different scenarios as possible and be familiar with animals, people, sounds, surfaces. And we do this at a pace comfortable to them to create positive associations.

Furthermore, rather than directing overly specific behaviours on a young and excitable puppy, whose hormones are telling them to explore and try new things (again, a sit may seem cool to have trained in a young puppy, but that in itself teaches them nothing about the environment) Focusing on concepts that can then be further developed into a wide variety behaviours we want to see works wonders!

  • If we teach a puppy that proximity and orientation to us is good we have already paved the foundations to loose lead walking and recall as well as focus on us during training (for which sits and stays will become much easier down the road).

  • If we teach them impulse control we give them a level head so they don’t go full steam ahead at everything and everyone they see, we teach them to remain calm (again helping lead walking, and training, a less impulsive dog will likely sit to think, to which we can reinforce appropriately).

  • If we teach a puppy to be calm in and out of the home we won’t be shouting at them for chewing on furniture or running around with things they should have. and they will engage with us as we build up our training in more challenging environments.

  • If we teach them to be confident around novel items and situations we will have a relaxed dog that isn't stressed, meaning they are much more in tune with us and able to enjoy their time.

We can basically focus the 'young puppy stage' on moulding their personality to fit in to our lifestyles whilst showing them all the fundamentals of living in a human world. Surely this has more value to begin with than 'play dead'?

That’s why I designed My puppy plans to follow a socialisation protocol, whilst including concept training.

I focus on 1-2-1 training to fully engage with you and your puppy. My plans are tailor made to suit your lifestyle, to help your puppy integrate into it. It flows organically and each week we will focus on what will benefit your puppy most. This means we can adjust each week to any specific needs.

We of course ago through all the basics listed at the top that a puppy class will teach. But, once the puppy is confident and settled. Contrary to the old 'adage' It’s never too late to train the basics! But socialisation, if not done within the first 16 weeks can have implications further reaching!

This is clearly seen in most working dog lives. For example, The training of a guide dog will likely not take place until 18 months - 2 years old. Their puppyhood will be spent in a home doing the exact things above. Allowing them to get used to the world at their pace to socialise them to all eventualities. Once they have matured and understand human life, training begins and can be very fluid.

Thank you for taking the time to read.

If you have any questions regarding puppy training or any other dog training/behavioural needs please feel free to get in contact

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