How to pick a good Puppy Class
Here we look at what you should be looking for when choosing a puppy class, and what to avoid. A good puppy class will help you to build your relationship with your dog, understand how he or she learns, and help you to teach some basic manners.
Finding a class
It is worth taking some time and effort to find a good class. There are usually several to choose from, but they often vary in quality. Bad classes can be upsetting and damaging for both you and your puppy, but the best classes can make you feel great, help you learn easily, and will be successful and rewarding for both you and your pup. A good puppy class should help to motivate you, help you solve problems, and work with you to raise your puppy to be a well-behaved and happy adult dog. You can find puppy classes through your local vets, internet searches, and by chatting to owners of well-behaved dogs about what classes they attended and use these recommendations to make a shortlist.
When making a shortlist of options, it is important to consider the level of training of the instructor (you can find lists of registered and qualified instructors at the APDT http://www.apdt.co.uk/dog-owners/local-dog-trainers and the CAPDT http://capbt.org/findabehaviourist.php), distance and price. Whilst it is important to not pick the nearest or cheapest class just for those reasons, these are still obviously important factors to consider as you would be attending the course for several weeks.
What to look for
Once you have found some classes you think might be of interest, give them a call and ask about class sizes, methods and how they approach puppy play, and make sure to arrange to attend WITHOUT your puppy. This allows you to assess the class without distraction or being encouraged to join in.
Things to look out for:
- Positive training methods ONLY for training puppies and humans, using praise, food treats, and games with toys as rewards.
- Exercises should be broken into small sessions which are suitable for a puppy.
- Noise should be kept to a minimum in a calm, ordered class, preferably with a small class size.
- Puppies and adult dogs should be in separate classes.
- Classes should be structured and progressive week-to-week.
- Puppies and people should look relaxed and happy, and training should be effective for both people and puppies so that all are progressing.
- Instructors should be calm and approachable.
- There should be no stress/tension in the room and punishment should never be used. This includes:
- No check chains, prong collars or electric collars
- No rough treatment, shaking, grabbing, shouting at puppies or pinning them to the floor
- No spraying with water pistols or air sprays
- No throwing of noise makers
- No humiliation or shaming of owners.
- Play between puppies should be carefully supervised and controlled and combined with gentle, effective training. All off-lead play should be managed with just a few puppies off lead at a time for short periods.
Sometimes people worry that unless their puppy is off lead with other dogs as much as possible that they will end up poorly socialised, and they want a lot of this in their puppy class. However, it is more important to make sure of the quality of those socialising experiences, rather than the quantity. If all puppies in a class are let off-lead together, or socialising is not managed properly, puppies can end up being overwhelmed, worried, frightened, or even bullied, and this is likely to cause problems down the road. Hyperactive or overly boisterous puppies should not be let off with timid or fearful puppies, and all interactions between puppies, especially those with vastly different temperaments, should be supervised and managed appropriately.
Playtimes should be short (less than 5 minutes), only puppies of appropriate sizes and temperaments should be let off together, and all play should be interspersed with interaction with the owner. This also applies to socialising your puppy outside of a class environment. Also, if too much of a puppy class is focussed on off-lead socialising, it is unlikely your puppy will be able to focus on you or the training, and will likely not get as much out of the course.
A good trainer should be able to answer your questions helpfully and informatively, and help you work with your puppy constructively to help them become a calm, happy and well-mannered dog. The final question you should be asking yourself when picking a puppy class is simply, “would my puppy and I look forward to coming to this class?” This is something you should attend together for several weeks, and it is important that it is a rewarding and fulfilling experience for both of you! The best classes do get booked up very quickly, and sometimes even have a waiting list, so it is best to start looking into classes as soon as you bring your puppy home (or earlier).