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Are Puppy Kindergarten Classes Necessary?

Are Puppy Kindergarten Classes Necessary?

It's time you make the right decision and enroll your pup into puppy school. Take the following example from a friend of mine, Jim Bonza:

"Just before my neighbor's 100-pound, 9-month-old chocolate Labrador Retriever was about the be thrown away to the nearest animal shelter for doing what comes natural – jumping up on everyone, running away every chance he could, and barking non-stop at anyone or anything – I was able to save the dog by taking him in myself,” Jim says.

“He's had no training; he chews everything in sight and isn't housetrained. His owners had no idea how to train or control the dog, so they gave up on him.”

This big puppy is the perfect example of why puppy classes are so important. Give your dog a head start in life by enrolling in puppy kindergarten classes. You don't want him growing up and getting bigger, only to cause too much trouble for the family that he will need to be given up. Finding a new home for those types of untrained adult dogs is extremely difficult.

The Importance Of Puppy School

Early training for puppies can be compared to preschool or kindergarten for young children. The information being taught is vitally important for their future, yet the teaching process is designed for young minds with short attention spans.

In addition, in these classes, young puppies and young children learn how to get along with each other. They learn to hold still when the teacher is talking, and how to play without hurting each other – all very important lessons.

Puppy class has so many benefits – so much so that many breeders require their new puppy buyers to attend these classes; some actually put that requirement into the sales contract. I've personally seen the success that puppy schools have; owners are happier because they learn how to communicate with their puppies and how to use their training.

Mario Lopez, a breeder from San Antonio, Texas, says this about his customers: “When I'm screening potential puppy buyers, I ask up front if they have the time to train and can promise to take the puppy through kindergarten (and adult) classes.”

Mario goes on to say, “Taking a puppy to class helps establish a rapport between puppy and owner. Going to a class gives you a special time to focus on your puppy without distractions at home.”

The education provided in a puppy class isn't just for the puppies, though. It's important that puppy owners learn what to do and how to do it with their puppies. They need to learn how to turn their puppies into good companions at home.

Most puppy kindergarten classes introduce you and your puppy to the basic obedience commands that will be used throughout the dog's life. The most common include sit, down, stay, come and heel. Other commands may include watch me and leave it.

Ideally, the puppy-class instructor will demonstrate each command, showing you how to teach your puppy. Most instructors will demonstrate with one of their own dogs first, then with an untrained puppy in the class. By demonstrating with one of the puppies enrolled in the class you can see the technique in action. After all, the instructor's dog is already trained and will make it look so easy!

After demonstrating a command, the instructor will then have everyone try it with their own puppies. He or she will help those that are having trouble understanding or performing the training techniques and will show alternative techniques for the puppies that are having trouble. When everyone (owners and puppies) understand, the instructor will move on to the next exercise.

The techniques and methods used by dog trainers and instructors vary, depending upon the individual's likes, dislikes, and background. No one technique is right or wrong, as long as it is humane, fair to the puppy, and easy for puppy owners to learn.

There are a few bad training methods – those that aren't humane or are too difficult for pet owners to learn, but most trainers keep puppy training positive, with lots of positive reinforcements (such as praise, petting, and treats), while also teaching you how to set rules and guidelines for your puppy.

The puppy-class instructor will also give examples of how to use these commands in daily life, and that's one of the most important lessons you can learn from these classes. After all, training is not just for those few minutes when you and your puppy are in class – it's for your dog's lifetime. When you know how to use these commands, and how to make them work for you, training is much more effective.

Important Tip: Use The Basic Commands Daily

The basic obedience commands you and your dog learn in puppy school are for much more than simply having your puppy perform them on command. Instead, they should be used throughout your puppy's daily routine. By using the basic commands, you can teach your puppy acceptable behavior at home, as well as out in public, to prevent bad behavior from occurring.

Puppy classes also provide a wonderful opportunity for puppies to get to know other people and puppies. This early socialization is vital for the puppy's general well-being as it grows up.

Puppies that are exposed to a variety of people learn that people come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and ages and that people are fun to be around. Puppies that are exposed to friendly puppies and dogs learn that dogs, too, come in all sizes, shapes, colors, and ages, and that other dogs are fun as well.

Puppy play sessions should be held in a secure location (a fenced-in training yard, for example), and on a surface that's safe for the puppies. Concrete isn't good; nor is a slick floor – both for obvious reasons.

If the puppies are all about the same age, large and small puppies can play together. However, if there are some very large puppies and some toy or small breed puppies, two playgroups should be set up, with puppies matched for size. The puppies should be allowed to play by themselves with as little interference from owners as possible; this is the puppies' time to play – not the owners!

On the other hand, puppies that are being bullied (overly rough play or biting) can be picked up by the instructor and given a time out. They can go back to the playtime when they've calmed down. It may take two or three play sessions for some puppies to figure out they're not allowed to be bullies.

“Interacting with other people and dogs at a young age builds the puppy's confidence and gives it the impression that the world is a friendly place and nothing to be afraid of,” says Samantha Morrison, a local staff member of the San Diego Dog Training Center in California. “Once you remove the doubt from a puppy's world, learning the house rules and building new skills is quite simple.”

Dog's that aren't socialized when they're young are often afraid, even to the point of biting, when meeting new people or dogs; or can react in a more aggressive manner, trying to attack the unknown person or dog. Others simply don't know how to behave around other dogs because they haven't had any practice.

Although you can and should socialize your new puppy on your own, a puppy class provides a safe place for socialization under an instructor's guidance and supervision. In addition, most puppy classes require participants to show proof of immunization (at least the first set of vaccines), so you can be sure your puppy won't contract any communicable diseases such as parvovirus, which can be fatal to young puppies.

Most puppy classes show you how to physically handle your puppy, also called “social handling.” By handling puppies often and gently, they learn to accept being touched, including looking inside the ears, touching the teeth, and handling the paws and toenails. This gentle handling makes grooming much easier, especially combing, brushing, and checking for fleas, ticks, burrs and tangles in the hair.

A significant part of puppy class also teaches you how to prevent future problem behaviors. For example, by teaching your puppy to sit and stay at an open door or gate, you can prevent your puppy from learning to dash through that opening to the outside world, and perhaps running away or getting hit by a car. When your puppy learns to sit for petting, jumping on people is no longer a problem.

A puppy class should set up practical solutions because often, it's everyday routines that cause the biggest problems for the pet dog owner. The class should also address problems within the family over the pup, including inconsistent training.

Finding The Perfect Puppy Class

There are many ways to find a great puppy training class. Like any business, reputation and referrals are the best. Look at dogs you admire and ask the owners where they went to class. If you and your puppy go for a walk and you see a wonderfully behaved, friendly dog, do just that. People love to talk about their dogs, and will gladly share dog training stories with you.

You can also call around to local veterinarians and ask where they recommend their clients take their puppies for training. Veterinarians and their staff see all kinds of dogs, including those that are well-trained and easy to handle, as well as dogs that have no training at all and are difficult to treat.

When you have the names and phone numbers of a few different trainers, give them a call and talk for a few minutes. Ask where they train. Is it in a public place that might be a hazard to a puppy or does they have a private, enclosed training yard? What steps have they taken for the participants' safety, particularly for small dogs? When do they recommend puppies begin training? What vaccinations do they require?

Then ask if you can come back and watch a class. Leave your puppy at home and watch how the instructor teaches the class. How does the instructor teach the students? Are the students attentive? Are they having fun? Does the instructor relate well to the dogs in class? Is the instructor's dog well-behaved? After watching the class, would you be comfortable in this class?

As you watch the class, keep in mind that every trainer and the instructor has his or her own training style and techniques. Some trainers use clickers; others use positive methods, such as food treats but no clickers; and some trainers use other techniques. Choose something that you would feel comfortable with and that works best for you and your dog.

Every trainer will set his or her own guidelines as to when puppies can begin puppy training classes. Most will accept puppies between 10 and 16 weeks of age because this is the time when socialization is most important. At this age, puppies are sponges ready to soak up everything they can be taught. They have short attention spans, sure – but quick and short training sessions can overcome that.

Puppies attending classes at this age are vulnerable to disease, though, and care must be taken so they are not exposed to unvaccinated or sick dogs. Most veterinarians are split on the best timetable for this advice: Some doctors believe that one set of vaccines is sufficient to begin puppy class, while others recommend two sets before starting any kind of group-canine class or get-together.

Either way, all vets advise puppy owners to watch out for unhealthy dogs, dogs that haven't had at least one set of vaccines, and overly aggressive dogs as well (there is no point in getting your puppy hurt by a larger, more dominant dog in the group).

A Professional Opinion

Jenny Schiebert, D.V.M., of Shadowridge Veterinary Hospital in Vista, California, says puppies should definitely have at least two sets of vaccinations that include parvovirus (a highly contagious disease that is often fatal in puppies).

Dr. Schiebert goes on to say, “The class location should be secure and available only to well-vaccinated dogs [such as a private training yard], and not a public park where unvaccinated dogs can roam, or a pet-supply store where a variety of dogs come in and out all day long. As long as the vaccination policy is enforced, I think the small risk of infection is outweighed by the benefit of puppy training and socialization.”

Schiebert advises caution, too. “As far as walks in public, I recommend waiting until two weeks after the puppy's four-month immunizations,” she says. “This also goes for trips to the beach, dog parks, and pet stores.”

To simplify the advice here in the case of watching out for your own puppy, all you have to do is avoid areas where lots of dogs gather and eliminate, which can be sources of parvovirus and distemper. Dogs that are coughing and have mucousy noses may be showing signs of canine influenza or other diseases.

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