By Danielle Basciano, CDBC, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
Getting a new puppy? Consider enrolling in a puppy socialization class to help set your dog up for success. Here are the three top questions we are asked about our puppy preschool class and puppy classes in general:
Is attending puppy class really necessary?
The answer as always is “it depends”. If you have the ability to provide your puppy with a wide variety of social experiences which includes access to other dogs and people, then a class may not be necessary. However, if you have limited access to the above, are unsure what proper and safe socialization entails or just want to make sure you provide your puppy with the best start possible, then a puppy socialization class is the way to go!
How soon should I enroll my puppy in class?
As soon as possible! We start puppies as early as 8 weeks old as long as they have had their first set of vaccines and first deworming. It is not necessary nor is it advisable to wait until your puppy has had all of their vaccinations before you start class. Puppies have a critical socialization period which means that if you don’t properly expose your puppy to as many stimuli, environments, other animals and people as possible by 12 weeks of age (18 weeks at the latest), you increase the chance that your dog will have behavior problems as an adult. See the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior’s Position Statement on Puppy Socialization for more information: https://avsab.org/resources/position-statements/
Since the puppies in class may not be fully vaccinated, make sure the training facility has sanitized the floor before each class. We also recommend that you carry puppies from your car into the building until they have had all 3 sets of vaccines.
What happens in a puppy class?
Puppy classes will vary slightly depending on the instructor but the main focus should be on socialization. That means safe and positive exposure to other puppies, people, places and things. The “positive” part is the key. Forcing your puppy into unwanted interactions can create fears that will continue into adulthood. Allow your puppy to set the pace when it comes to exploring new things or meeting new people with positive outcomes to help foster confidence and lifelong coping skills.
When it comes to off leash play with the other puppies in class, it should not be a free-for-all. Skilled instructors will know when and how to intercede to make sure interactions are constructive rather than setting your dog up for failure down the road. Play sessions should be intermittent with training opportunities using reward-based methods in between.