Why Your Puppy Should Go to Puppy Class
by Lynn Stacy-Smith
When my veterinarian suggested to me that I enroll Jackson in the puppy kindergarten class that they had recently started to offer, I was skeptical. He had come to us pre-trained to sit and wait for his food, so at eight weeks old he already knew sit, stay and we were working on a recall game that our friend/breeder had given us in her packet of information that she gives to all puppy buyers.
I had already selected a beginner obedience class that he would begin once he was fully vaccinated and figured I knew enough about dog rearing to make it through the weeks between his homecoming and training class. Plus “kindergarten” sounded a little silly. Was he going to learn his colors and shapes, too?
Puppy Kindergarten turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made!
Jax was one of around five or six other puppies. He was among the youngest and surprisingly, the smallest, since all of the puppies in the class were large breeds just out of sheer coincidence. Two of the most memorable classmates were German Shepherd pups who were at least a month older than him; they had started to get into the gangly awkward stage where their legs seemed too long for the rest of their bodies while Jackson was still stout and compact.
The first half of each class was spent on an educational topic. We learned how to teach the puppies sit, stay, come, and also worked on introducing them to new experiences like a wheelchair, baby stroller, bicycle, the examination rooms of the vet’s office, and other very basic things that a dog might encounter during their day-to-day life.
During the second half of the class the puppies were allowed to play together as a group. If you are picturing the Puppy Bowl that has become a tradition on Super Bowl Sunday, you are exactly right, only without the announcer and the football themed play area.
I was surprised as I watched Jax playing with the other puppies. Based on his behavior at home and his zest for playing rough with his Basset Hound sister Maggie, I thought he would be one of the most rough and tumble puppies in the group. He engaged the bigger Shepherds in play and then ran back to hide behind my feet when they got too rough, looking up at me for reassurance before running back out to play with them some more.
Playing with other puppies is excellent for your dog’s development because puppies learn about manners from other puppies. Of course the universal dog games are what we call “bitey face” which is the type of play in which they bite and nip each other’s jowls and wrestle, and “zoomies” which is a game in which they chase each other around a room or yard.
If a puppy bites too hard or gets too rough, the other puppy will yelp in protest to tell his playmate, “hey, watch it, that bite was too hard and it hurt!” If the rough puppy continues to play too aggressively, the other puppy will walk away from the game entirely, giving the rough-housing puppy the message of “you’re too rough, I’m out!” Learning these lessons as puppies is extremely important for your dog so that he learns how to interact with other dogs at a young age and knows what is appropriate and what is not.
When your puppy is with their litter, they have this experience with their litter mates, but after they go to their forever homes they are usually the only puppy and often the only dog, leaving you the human as their playmate. Unfortunately, their go-to games that they’ve played with other dogs are not compatible with human playmates, so you have to teach them that you are not going to play bitey-face, or bitey-hand or bitey-achilles tendon no matter how much they try.
Not only is it fun and educational for your puppy to play with other dogs his own age, but watching him play with other puppies is educational for you, too. You can learn a lot from watching your puppy play with other puppies you can use the same skills that other puppies use when you are working on bite inhibition, which refers to the important job of teaching your puppy not to bite humans in play or at any time, which we will cover in a separate blog tomorrow.
At the end of the four-week class, we received a list of suggested experiences that puppies should have, ideally before they reached sixteen weeks of age. This list came with the comment that they did not expect owners to go down the list item by item and make sure their dog experienced them all. Of course my husband and I took the list and did just that, and were able to recreate many of them.
We had neighbors help us by walking by with strollers, had our own kids and their friends ride past on skateboards, bicycles, roller blades, electric scooters, plasma cars and whatever else we could think of. We made sure Jackson heard sounds like our Harley Davidson starting, the lawn mower, the weed whacker, pots banging, doors slamming, even a cap gun, although that was part of his hunting dog training that stopped almost before it started.
With every new experience we made sure that Jackson was happy and comfortable and we were elated at how chilled out he was to each and every experience. To this day he is very relaxed around essentially everything except a neighbor’s Halloween scarecrow decoration, to the point where the loudest thunder doesn’t even make him raise his head.
Tinkerbell went through a similar puppy class elsewhere as our veterinarian stopped offering their class, and we worked just as hard at socializing her. She is just as chilled out when encountering new things as her big brother is, and both are able to meet other adult dogs and play with them without incident, hear loud noises without a second glance, and encounter strange things on walks without fear.
Puppy class also became my favorite day of the week because I took an energetic wild puppy into the class and came home with an exhausted, physically and intellectually spent calm puppy who crashed out like I do after an open to close day at Disney! No matter how unconditionally you love your dog, no matter how committed you are to the next fifteen or so years, or however long you are blessed with your dog’s presence in your life, no matter how calm and positive you are, puppyhood can challenge even the most patient of dog owners.
Your dog’s puppyhood is magical but it is also exhausting. There were days when I wanted to cry as I wondered how much longer it would take me to convince Jackson that the leg of our office chair was not a chew toy or that he could not in fact gnaw the spines off of all of the books on the bookshelf, and I knew that on puppy class days he would sleep like, well, like a puppy, and that I could read a magazine or watch a TV show.
Another benefit of attending a puppy class or puppy kindergarten is that you have a professional dog trainer at your disposal who you can ask about house-training tips and other things that you encounter with your puppy at home during the 167 hours of the week when your puppy is not at class. That is a lot of time for your puppy to get into mischief and by asking the trainer for advice you can correct your dog in the best way instead of instilling bad habits that could last your dog’s entire life.
Watch for tomorrow’s blog on bite inhibition and why it is so important to teach your young puppy that biting humans is not acceptable even in a playful puppy way.