In the past, puppy school may not have been seen as an important responsibility when bringing a new puppy into the family. However, we now understand the importance of socialisation and early training in our puppies during the crucial imprinting stage between 8 and 18 weeks of age. This is a time when puppies are most open to learning and accepting new situations and experiences.
Puppy schools are targeted to puppies of this age to expose them to a variety of people (males, females, tall, short, lanky, round, glasses, beards etc) and a variety of dogs (large, small, fluffy, smooth, timid and boisterous) to learn how to interact appropriately with them in a safe and controlled environment.
This is the first step in developing a balanced adult who is confident and friendly to people and dogs, and can help to prevent later fear and aggressive responses. It is important to continue socialising your dog to as many sights, sounds, and smells as possible throughout adolescence, but this early imprinting period is seen as perhaps the most important. This makes attending a professional puppy school absolutely crucial, regardless of your training expertise or having other dogs at home.
What is puppy pre-school?
Puppy pre-school is different to obedience classes. Obedience classes are designed and focused for ongoing training of obedience commands in a group setting for dogs over 6 months of age, whereas puppy school is about getting the foundations right for your puppy’s future life.
Puppy school focuses on early socialisation in that crucial imprinting stage, providing valuable and timely information to puppy guardians, and helping to rectify any identified or potential issues in your dog’s developmental stage before they become ingrained and difficult to rectify, for example teaching that little Labrador puppy not to jump up on people before it becomes a large jumping Labrador.
Is my dog too young?
There is a misconception among many puppy owners that their dog is not fully vaccinated and therefore can’t attend puppy school. However, a reputable puppy school will be conducted in a clean, safe and controlled environment such as within a veterinary surgery, which minimises any risk to your puppy’s health.
Puppy pre-school is for puppies
Your puppy will learn to be confident and friendly to people and dogs
By interacting with other puppies at a young age, your puppy will be able to experiment with different types of play and posturing from play bows to wrestling to chase. Learning to read and communicate with other dogs using this doggy language will help your dog to play and interact successfully with other dogs into adolescence and adulthood.
Good puppy schools will be closely supervised by a professional trainer with expertise in early canine behaviour who will focus on encouraging and rewarding the right behaviours with praise, treats or games. They can identify appropriate play versus bullying or intimidation and ensure that these early experiences are positive for all of the puppies involved. Unfortunately, an instructor without this knowledge and experience can possibly do more harm than good.
Your puppy will learn to control their biting
Puppies bite. This is normal and it is important for puppies to experiment with biting so that they can learn not to bite too hard and then not to bite at all. They need to learn how to control their jaws and develop what is known as ‘bite inhibition’ so that if they are in a stressful situation and they do react with a bite, they will be able to control the bite and use a soft mouth. Other puppies are the best teachers, in a supervised puppy school environment. If a puppy bites too hard in play, the other pup will yelp and end the game for a while.
Your puppy will learn how to settle
There are many approaches to teaching puppies to settle, from crate training to mat training to simply teaching them a cue to indicate that play time is over. Puppy school will usually have some time for the puppies to play and some time for the guardians to learn. During this time, the puppies can be held or encouraged to lie down and disengage from playing with the other puppies. This will become a valuable skill for times when you don’t wish the puppy to be underfoot or attention seeking.
Your puppy will get used to being held
From a young age, puppies should experience being handled by other people, including their ears and paws, in combination with treats and sweet talk. By exposing your puppy to this as a positive experience, you are helping to set them up for a lifetime of complaint-free nail trims, grooming, and veterinary exams. Not all puppies/dogs like to be hugged, but all dogs should accept being handled or restrained in a way that makes them feel comfortable.
Puppy pre-school is also for guardians
You will learn how to keep your puppy happy and healthy
An experienced instructor will be able to provide you with a wealth of information about how to fulfil your puppy’s basic health and environmental needs such as nutrition, exercise, vaccinations, grooming, and parasite control.
You will learn how to manage your puppy’s developmental issues
Puppy school also helps to educate the guardians on how to set the puppy up with good manners from a young age. Even seasoned dog owners can benefit from reminders of timely and useful puppy tips for toilet training, jumping up, walking nicely on lead, chewing, and teething issues etc. While basic obedience commands will be covered, learning social skills and house manners are more important than sit, drop, stay at this young age.
You will learn how to read your puppy’s body language and interactions with other dogs
A qualified and experienced instructor will take the time to point out the differences between appropriate play, dominant play, bullying, and unacceptable play. Remember that dogs communicate mainly through posturing, so understanding when your puppy/dog is playing too rough or is feeling intimidated will be useful information for you throughout the dog’s life.