Puppies are cute. They can also be a handful. In order to make sure your ball of fuzz grows up to be a good canine citizen, puppy training classes are a must. Not only will they teach your puppy good manners, but training is also a way for you to bond and socialize your little one to other dogs and people.
As Danette Johnston, Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA) and owner of Dog’s Day Out in Seattle, WA, points out, “Puppy ‘training’ is really more about setting the puppy up for success in life!”
“Puppies have a critical age for learning,” says Johnston. “Early socialization and learning are imperative for puppies. In fact, this needs to happen BEFORE your puppy is 16 weeks old (ideally before 14 weeks!). If you wait until your puppy has ‘finished his shots’ you are too late. Preventing potential problems is much easier than correcting problems later.”
Groups ranging from the ASPCA, AVSAB, AVMA and Pet Professional Guild agree, with the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior specifically pointing out, “in general, puppies can start puppy socialization classes as early as 7-8 weeks of age…it should be the standard of care for puppies to receive such socialization before they are fully vaccinated.”
The Pet Professional Guild notes puppies who are improperly, or not at all, socialized during the critical “Puppy Socialization Period” of 4-16 weeks of age can experience problems ranging from anxiety to fear aggression. Experts at the Guild explain, “Problems and undesirable behaviors resulting from the lack of proper puppy socialization can be anything from inappropriate barking, chewing, separation anxiety and aggression to general reactivity. Improper or misguided efforts to socialize a puppy can result in a host of fears, predictable and unpredictable. Proper socialization will also greatly increase a dog’s reliability making it easier to handle, train and examine while greatly reducing the risk of a dog biting.”
The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, which administers the CPDT-KA program, offers a nationwide directory of certified trainers. This resource can help you find a trainer in your area and from there, classes that fit your preferences, budget, and schedule.
Types of puppy training classes range from private sessions to groups in community centers, local pet supply stores, or at shelters. Annie Grossman, CPDT-KA, co-founder of School for the Dogs in New York City recommends, whatever you chose, to make sure the facilities you’re visiting check for vaccination records and have cleaning protocols for common but devastating illnesses like leptospirosis and Parvo. “We require puppies to have had their first deworming and their first set of puppy shots at least one week before they come in.”
“Wherever you go, you should check what age they cut off, and find out how and if they divide playgroups by size,” Grossman adds. Not all dogs should play together—they’re vastly different sizes, they have different play styles, and dogs of different ages have different needs. “For puppies, it is crucial that they play with other dogs their own age. But you also want to make sure that the puppy play is well supervised by a trainer who is well-versed in understanding dog body language.”
You should also steer away from really big playgroups since its easy for pups to get overwhelmed. “Dogs play best one on one, and too many pups can overwhelm a puppy,” Grossman says. “We are pretty strict about keeping our playtimes at four puppies.”
Classes generally last about one hour per week for a six week period. Certified trainer Danette Johnston points out that it’s not just the early weeks of training that matter “The first two years are critical,” she says, for training. So make a commitment to continue educating your puppy
The cost of puppy training classes varies widely, especially according to location. If you live in a large city, such as Los Angeles, you’re likely to pay more than if you live in a small town.
That said, most puppy classes can range from around $20 to $50 per session. For example, The Oregon Humane Society in Portland, OR, offers trainer-supervised “puppy romps” for socialization for $10 per session and “puppy manners” classes for $165 for six weeks of training ($27.50 per session).
For young pups ,“We want to concentrate more on management and safe socialization than ‘training’ or teaching specific cues,” explains Johnston.
In fact, you shouldn’t expect to walk out of training with a prim-and-proper pup. “A puppy will behave as a puppy just as a human toddler will behave like a toddler,” Johnston says. “You can’t teach algebra to a kindergartener and you can’t expect advanced concepts to be generalized by a puppy simply because in both cases their brains are not developed enough to get there yet.”
Rather than expecting perfection, expect to let your puppy enjoy their brief puppy weeks. Training at this point is more about bonding with your little one and preventing problems in the future.