It is that time of year again where we all get into the spirit of giving. There are adverts everywhere encouraging us to buy this or that. Often those adverts contain the cutest pictures of puppies popping out of parcels wrapped with colourful Christmas paper, with a great big red ribbon attached. Christmas cards with lovely pictures of puppies on them. These pictures capture the spirit of Christmas so well. However there is something very wrong with this picture. Christmas puppies are often impulse purchases, and little thought is given to the necessary commitment that having a puppy in the home requires.
A puppy should never be given as a present nor should it be a surprise. It is not a toy and should not be thought of in the same category. There is a lot of preparation required to bring a puppy into a family. This little bundle of fur will not stay a cute little pup for long. It will grow up and have needs, demanding attention, feeding, training, exercising and grooming. A puppy given as a present along with all the other presents will not teach a child the most valuable lesson there is to be learnt from a living puppy – respect for life and how to care for another living being.
Christmas morning with all the excitement of opening presents, taking photos, loud music and people coming and going during the day is no place for a puppy. This could all be really frightening for the new addition. Puppies, like children, go through developmental stages and between the ages of 7 – 12 weeks of age pups hit the first fear impact period. This is always the time that breeders give out their pups to their new families. It is really important not to frighten or stress the puppy during this time as fears learnt during this time can have a permanent impact on the puppy’s personality in the future. If there is too much going on, the puppy will be quickly forgotten in the excitement and this could affect the puppy’s ability to bond with and to trust the humans in its new family.
Another concern is that reliable breeders will not have puppies ready to be homed at Christmas time. They know and understand the problems that go along with sending puppies into their new homes at this time of the year. So that leaves us with the puppy mill pups, the pet shop pups or the pups from disreputable breeders who actually churn out puppies to meet the holiday demand. These pups are really cute but are most often inbred and poorly socialized, with very compromised immune systems, which make them more prone to disease, skeletal problems and a whole host of behaviour problems. The Christmas Day that started off as a whole lot of fun with all the family can easily end up at the Emergency Vet costing a fortune because the new puppy needs a drip after hours!
If you really want to give a puppy at Christmas time, rather buy a lead and harness, a nice dog bed, a good book on raising a behaviourally healthy puppy, a gift certificate for puppy classes or even a subscription to Animal Talk. Wrap these up and put them under the Christmas tree. Then when life has settled down in January all the family can make an informed decision as to what breed they would like, which breeder to get the pup from and then actually selecting the right puppy from the litter for your home environment. It will be something that the whole family can do together and it will be a far better start for the puppy. A good start for a puppy in its new home creates a better bond with the family and is more likely to prevent problems later on.
Rather give the kids a virtual pet or some video games or action figure warrior sets. They will love these and use them and when they get bored with them they can forget about them. You won’t have the responsibility of picking up the messes, taking it out in the middle of the night and walking it in the rain once the kids loose interest. A puppy arriving at your home when everyone is prepared will be just as adorable and you can always wrap it up in a big red bow!
Training a puppy is very much an activity for the whole family. We see a lot of clients who are living with a partner and/or have children in the house, but they come to class all alone. Sometimes, months later, their partner voices their concern that the dog only seems to listen to the person who brought them to puppy school. So what’s going on here?
Dogs are held up as the universal symbol of unconditional loyalty, but the fact is that owners need to build a relationship with their new puppy – it doesn’t just happen spontaneously. This is one of the big reasons why we use positive reinforcement training at ThinkingPets schools; it helps to build a relationship of trust. Clicker training in particular teaches the puppy that he won’t get punished for ‘getting it wrong’. He is encouraged to keep trying his best, and who could ask for more than that? These types of training methods also help the puppy to learn what behaviour his new owner expects of him. Remember that for a dog there is no such thing as right or wrong – there is only behaviour that feels good / gets rewarded and behaviour that doesn’t. By working diligently with your puppy using positive reinforcement, your pup gets to know you and the rules of the house. Each time you reward him for doing something you want, he learns which behaviours you prefer more and more. For example, if you only reward your puppy by greeting him after a long day at work when he sits, he learns that this is the way to get your attention. On the other hand, if you only pay attention to him (even if it is just to scold) when he jumps up, he learns that this is the way to get your attention.
So if we think of training as the way you and your puppy get to know each other, it stands to reason that the puppy will learn more about the person taking him to the Puppy Class. Puppy Class isn’t just about learning; it’s also about quality time spent with your pup. Your puppy learns to trust you and work with you. Other members of the household might interact with the puppy now and then, or even bring him his food every night. But how much quality, one-on-one time do they spend with the puppy? The puppy needs to learn to trust and work with each member of the family.
Another aspect to look at is the fact that dogs just don’t generalize well. We say this to our clients a lot. Just because Fifi knows how to sit on command in class outside on the grass, doesn’t mean she knows how to sit on command at home on the carpet. That is why we encourage clients to practice the behaviour learnt in class that week in as many places as possible. All this helps the dog to learn that “sit” means “sit”, no matter where you are! In this same way, if the puppy only ever trains with one person, she learns to only “sit” when that person asks. Each person will say a command differently (tone of voice, enunciation, etc.) and each person’s body language will also differ while giving the command. A vital part of training that sometimes gets overlooked is having each member of the family practice the different tricks and behaviours with the puppy, in different locations. It isn’t always possible for all members of the family to come to a Puppy Class, keeping in mind everyone’s different work schedules. A remedy for this is for the other members of the family to practice that week’s lesson with the puppy at home or maybe in the park. Put in that extra 30min every other day and not only will your puppy learn, but you will help her to build relationship with each member of the family.
Keep in mind that all this doesn’t just pertain to behaviours like “sit” and “down”. Your puppy needs to learn to walk on a loose leash, come when called and give/swap objects when asked by any member of your household. Sometimes little things get overlooked, and Dad can’t understand why Fido tries to pull him off his feet in the park while he is perfectly capable of walking sedately next to Mom.
When it comes to children, some discretion must be used. It is important for the new puppy to learn about children and to know how to work with children. Most schools encourage owners to bring their children to puppy class, provided that they are supervised, because it gives puppies in the class who are not in households with children the opportunity to interact with them appropriately and under supervision. However, certain exercises are best taught by parents first. For example, it is best for the parents to teach the new puppy things like bite inhibition and not to jump up. Children tend to scream and squeal, and this might only excite the puppy even more – resulting in the puppy biting harder or jumping up more, instead of the opposite. Children are also not physically able to help teach a puppy about loose lead walking, as part of this training involves having to stand absolutely still and not moving when the puppy pulls. But they can help with other things such as sit, down, paw, etc., provided that an adult is there to help them and to teach them not to yank the treat away from the puppy (as this encourages the pup to grab food). Please do remember that a small child should never be left unsupervised with a dog. A parent or guardian should always be present to show the child how to play without pinching or hurting the dog.
So make training a fun activity for your whole family. Everyone can get a chance to work with the new puppy, as long as everyone teaches the puppy the same rules and hand signals / voice cues. Above all, enjoy the new member of your family!
The Family Fun Day was launched in 2011 in support of the Christmas Shoe Box Drive – the aim of both these initiatives is to make Christmas special for all the shelter animals across South Africa and Mozambique by donating goods and money.
October the 1st dawned with clear skies and a brisk wind. There were reports of rain on the way, but only in the evening. Everything was set and we were excited to kick off the very first Family Fun Day. We had stalls selling a varied selection of goods; from Christmas decorations, to dog beds to goodies for rats and guinea pigs.
The gates opened at 09:30 to guests. Dogs and horses were all welcome to come and share the day with their owners. We had many events planned, but the day was kicked off by Howling Huskies. They wowed us with a dry-land sledding demonstration, kicking up a cloud of dust as they ran for the sheer joy of it.
The market was already bustling by 10:00. People and dogs had a great time sniffing around the stalls. We had some instructors walking around, looking for dogs to surprise with some amazing spot prizes from our sponsors. Eleanor Wear from Elrich Stables generously offered to bring some ponies and horses to the Family Fun Day. The horses were also fascinated by the new sights and smells of the market area and looked like they were browsing for some Christmas gifts themselves!
Our second demonstration was a Field Trial demonstration. David Tweddell did the commentary, while Judith Buchannan, Pam Smille and Shawn Kloek showed off their dogs’ tracking and retrieving prowess.
Some of our very own instructors brought their clients through to do some demos on the day.
Around mid-day we had a treasure hunt. This was most definitely the highlight of the day! We gave out a list of clues leading to tokens that were hidden all across the estate. The first 4 teams back with all 10 tokens each received a weekend holiday courtesy of Southern Sun. The lucky winners of this fabulous prize were:
- Gina Steyn
- Nicky Cuyler
- Nadine Townsend
- Eugene Bredenkamp
The runners up received Nestle goodie hampers, Kong toys and Rogz products. No one walked away empty-handed.
The last event of the day was a lively dancing dogs demonstration. Thanks to the ladies who came through to show off their moves!
ThinkingPets would like to thank Cathrene and her team for the wonderful vegetarian delicacies on the day! We enjoyed such lovely fare as warm vegetable and haloumi wraps, vegetarian schnitzel burgers and vegetarian friendly muffins.
The whole day would not have been possible without our generous sponsors, of course. Thank you once again to all the companies and individuals that donated towards the event:
- Heritage Surgical Products
- Southern Sun
- Roodt Inc. Attorneys
- Montego Classic
- Raziel Import & Export International CC
- Wallace & Jones
- Bayer Animal Health
- Elrich Stables
Keep an eye on the Family Fun Day page for next year. We plan to make this an annual event and we believe next year will be even bigger and better!
Discussing various books and opinions as a guide for all dog owners
By Karin Landsberg (DipCABT (NOCN UK), CAPBT Practitioner, CertCAB)
The field of Behaviour is an interesting one, with never a dull moment. Different opinions between trainers, behaviourists and other professionals can often make it hard for pet owners to choose which belief system they should subscribe to when it comes to what’s best for their pets. There are so many conflicting opinions out there. So to help our pet owners make educated decisions about which methods they choose to employ, we’re going to put as much information about modern pet behaviour and training out there as we can. When we say modern, we don’t mean a new idea that is held by a handful of young upstarts – no, we mean modern scientifically proven facts about canine behaviour, researched by the leaders in the industry who are recognised across the world as ‘the people who know what they’re talking about’ – both practically and academically, applied daily by countless professionals and understood to be the most accurate and humane method of changing any problem behaviour in our companion animals.
This modern viewpoint encapsulates the understanding that dogs are not wolves, that they are emotionally capable of far more than just being either dominant or submissive, and it questions and confronts the reality that pack theory is a far too simplistic way to try and suppress behaviour. It embraces their individuality and takes into consideration the fact that owners and their pets are unique, not just some pre-cast stereotypical alpha and beta characters constantly vying for a position of power. It also doesn’t follow the old adage that “there are no problem pets, only problem people” – an outlook that places such reserve on owners to even acknowledge they may have a problem, in case they are immediately labelled as poor owners who caused issues in their pets which causes so many pet owners to rather either live with the problem in silence, or if the problem is serious may relinquish their dogs to shelters in the hope of the dog finding a more suitable home where the problem may not appear.
Behaviour problems are often the result of miscommunication, misunderstanding and inappropriate feedback. It doesn’t mean owners are always to blame – if you don’t know better, how can you be held responsible? However, ‘finding out’ can be a tremendous task on its own. Which normal pet owner has time today to read through volumes of material and then ponder the implications and repercussions of what is advocated?
I’m not going to lie to you – there are some extreme disagreements on what a dog is, how a dog should behave, what a dog is capable of, what the owners should do, and who knows what. It’s easy to get bogged down in the details and get stuck in endless arguments about who is right.
That’s not what this is about – the underlying question, in fact, the ONLY question, is: which methods do you use to change what’s happening? There at least, we seem to have mostly two methods being subscribed to. Positive reinforcement training, or punishment/aversive training. Do you want to use motivation to change what your dog is doing which will result in a stronger bond with a more willing and cooperative dog who isn’t scared of you? Bearing in mind that when using these methods it doesn’t matter if you make a mistake because you won’t do harm and you can try again, or do you want to use punishment and aversive methods which has a severe impact on your dog’s emotional state, his ability to learn and his relationship with you. Not to mention that using punishment and aversive techniques can do a lot of physical and emotional damage if you make a mistake – either you can hurt your dog, or you can get hurt if your dog acts in self defence against what is perceived as a hazard..
There are pros and cons to each technique, which is not surprising. But before you decide on which method you choose to employ, be certain of both positives and negatives and make sure you understand what you’re doing.
The biggest pro here is that anyone can do it without doing damage while training or doing behaviour modification with their dog, regardless of level of experience. If you make a mistake, or your timing is off, you can always fix it and shape it into the desired behaviour, without making your dog scared of you or doing any physical damage. It doesn’t mean you have to let your dog run amok and ignore you and basically do whatever he wants – far from it! It just means that you put boundaries in place about his behaviour and you enforce those boundaries without the use of physical punishment or argument. You give feedback on what you like and when the dog does something you don’t want, you correct him by providing a consequence he doesn’t like, for instance a time-out. It means you don’t grab him, choke him until he turns blue, you don’t pin him to the ground until he loses control of his bladder or scare him so badly that he has to resort to biting you to keep you away from him.
The downside of the motivational methods is that it takes time. There is no instant cure, no immediate effect that looks glamorous and it requires patience. It does, however, mean that you can create an environment that is conducive to your dog learning something and that the learning lasts a lot longer than when you use aversive methods.
The biggest draw-card for owners about aversive behaviour modification and training is that it appears to produce instant results. Which, to a certain extent, it does – if you punish or frighten any dog badly enough, he will do one of two things – he’ll either suppress his behaviour (temporarily) or he’ll engage a hazard avoidance strategy (fight/aggression). The problem with suppressing behaviour is that it is often like putting a pressure cooker on the stove and leaving that pressure to build and build – at some point it’s going to explode and then you have soup all over the ceiling. Using aversive methods means applying pressure, constantly. The catch of course is that you have to keep increasing the pressure, since the dog will habituate to the level that’s being used.
It causes great stress and stress inhibits learning. It means that while it may yield ‘instant wow results’, it’s only going to work until something gives. That something is either the owners or the dog. And when it does, you end up with an even bigger problem.
Are there dogs whose behaviour can be altered by the use of physical punishment? Well, yes. The question is, is it humane and what is it doing to the dog? Using aversive methods can be dangerous. It’s all good and fine for an experienced person to come in and ‘dominate’ your dog, but can YOU do it, just as well? It’s easy to come into someone’s house and be horrible to their dog. The dog will respond to that –he has no history or relationship with this new person and will try to escape or avoid this hazard. He doesn’t know what this person will do, so it’s easier for him to learn new responses that will stop the threat. He has a relationship with you. He knows how you respond; he knows what you do when he growls at you. This means he’ll behave differently with you when you try to do it. And the results will be different.
Behaviour modification can be done using only motivation. It is remarkably effective for just about everything, including aggression and rehabilitation of difficult or dangerous dogs, as proven by Best Friends in America. This organisation focuses on rehabilitating pit bulls used for fighting. They are successful without being unpleasant with the dogs – there is just no need for it plus the risk of getting badly hurt while trying to physically force a pit bull to comply is too high. Consider this. There’s a reason marine parks use motivational training when training large marine mammals… you can’t put a choke chain on a killer whale or a dolphin and MAKE it do anything. So why should we use choke chains on dogs just because they’re smaller? It’s unnecessary and nothing but bullying.
So, back to the different behaviourists and experts and their stance on behaviour modification. As I mentioned, there are countless professionals who are leaders in the field internationally who are very outspoken against old fashioned pack theory implementation when addressing behaviour and training problems. The list is quite long and actually quite impressive.
It includes people like Jean Donaldson, James O’Heare, Professor Raymond Coppinger, Professor Peter Neville, Barry Eaton, Karen Pryor, James Serpell, Dr Ian Dunbar, and associations the world over, including COAPE (Centre Of applied Pet Ethology), the CAPBT (COAPE Association of Pet Behaviourists and Trainers), the American Humane Association (AHA), the Association of Pet Behaviour Councellors (APBC), the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC), American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB,) the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior… the list is endless. These people all speak out against the use of out-dated pack theory in behaviour modification. They (as do many others in the world) believe that you don’t have to dominate or abuse your dog into submission. You can use positive, modern methods that won’t damage you and your dog’s relationship.
The information is out there. The books that should be on every dog owner’s shelf include:
*Karen Pryor: Don’t shoot the dog.
* Jean Donaldson: The Culture clash.
* Barry Eaton: Dominance, fact or Fiction.
* Professor Coppinger: Dogs: a startling new understanding of Canine Origin and Behaviour.
*Burch and Bailey: How dogs learn.
Over the next few months we’ll do reviews on various books out there. We believe in education as a way to prevent problems, and we also hold true the belief that it is every professional’s responsibility to their clients to continue their education on an on-going basis, instead of blindly subscribing to what is being put in front of them. The information is available; all it takes is a bit of time to read it and an open mind. Keep an eye on our website for more!
We often get asked “what constitutes a GOOD puppy school?” by our students and clients. Those questions prompted this article, to make this information available to everyone out there who is thinking about getting a puppy.
At ThinkingPets, we aim to educate South Africa (and indeed the world) about positive training techniques. If more people are aware of the different types of training out there, and the benefits and drawbacks of each type, they will be able to choose a puppy school with confidence. Puppies that go to a good puppy school right from the start have a better chance of growing up to be well-balanced, confident adults. This will mean that these same puppies will have a much better chance of staying in one home, with their original owner, instead of being labelled as a “problem dog” and passed around from shelter to owner and back. To this end, we have put together a list of factors you need to take into account when going to a puppy school.
When you first make contact:
- Does the trainer explain what methods they use up front?
It is important that you know whether or not the trainer allows physical punishment and/or choke chains in class. Choke chains can damage your dog’s neck, so be very careful! To give you an idea of how sensitive a neck is, just take your finger and press it length-wise, lightly against the middle of your throat. It is extremely uncomfortable, even with such light pressure. Now imagine someone jerking your neck with a metal chain. We recommend that you use a harness for your puppy. Classes that use choke chains will often tell you that your puppy can only attend class if they are 4 – 6 months old. This is because the puppy’s neck is a little hardier from this age onwards, although damage can still be done.
Physical punishment – hitting, jerking and smacking – and shouting can hinder the bond between puppy and owner. In addition, all physical punishment can often result in general suppression of behaviour, hand shyness, learned helplessness or aggression. The only thing your puppy is likely to learn is that training is a scary time when my owner is going to punish me. Where fear or pain is involved, learning cannot take place.
Remember that even one such an incident is enough to make a big impact on your puppy and might mean that your puppy will be reluctant to ever go to class again.
- Does the trainer explain school policies and costs up front?
It’s important that the trainer explain school fees and policies up front. For instance, what happens if class is cancelled because of rain – do you lose that lesson or not? What is their policy regarding refunds? Make sure that you are informed of all these things so as to avoid nasty surprises in future.
Do find out if the school allows the whole family to join in the class. It is important for puppies to be exposed to as many different people as possible, and this includes children. It is a good idea for a school to allow children to attend – provided they are supervised of course.
- Does the trainer request proof of your puppy’s vaccinations and de-worming?
Puppies can join in with a puppy class as soon as they have had their first inoculation. Before this, it is dangerous to take your puppy anywhere where there are other dogs that may not have been vaccinated as puppies are very susceptible to diseases, such as distemper, parvovirus, hepatitis, adenovirus and para-influenza. De-worming is just as important as worm larvae can be passed from dog to dog where there is faeces lying around. It is important to have assurance that the class you are attending allows only vaccinated pups to attend.
- Is your trainer qualified?
Can the trainer prove that he/she has undergone training through a reputable organization? There are a lot of trainers out there who have schools simply based on the fact that they “have owned dogs all their lives”. Please be very careful of this.
The puppy school should preferably be sponsored or endorsed by a reputable brand, company or Veterinarian. Affiliations like this are essentially a quality guarantee – no self-respecting corporate entity or Veterinarian will link their name to a terrible school. This will also mean that the school is responsible to someone and that you can give feedback about the school. Schools without accreditation won’t necessarily care about feedback, as they aren’t accountable to anyone.
At the first class:
- First Impressions: the instructor & the venue
When you get to class, is the instructor dressed neatly? Is the venue clean and neat as well? This might seem unimportant, but an instructor who doesn’t takes his/her appearance and the state of his/her venue seriously is likely to be just as indifferent about the importance of his/her role as your puppy school trainer.
Is the venue securely fenced? Nothing can be more tragic than a puppy bolting into the road and getting hurt or killed. Please make sure that the venue is safe and secure.
- Are all the dogs in the class more or less the same age, or are there adult dogs mixed in?
There is a lot of debate going around about this subject. What we can do is offer you some concrete facts to explain why we say older dogs should not be allowed in a class with puppies.
Puppies are dogs under the age of 4 months. Dogs between the age of 4 months and 2 years are classified as adolescents. All dogs over 2 years of age are adults.
Adolescent and adult dogs have different play patterns than puppies. They get really rough and pushy. Adult dogs also have their permanent teeth and much more jaw strength than the puppies. Puppies can get hurt by this rough and tumble and can also be scared. At roughly 4 months – this varies within breeds – puppies will start exhibiting hazard avoidance behaviour. Basically, mother nature is telling the puppy to be suspicious of all new things as they could equal a threat. Any new interaction that has a bad outcome – such as being knocked over by an older dog – will most likely result in the puppy being afraid to approach strange dogs in the future.
In some schools, an older “neutral” dog is sometimes included in class to “teach” the puppies. Whether or not this is beneficial is also a big debate among professionals. Such an adult dog has to be very well-socialized, have a stable personality (not likely to snap at puppies), and be very obedient. Even then, it could be considered a bit unfair to the older dog as he will be mobbed by a group of unruly puppies with sharp, baby teeth!
- Is there dog faeces lying around?
Dog faeces can carry different diseases and worms over to other puppies. It is extremely important that any puppy class you attend encourage owners to pick up after their puppies.
- How many instructors are there vs. the amount of puppies?
If the class has 15 puppies and only 1 instructor, that instructor will not be able to help each and every client personally. This means that you won’t receive the attention and time you are paying for. Ideally there should be 1 instructor and/or assistant per 6 puppies at maximum.
Puppy school is not just for the puppies; it’s for the owner’s too! Your trainer should be able to teach you everything you will need to know to raise a healthy, well-balanced dog.
It is important that the trainer discuss topics such as sterilization, socialization and habituation, developmental stages, etc. It’s important that the owner learns what he/she can expect from his/her puppy as the puppy matures. This can be a lot of information to remember, so a good school should be able to give you information that you can take home and read again and again.
The school should also encourage you to practice what you have learned at home with your puppy. Dogs don’t generalize well. The more places you practice with your puppy, the better! The trainers should make you aware of this fact and give “homework” at each class.
All trainers should be knowledgeable on what you can expect from your puppy depending on the breed. Each breed has specific characteristics that can influence training.
You should be informed about any on-going training that the school offers. Puppy school is only the first step – your dog can learn new things his whole life through. On-going classes are also a wonderful way of keeping your dog well-socialized.
- Do you end up spending the whole class just letting the puppies play together?
Puppy socialization is very important. Your puppy does need to learn how to play with other puppies, and he/she needs to learn that other dogs are friends and not a threat. However, a good puppy class shouldn’t focus only on puppy socialization. It is important that your puppy learn some basic commands and how to walk on a loose leash. Teaching your puppy these commands in a class, as well as practicing at home, has the benefit of helping your dog understand that he needs to listen to you whether there are other dogs around or not. A class that is one big play session might teach your puppy that once there are other dogs around, he can do whatever he likes! Your puppy should also learn some basic life skills such as frustration tolerance, bite inhibition, etc. in class.
Ideally the instructor should also teach you how to get your puppy used to be touched and handled all over – this is especially important so that visits to the groomer and the Vet are less stressful! It will also come in handy should you ever need to inspect your dog for injury, clip his/her nails, or maybe pull out a thorn. If your puppy isn’t used to being touched on his feet, you could have a battle on your hands. Secondly, but equally as important, this will help you to familiarize yourself with your puppy’s body and make it easier to notice when something is out of the ordinary.
Puppy class is, when all is said and done, still an educational facility where owners and puppies not only have fun, but also are given useful lessons to prepare them for their lives together. This means dealing with puppy problems, preventing future problems, and allowing the pups to get to know all different kinds of dog breeds and people.
- Does the instructor explain and demonstrate each behaviour/trick taught to the puppies?
Nothing is quite as frustrating (and embarrassing) as standing around because you have no idea what to do. The instructor should let all the owners know which action/obedience command to practice next, and should make sure that each owner knows how to go about it. It is important that you not only know what to teach your dog, but also how, to guarantee successful training.
- Does the trainer intervene when one puppy bullies another, or not?
Some schools will just leave dogs to “establish dominance” and “sort each other out”. Please watch out for this! Dogs are NOT wolves. They may be related to them, but they do not live in the wild, nor do they act like wolves, or live in packs. Applying wolf behaviour to your dog would be like applying chimpanzee behaviour observed at the zoo to you, simply because we are both primates. It’s like chalk and cheese!
If your puppy is bullied in class, chances are that the only thing he will learn is to be meaner than any dog approaching him or he will get pounced on. Puppy class should be a safe place where puppies can play and learn that other dogs are not scary and that they don’t need to be afraid. A good trainer will keep an eye on all puppy interaction and intervene when play gets too rough for one puppy.
- Does the trainer help you with your specific puppy problems?
No two puppies are the same and no two owner-puppy combinations are the same! There might be another owner in class with exactly the same type of dog that you have, but they won’t experience all the same problems you do. A good trainer will make time to ask each owner where they most need help, be it house training, jumping up, bite inhibition, food guarding, etc. You should leave puppy class armed with more knowledge that you came in with, and have the answers to your puppy questions.
- On-going support
Sad to say, most puppy owners don’t expect any support from the trainers after puppy school is finished. A good school should be able to offer you the on-going support and advice you need as well as on-going classes for your dog as he matures, or at least be able to recommend another school that does. Also be sure to ask if the trainer is willing to do home visits if necessary.