Attending Puppy School is a fantastic idea! It will help to teach you the fundamentals of how to train a dog effectively, showing you techniques and timing and building your confidence so you can carry on training at home. It can also be a great socialisation experience for your puppy, where they can meet other puppies of all shapes and sizes in a safe, controlled environment.
Puppy school typically runs over four one-hour sessions, once a week for four weeks. They are usually group classes with five to ten puppies in a class, and an instructor to run the sessions. Puppies at this age have a short attention span, plus they are in a new environment with the distraction of lots of new people and dogs around, so the aim of these classes is not for puppy to master everything immediately – it is mainly for their humans to learn the best way to teach them and to troubleshoot any behaviour issues you might be struggling with at home.
Here are some important things to look for when picking your puppy school:
Look for one run by a qualified dog trainer, veterinary staff or experienced dog professional. You want to be learning the best possible skills, so look for a professional who is more likely to be teaching you up-to-date training methods.
They MUST be a positive reinforcement trainer. Trainers who talk about ‘dominance theory’ and promote punishment and force as a method of discipline are using outdated, fear-based methodology. Only ever attend a puppy school where the trainer uses reward-based training with the puppies and wants to help build the best relationship you can have with your pup.
Look for a puppy school that only groups puppies of the same ages. Tiny puppies running around with teenagers of various sizes is a recipe for mayhem. Your puppy is currently in the critical socialisation phase, so you want them to meet new dogs, but they could also be in the fear imprinting stage, so any negative experiences they have now could impact them for the rest of their life. Puppies should be grouped so they are all in a particular age bracket when they start week one (usually 10-12 weeks old).
The puppies should be on a lead at all times, not let off to roam around the room. As tempting as it might be to let the puppies off to play with each other, shy and smaller puppies need to be protected from over-enthusiastic approaches from bigger puppies who don’t know their strength. All interactions between the pups need to be strictly supervised to make sure no one has a negative scary experience. Your trainer might show you how to make an appropriate on-lead introduction to other puppies but should never encourage the dogs to be just let off and fending for themselves in such a large group. If there are any off-lead parts of the class they should be tightly supervised by a professional instructor who can match suitable puppies together and intervene if play is becoming overwhelming. If you meet some friendly puppies and you would like to do more socialisation with them, befriend their humans and arrange to meet up later in a less high-pressure environment with a smaller group.
Generally, you get more attention from the trainer and the classes run smoother with no more than about five or six puppies per class. The space should be appropriately sized so each family can spread out and the puppies aren’t being forced to share space.
The location should always be a safe for unvaccinated puppies. Usually this will be an indoor venue and if it is held in the vet’s waiting room, they will mop the floor with disinfectant before and after class.
If you find puppy school a bit overwhelming or your puppy misses out on intake due to bad timing, an illness or your schedule, consider booking some one-on-one sessions with a trainer in your home, so you can still learn these important skills.