Most informed dog parents these days know that the critical canine socialization period occurs before the age of three months. For new puppy owners that means two things: 1) The breeder or rescue group responsible you got your puppy from needs to have started the socialization process and 2) you need to keep the process going and find a good puppy class ASAP.
Weasley started his puppy pre-k class last Sunday at Its Your Dog on Sunday. Even though the facility is nearly an hour and a half from our home in Jersey City I love the trainers' philosophy so much that its totally worth it to me to make the trip. Of course I can only speak for myself but here are three things I looked for in a puppy class:
1) A 100% Totally Positive Trainer- The benefits of positive training methods over correction based techniques are so overwhelming that there is absolutely no reason to go to a trainer who doesn't use them 100% of the time. If you want to build a loving relationship with your puppy, and who doesn't, positive training is clearly the way to go. All of the research into animal training, including the training and education of humans, indicates that positive training is far more effective then negative or fear based techniques. Personally, my all time favorite dog trainer is Patricia McConnel I highly recommend all of her books and her blog
2) A Trainer You Like and Who Makes You and Your Dog Feel Good: Considering that anyone who understands positive training methods work for dogs should know that they also work for the humans responsible for the dogs, I've seen a suprising number of positive training afficianados in person and in the media who are darn right negative, nasty, and punitive when it comes to dog owners. Yes, the dogs behavior is the owners responsibility and some people make stupid mistakes in regards to their dogs, but praise rather then criticism is the method dog trainers should employ when dealing with both species. I once took an introductory Rally-O class with Bob at a facility that shall remain nameless. Despite it being an introductory class the trainer seemed to think that I should know all of the Rally-O signals and signs ahead of time (she was from the dog show world as where most of the attendees). The trainer made me fool so foolish and flustered as she again and again called out my mistakes, while asking me to move from technique to technique before we had mastered the foundation, that I nearly left the class in tears. I'm sure I over-reacted but Bob and I decided we most definitely did not need that class and I never went back, and wound up out 100 dollars. We took another fun class at a different faciltiy and had a lovely time.
3) A Puppy Class that Emphasizes the "Soft Skills" A Dog Needs to Be A Good Pet- For sure basic obedience is important, we all want dogs who sit, stay, come, leave it, etc. and definitely young dogs can learn those skills. However, far more important for a family pet, is a dog that enjoys meeting new people and other dogs (or at least tolerates it well), plays nicely, has good bite inhibition, tolerates being touched all over, and does not mind being grabbed. A good puppy class should work on those skills and assign MORE importance to them then sit, stay, leave it, etc.
One thing I love about Weasley's puppy class is that it is 99% playing with other dogs. The trainers supervise and group the dogs by weight and size. Periodically, the owners and the trainers, step in to grab the dogs and reward them after being grabbed. A technique called "gotcha" by the trainers. After being grabbed and rewarded with a tasty treat the puppy goes back to playing so they learn that being caught by the owner is a good thing and not the end of the fun.
Periodically , puppies wait at the side lines while another group plays. This is a great time to work on skills like "look at me". I practice calling Weasley's name and reward him when ever he glances away from the action to take a look at mom.
Weasley will continue in his puppy class until he is 5 months old and then will transfer to basic obedience where he will begin working on sit, stay, lie down, etc. We have already started on some of those skills at home so hopefully it will be a breeze!
Below very blurry pictures of Weasley's first class!