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While the importance and value of a puppy course is undeniable, not all puppy classes are created equal. A good puppy class will be the cornerstone of your puppy's education. But a poorly run puppy class can badly damage your puppy. To learn more about what you should look for in a good puppy class we visited Dr. Terry Bright, director of the behavior department at the MSPCA, Boston. Dr. Bright is an applied behavioral analyst, and her training program is based on scientifically proven, effective, and safe methods. Her Puppy Play and Learn class is a sterling example of a program that provides a solid and safe experience for young puppies, and gives them the foundation they need to be good pets in their new homes. When we started the training program at the MSPCA, I designed the puppy curriculum as a preventative behavioral health program. Because I see the sad end of many dogs' lives who lose their homes because of behavior problems, I knew that I wanted to prevent those. Everyday here, adolescent dogs are surrendered because they weren't trained when they were puppies. They weren't trained to accept handling, they weren't trained to walk on the leash, they weren't trained to be social with other dogs, they weren't trained to be social with people. That opportunity was over at an early age. That window of opportunity is as small as the puppy, and it's gone too soon, so that's the time to start when your puppy is little. In my puppy class, I set it up so puppies would learn how to calm down when they needed to, how to be social with other dogs and a variety of other people, and how to work for their owners to keep them in their homes to create that bond that's so important between dogs and their humans. Without that bond, every dog is a risk. So if you're in a puppy class there's usually going to be kids there in class, that's a great thing for puppies to be exposed to. There are tall people, short people fat people, skinny people, big men with deep voices loud noises, all the kind of things that a puppy is going to be exposed to when they are a full grown dog. So if the goal is to get your puppy exposed to as many new dogs in people as possible, why not just head down to the local dog park? It's free, and you can go anytime you like, sounds perfect right? Well maybe not. Dog parks are unpredictable places for dog behavior. You can't tell at a dog park what's going to happen day to day. And to insert your puppy into a group of dogs that you don't know, whose behavior you can't predict, is potentially dangerous at worse, and exposes your puppy to potential fear provoking situations. Why would you have that for your puppy? The ideal puppy class is predictable. You bring your puppy in, you can see what's going to happen, you know what's going to happen. Your puppy's not going to be injured by a dog who's aggressive, versus at the dog park, anybody could be there on any given day. The MSPCA's Play and Learn is a fine example of a good puppy class, both in content and structure Doctor Bright takes us through a typical class plan. So they come in, they have a nice settling period for a few minutes. And then some training, sits downs, puppy what's my name? What's my name? And then they play for a while. You divide the play groups so that the puppies are matched by size and play style. You don't just put the puppies who are under 10 pounds in one area, and the puppies who are 10 to 15 lbs in another area, because then you could potentially have an eight week old Jack Russell Terrier in with a 4-month-old chihuahua which would be a disaster. You probably want to put the Jack Russell Terrier in with the bigger dogs because his play style matches them both. So this is where the wisdom and the experience of the instructors makes the playgroups, you move the puppies around until you see appropriate play break out. So it's kind of doing a puppy Rubik's cube until you see the behavior that you want from these puppies. We have the owner sit around the edge of the group. And the instructors regulate the puppy activity. So what we're looking for is reciprocal play from the puppies. We're making sure that one puppy isn't always at the bottom of the pile. We're picking up a puppy who's a little too aggressive with other puppies. We're pairing him with an older dog who teaches him to be more appropriate. And the instructors have eyes in the back and the front of their heads, and they'll get in and break up a group of puppies very gently, cookies for everybody, just to move things along so that you don't wind up with a big kind of conflict with puppies that can quickly turn into a puppy fight, which is the last thing that you want. We're very lucky in our class to have an adult dog, Asmay, who's a great puppy trainer. So she can shape the behavior of a puppy in a way that none of the humans can. Asmay is using very subtle signals to tell these puppies don't do that again. And they listen to her. And then when the puppy puts their butt in the air and wags their tail at her, she's like, yep, now I'll. Play with you and you'll see her play bow a puppy until the puppy learns to play. It's pretty profound to see her teach these puppies. It's great when dogs can train other dogs, but you need a really special dog to do it. So having a puppy trainer dog in a class is worth the price of admission right there. After a short play session, it's back to training. So what you are going to do is you're going to load up with some yummy treats, and you're going to pass your puppy to the person person on the right, you're going to tell them their name, and that puppy is going to get a cookie. In pass the puppy, puppies learn to tolerate being handled by lots of different people without being afraid. Again, the novelty is what gets puppies in trouble. They learn that a new thing can earn them a cookie, and a new thing doesn't hurt, and a new thing can be fun and earn them attention and this is a good, structured way for them to learn it. And then back to play time. And then a quiet settle. During the settling, we do the body handling, touch the puppies' feet, teach the owners how to touch their puppy's mouth, look at their teeth, we'll have the other handler sometime go by and look at the puppy's teeth so that the puppies learn this is a good thing. It's something they're going to have to withstand at the vet, look in their ears. There's a time in the puppy's life when they learn that these things are good. And then they go home and sleep for the rest of the day. The structure of the class can be as important as the content. As you may recall from our chapter on distributed learning, puppies can only take so much information at once. And they learn best using short training sessions with rest periods in between. This is one reason why you should break up the class into alternating playing, training, and relaxing sessions. But there's another good reason to do this. We don't do all the training at the front and let them play because transitions are really important in behavior. And they're really important for puppies to be able to learn the socialization and then learn to calm down. To go out and play, chase another dog and then learn to sit and hear their name. Go out and play again, come back, and just pay attention to their owner have their ears rubbed, these transitions really get dogs in a lot of trouble when they're older. So if they can learn these when they're puppies it's a really good start. If you don't live close enough to attend the MSCPA's puppy class, you'll need to find a class in your area. Doctor Bright gives a 12 point checklist you can use as a guideline when you're researching puppy classes. If someone needs to find the best puppy class in their area, they should go watch it. You want to make sure there's no pig pile, just a bunch of puppies thrown in a room together, and people standing around the edges smiling and pointing and laughing while the puppy on the bottom is getting the crap beaten out of them. Can't have that. So you want to make sure that the instructors are helping the puppies to have a good experience, and that they're not doing anything to scare the puppies. So make sure that nobody is using a spray bottle, a penny can, nobody is clapping in yelling at puppies, nobody is grasping the puppy by the collar and shaking them, known as scruffing, if you see any of that, just leave, that's not the place for you. Make sure the puppies are allowed to escape while they're playing don't have people grab them and throw them back in. They need to be able to escape, take a rest and then go back. If there is an adult dog that can help train the puppies, that's magical. But watch the adult dog. Are they scaring the puppies like the puppies are running away and piddling on the floor? That's not the right dog. Watch for what they use for training equipment. If someone suggests a special collar that might hurt your puppy, that a prong collar has spikes in it or anything like that, or anything that a choke collar where you can apply a correction, and they want you to do stuff to make your puppy stop things, this is how you stop behavior. In puppies, we want to build behavior, that's our goal. If you see an instructor who's going in a way to scare your puppy, that might not be the right thing. There might be just the puppy that that really frightens him enough so that it turns him off of being around other dogs for a long time. You want to see the instructors and the people in class, and you build the behavior of your puppy into a robust, confident, never afraid of novel stimuli dog. That's the goal. Fear is not the way to do that. The way to do that is through carefully shaping confident behavior. One thing you want to make sure of is you have one person for every two to three dogs. You can't have one instructor in a class of 10 or 15 dogs. That's just asking for trouble, and no puppy is getting the right amount of attention and training. Make sure that there's help for you in other puppy things that you need. Can they help you with health training? Can they help you with mouthing? Is there someone senior on staff who can help with other behavioral issues as your dog ages? That's really an advantage. We, at the MSPCA, everyone has a need to ask in class and that's great. There's no reason to use force or fear to train your puppy and this is well supported by research. Nonetheless, you may find yourself in a position where a dog trainer is suggesting the use of punishment or force to train your puppy. Doctor Bright has this advice. You would never allow someone to deliberately intimidate your 2-year-old child. Yet people allow dog trainers to do that to their puppies all the time, just because the dog trainer is a person of authority. You don't have to do that. If a dog trainer is suggesting that they do something to your puppy, or that you do something to your puppy that seems like it would frighten your puppy, just say, no, don't do it. Say, "I'm not comfortable with that." If you're particularly intimidated and you don't really know what to say but you want to get out of there, then here's what you can say, "Doctor Bright told me I shouldn't do that to my puppy, so we're leaving now. Have a nice day." But what if you can't find a good puppy class in your area? Don't worry and don't compromise. You can set something up yourself. If you can't find a good puppy socialization class in your area, you can create one. Find friends that have puppies that are about the same age as yours, about the same play style and arrange to meet somewhere where there's a fenced in yard. It could be a baseball field, it could be a tennis court, could be someone that has a yard. And meet, bring handfuls of cheese and hot dogs, and let the puppies play for two minutes at a time. Then break them up and do sits and downs. Take turns holding each other's puppies. But don't make the mistake of just taking them to the dog park and letting them go run with the other dogs. Unpredictable, your puppy could be hurt, they could be scared. Find puppies and other dogs that are like your dog, that when your puppy meets them, your puppy looks happy, they wag their tail. And the other dog looks happy and wags their tail. And they both put their elbows on the ground, and they stick their butts in the air. Get that person's phone number and say, "What are you doing on Saturday?" Finally when it comes to socialization, more is not necessarily better. You done? Yeah. I'm done, okay. You can overdo it with socialization. So you wouldn't want to leave your puppy k class and take your dog to your cousin's house where all their dogs are. You want to pace it. It's a baby. And so you want to give them a rest. You don't want to put a puppy in a position where it's been exposed to many new things, so many new things, or so many dogs, or so many events that it's just tired and it learns to snap to make others go away. You can tell when your puppy has had enough and needs a rest because they can't recover. It's just like if you have a two-year-old that is too tired to go to sleep, you're going to see the same kind of thing, where they're just more and more aroused, and they don't settle to the same place that they settled before. When they settle, they go back to here. And then they amp up, and then they go back to here. And that's when you know, you can't get your puppy back who's like, hey, loose and wiggly, time to go home for a nap. It takes significant research and commitment to find and attend a good puppy class. Rest assured however, it's worth the effort. We've had some puppies that came from our shelter at the MSPCA who were marginal as little puppies going into class. They were fearful, they were under socialized, they were afraid, they were sometimes aggressive in class, and we were able to pair them with dogs very gradually with appropriate adult dogs, appropriate dogs for them to play with. And they grew up to be normal, functioning, adult dogs who can play with other dogs, who can go to classes and enjoy them. And it's one of the most rewarding things for me in my life to see is a dog who could have easily been a juvenile delinquent instead of a doctor or a lawyer.

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Duration: 16 minutes and 33 seconds
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Language: English
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Posted by: norabean on Apr 2, 2018

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