Puppy schools are now being run all over the country at dog training schools, dog clubs, animal shelters such as the RSPCA and increasingly at many vet surgeries and pet stores.When the late David Weston, founder of the Kintala Dog Club in Melbourne, first introduced puppy school into Australia in the mid 1970s he was way ahead of his times. These days the absolute necessity for early and pleasant socialisation to people, things, places and other puppies is fortunately much more widely understood.
Classes that are well run by people with qualifications, knowledge, experience and skills will result in a puppy having many positive experiences.
However, classes that are run by people with little experience who have never owned a dog, let alone trained one well, or people who use "I'm Alpha - do it or else" techniques are woefully inadequate. They are a recipe for untold future behaviour problems. In such instances it is much better for a puppy to not to attend puppy school at all!
Puppies that go to poorly run classes often turn into teenagers who are undersocialised to other puppies, dogs, people and things. They have no manners, are often boisterous and out of control or, even worse and potentially more dangerous, fearful and timid.As a direct result of their owner's inaction, or their poor choice making, many puppies become dogs who needlessly end up on the end of a chain in the backyard for the rest of their lives or in the 'give-away-to good-home' section of the weekend classifieds.And some of them go, sadly, on a one way trip to a vet or animal shelter.
Most people realise the inappropriateness of 'dominance' techniques such as alpha rolls and neck scruffing - particularly at puppy school. Although there are still places where such methods are used, it is generally understood that taking a puppy to a well run puppy class that educates owners and uses positive and stress-free strategies gives him a head start to life.
In 2006 a large group of trainers, veterinarians and veterinary behaviourists from around Australia attended the three day “Terry’s Legacy to Oz” continuing education seminar held by Sydney’s Hills District Kennel and Training Club. The key speaker was internationally renowned dog trainer Terry Ryan from USA (below, with CLEAR instructors), author of many great cutting-edge books including “Coaching People to Train Dogs”.
From left: Tina Quinn, Danielle Dickinson, Eliza Borlace, Oliver Beverly, Emma Riches
13. Are training aids available? Is there a supply of essential items - for instance blue puppy Kongs, car harnesses, treats and really good puppy books such as “After You Get Your Puppy” or “The Ultimate Puppy Tool Kit”? (--/10)14. What learning materials are provided or loaned out? A puppy manual? Brochures? Puppy class handouts from a veterinary behaviourist such as those produced by APDT Australia member Dr Debbie Calnon or The First Twelve Months CD produced by Dr Cam Day? Other CDs or DVDs on puppy development? Loan booklets, such as Terry Ryan’s Take the L.E.A.D. or Puppy Primer? (--/10)15. What do previous owners who have attended puppy classes have to say about their experience at this venue? Are exit survey forms used and available for inspection? Can previous owners be contacted to see how their puppy progressed? Did they enjoy coming? Do they recommend the puppy class to their friends as being good value for money? Would they come again themselves with their next puppy? (--/10)If the score is less than 125 out of 200, keep looking! A score of 125 - 170 suggests that, if there is no better alternative, it is worthwhile attending but that there is room for improvement in many key areas. A score of 170 + indicates that the puppy school is definitely on the right track but needs to keep on fine tuning its operations via, say, customer exit survey forms.The main reason to take a puppy to a first-rate puppy school is for education and preventative maintenance for both human and dog. If owners know exactly what to look for, what to expect, how to communicate and what to do it is likely that they will not make fundamental mistakes. Puppies will understand strange human requirements and grow up as well behaved adults that fit happily into family life. They will want to do what is requested first time, act politely around other people and unfamiliar dogs and can safely be taken anywhere. They will be a pleasure to own, are likely to have happy and interesting lives and grow old graciously.However, without sufficient early teaching during puppy hood and on-going guidance and education during adolescence, many delightful bundles of eight week old fluff can quickly grow into out of control and even dangerous dogs. They sometimes pay for their owner’s mistakes - including not attending a good puppy school - with their lives.