Updated: Sep 20, 2021
Even trainers go to trainers. There is always something new to learn, even if its about how to deliver an engaging class to your clients, and putting myself into the position of student has really helped me to understand what it really feels like to take your puppy to a puppy class..
Firstly, it takes a fair bit of organisation! It is not a case of just scooping up your pup and jumping in the car. It is easy to be embarrassingly late, which is never popular because it disturbs the other pups and means that the instructor often ends up having to repeat themselves. Top tips for training days are:
Think ahead - going to a class is really, really tiring for a puppy. Minimise excitement during the day if you are going to a class in the evening and make sure that the pup is very well rested. This might mean no walkies, just a few trips into the garden, or maybe a very short, sniffy walk. Be prepared for your puppy to need to sleep afterwards too.
Food - you will be using a lot of this in most puppy classes. Make sure that you puppy is hungry before you go to class. Take their next meal with you; you will need more food than you thought possible! Take a selection of higher value foods too, your puppy might work for their dinner at home, but when faced with the distraction of other pups they might find it very hard to concentrate. Keeva had a mixture of her dry food, diced JR turkey pate, diced goat's cheese, and some tiny pieces of cooked cocktail sausage.
Pack a training bag in advance - we put the following items in our bag:
A familiar blanket to settle on
A water bowl and bottle of water (better than a travel bottle/drinker combo because the puppy can help themselves, rather than having to wait for water to be offered)
A treat pouch containing lots of goodies
A lamb braid chew to keep her busy in between exercises
A Tug-e-nuff sheepskin chaser toy
Allow plenty of time to toilet your pup before leaving, and also on arrival at the training venue. you really don't want to hurry this.
Try not to drive too fast! Being flung around in the boot of the car is not the best start to a class, neither is being hustled straight into a hall without being allowed to check out the carpark first.
Both of you need to be relaxed and calm at the start to get the best out of the class so avoid getting entangled with the other pups before the class has started
Covid has actually made classes much easier for puppies. We are now well-spaced out which makes it so much easier for the worried puppies to settle and the lively ones to control themselves. Guess which camp Keeva falls into?!
This is where I now get to see what it feels like from the client's perspective..What do they expect? Most probably think their puppy might find some of the exercises tricky, some will be looking forward to seeing the puppies romp around having a lovely time. The reality is that the hardest part is often the in between times when the exercises are being explained, or another puppy is having a turn - your puppy will quite possibly object to being kept still on a lead. They might struggle, nip, chew their lead, or bark (this always feels particularly loud when its your own puppy!) This really took me back to when my children were toddlers and I was trying to keep them occupied at an older sibling's assembly, or maybe on an airplane..
Even though I have run many classes, and helped numerous owners settle their noisy pups, it was hard work to keep Keeva settled and quiet. I was so relieved that I had remembered to bring an extra tasty chew with me!
Age is critical here.. It was noticeable that the baby puppies in the class were so much easier to settle, whereas the 15 week olds were raring to go and getting much more frustrated!
For me and Keeva doing the exercises was the easy bit, learning self control and calmness was the hardest part.
Today we did some puppy play in class. It was very carefully managed with only the bolder puppies being allowed off lead together in a pen (under supervision). I have to say that I was a bit worried that Keeva might squash the other, smaller pups, but actually she was quite pretty well-mannered considering how she can be at home with my other. The puppies got a bit snappy at one stage so we intervened and held them for a couple of minutes before trying again. Don't be upset if there is a scrap, just intervene so they don't get over-aroused and maybe try again later.
Why didn't the other pups join in? Well if you are a less confident soul, the last thing you need is to be faced with a full on pup; being knocked over, chased and nipped is unlikely to change your mind either. What tends to happen is that worried puppies will learn to bark, lunge and generally be pessimistic about approaching puppies and dogs in the future if they are pushed to play with more boisterous ones
. It is much better that they do some exploration and gentle controlled sniffing instead. Often good-natured, 'boring', older dogs are a better bet.
Tot tip, enrol in your chosen classes BEFORE you get your puppy home. By talking to your breeder, your vet and your trainer, work out the earliest date that your puppy will be able to enrol. Some vets and trainers accept puppies onto courses 1 week after their first vaccination, because the risk of mixing with other vaccinated puppies in a clean environment is pretty low. This is certainly something I did with Keeva when I took her along to a workshop at 9 weeks old.
Good classes get booked up fast, so do your research and find a trainer who you like early on so you aren't faced with trying to settle a bouncing 18 week old puppy who has never learned to settle in a class
Puppy training should be FUN! If is isn't there is something wrong. If your puppy is terrified in a class and won't come out from under a chair, your trainer should be supportive. It might be that a group class isn't the right place for that puppy, in which case I would be talking about maybe doing some 1:2:1 sessions instead. If you have a really loud pup who won't stop barking this can be really stressful, particularly if you aren't sure what to do about it, again, your trainer should be able to help you.
How to choose a trainer??
Well, I certainly wouldn't book purely on a basis of price, location or facebook presence....Recommendation is a good starting point, but I would still do my own research, not everyone keeps up with current behavioural science, and some trainers still use punishment and choke chains. The same way that schools no longer physically punish children, science has moved on. Look for membership of a trusted training organisation such as the APDT, ABTC, IMDT or Puppy School - you will then have the assurance that your trainer has a good level of theoretical and practical knowledge, and has passed assessments. Good trainers are usually passionate about expanding their knowledge and keeping their CPD up to date (this is certainly something I am passionate about) so maybe ask them about courses they have been on themselves. I would also have a chat with them on the phone, see if they sound like the sort of person you would like as your trainer..