A friend asked me the other day about puppy classes. I explained to her that I was less than impressed with how most puppy classes were designed and run and that a bad puppy class could have a very negative impact upon a puppy that lasted its entire lifetime. Dogs do not learn good dog-dog social skills from dogs that do not have good social skills so I don’t understand why people believe it is a good idea to throw a lot of puppies into a setting where, instead of good dog-dog social skills, they are most likely learning a lot of inappropriate behaviors. From my viewpoint, puppy classes which have “free play” are simply arenas in which puppies either are bullied or learn to be bullies. A good puppy class, in my opinion, should be more about educating the owners about how to address mouthing, chewing, housetraining and so on and how to set the stage for developing a good relationship with the puppy as it grows. I also like to see a puppy class that, while not focusing on obedience, begins to lay the groundwork for later obedience training.
To me, one of the most important things a puppy needs to learn is how to accept handling and restraint. All dogs, regardless of coat type, need to be groomed regularly, which includes nail trimming. Frequent inspections are necessary to ensure the puppy or dog is free of external parasites such as ticks and fleas, and where foxtails are a problem, daily checks should be done.
Daily handling of Fix has demonstrated more clearly than anything else how rapidly his behaviors change from day to day. One day he will lie quietly on his back in my arms, with only very gentle mouthing, and the next, he will almost immediately begin protesting when I cradle him in this fashion. As I only release him and put him on the ground when he is being quiet and complacent, some of these handling sessions can be much less fun than others. Fix is getting big enough (he now weighs 19 lbs from the 11.1 lbs he weighed the day before he flew home) that very soon, these sessions will occur with me sitting on the floor and Fix on his back between my outstretched legs (this is how I currently trim his nails.)
While I am a fervent proponent of obedience training, the simple fact is that many dog owners are not going to invest the time and energy into training their dog for off-leash reliability. Simply teaching a dog self-control, basic manners and to accept restraint and handling, greatly increases the likelihood that dog will stay in its original home.
Note: several years ago I wrote a series of articles on socialization for the English Shepherd Club Newsletter (Shepherd’s Call). As part of its mandate for education, the English Shepherd Club has developed a website for breeders, prospective puppy buyers and dog owners. While, not surprisingly, many of the articles reference English Shepherds, the information on the website is valuable to any breeder, puppy buyer and dog owner. For those interested in reading about socialization, the four articles I wrote can be found at http://www.escbreederinfo.com/. Two articles (Puppy Socialization Factors and The Secondary Socialization Period: six to twelve weeks) can be found under the tab Delivery/Raising and the last two articles (Habituation: 12 to 20 weeks and Adolescence) are under the tab labeled New Owners.