PUPPY CLASSES – ARE YOU USING THE BEST METHODS? Kathy Wilson Delta Society CGC™ Accredited Instructor Cert IV Dog Behavioural Training The Lake Veterinary Hospitals 18 Maude Street, Belmont NSW 2280 [email protected]
The aims of puppy classes Inappropriate “old” methods Class Size Location Age of pups OH&S Methods of training Class Format and Curriculum Teaching aids Training for instructors Practice involvement and support Conclusion
The aims of puppy classes: To socialise puppies in a clean, disinfected environment with other puppies and people. The puppies should be introduced to a variety of experiences in a non-threatening manner in the critical socialisation period of development To develop a positive long- term relationship with your practice. All training should use Positive Reward methods using operant conditioning, eg, training a puppy to perform a task using a lure
and then rewarded with that lure, rewarding appropriate behaviour ignoring unwanted behaviour. No force or physical pressure is used. This means no hands to push down on the rump, no leash correction and no check chains or chain leads. To train owners to teach their puppies to tolerate gentle handling To focus on puppy issues, such as socialisation, toilet training, play biting and chewing. To discuss realistic owner expectations To train owners to train their puppies the basic “foundation behaviours” of, “sit”, “come”, “drop”, “pay attention”, “stand” and “on your mat”, “settle” on REQUEST, not command!!!! (This is not a formal “obedience” class) Discuss basic pet care
Inappropriate “old” methods These puppy class features are not now considered current best practice and are inappropriate.
Overcrowded classes On-lead play Inappropriate off lead play- with all puppies playing Pass the puppy Handling of puppies by strangers Taking puppies away from their owners to demonstrate exercises Flooding techniques- making puppies interact Alpha or scruff rolls Inappropriate restraining of squirming puppies until they “give in”
Class Size Class numbers from between 4-6 are recommended for optimum learning. There is nothing wrong with a class of 3 puppies if you have a small waiting room. Two qualified instructors may be better for 6 puppies, providing you have the appropriate space required.
We have very large waiting rooms and find that 4 puppies are the ideal number. These classes are conducted with 1 qualified instructor. Small classes also give you the opportunity to give individual attention to your clients, particularly if they are struggling with an exercise.
Location All classes need to be held in a clean spacious environment If your vet surgery has a small waiting room reduce the size of your classes There is nothing wrong with small classes- they are less stressful for puppies, owners and trainers It is inappropriate to squeeze extra puppies and their families into small spaces In puppy classes there needs to be at least 2 metres between each puppy so they can concentrate and relax. Anxious puppies and distracted owners do not learn effectively
Age of pups The Socialisation Period is from 6-16 weeks of age approximately Most people obtain their puppies at 8 weeks of age Ideally puppies need to have completed puppy class by 16 weeks of age Therefore, 8-12 weeks of age is ideal to start a class aiming to complete the course by 16 weeks Really important to start as early as possible- so clients and puppies can start off on the right paw.
Occupational Health and Safety Appropriate owner and trainer clothing and footwear If you have a small venue limit the number of family members attending- suggest they take it in turns Children to be supervised Children of suitable ages only to attend.
Teaching Aids Rewards- decide if you are providing treats. If not, ALWAYS have the secret weapon- ROAST CHICKEN- together with a selection of tasty alternatives, liver, cabanossi, cheese. Visual barriers, so that puppies can concentrate on their owners and relax on their mats Mats- a comfortable place to relax Concise notes No check chains or chain leads. Flat soft collars or appropriate harnesses are acceptable Do not feed puppy before class- we need our puppies to respond to our lure-reward methods of training Pigs ears, kongs, toys should be available and/or provided
Class Format and Curriculum 5 lessons Duration of class 1 hour- maximum! Puppies, children and overworked parents have short attention spans. 1st lesson puppy free so some initial important information can be given without the added distraction of the puppies. This also gives time to discuss any problems the puppy owners may be having. It gives you time to explain what is expected before they arrive with their puppy. Also it gives you time to explain your training methods and helps set everyone up for success. Topics to be covered:
Normal Puppy behaviour- this helps owners understand what to expect form their puppies and helps them achieve realistic expectations of puppy behaviour How puppies learn-explaining to them the importance of rewarding “good” manners and managing the puppies world so that he can be rewarded for “good” responses, rather than having to “correct” or “punish” when puppy does something “naughty”
Appropriate rewards- food, praise, play, games, walks, trips in the car Management strategies so puppies don’t do “naughty” things Boredom Busters- many puppies spend long days home alone. It is extremely important for the owners to provide them with appropriate activities to keep them busy and safe. Appropriate toys and games Strategies for dealing with common puppy “problems”toilet training, play biting, chewing, digging, jumping up. Gentle Handling by owners- teaching puppy to tolerate touching all over in a gentle positive manner. Very handy for grooming, nail clipping, bathing and veterinary examination. Training of useful behaviours- many puppies will not be exposed to any further training. Name recognition, attention to owner, come when called, sit, drop, stand, and polite greetings. Calm, settle and relax- exercises can include-“on your mat”, “settle” and quiet activities like a massage or a chew toy (where appropriate) Socialisation- owners should be encouraged to provide controlled exposure of their puppy to friendly people, children and pleasant experiences both at puppy class and at home. During class puppies can be exposed to different smells, puppies, sights, sounds in a controlled manner PUPPY PLAY- you do not have to have puppy play to socialise your puppies. On lead interaction is inappropriate as leads get tangled and tighten. Frightened puppies cannot escape. Puppies and dogs in general are like people – they like their own personal space. They do not have to play with every other dog in the world to lead a fulfilled life. If you, as a trainer, do not feel confident with puppy play then don’t do it. If there is play it is advised there be no more than 2 puppies at a time with careful selection of puppies of similar temperament and size.
Play never happens in the first class with puppies i.e. the second lesson. All pups not interacting must be lifted up and placed on owners’ knees. We want to encourage puppies to pay attention to their family and remain as settled and calm as possible. If play happens only polite play will continue Training for Instructors Puppy trainers need to be properly schooled in canine development, class management and learning theory. Your local dog trainer or training facility/business may not be more qualified than one of your practice staff. Improving your skills with a proficiency based course such as the Delta Society Australia Canine Good Citizens™ Instructors Course (a Certificate IV in Companion Animal Services) will give practice staff the skills to properly run classes with all the current advances in training methods. Delta Instructors undergo continuing education to maintain their accreditation with their professional association the DPDTA.
Practice Involvement and Support It is desirable to have as many new puppies, that come into your practice attend puppy training classes, as possible and develop that important long term bond to your practice. This long term bond will only develop with those families of these puppies if their training class experience is a very happy and positive one.
Practice support from ALL staff (partners, vets, nurses and receptionists) and encouragement of puppies to attend classes is critical combined with the correct attitude and knowledge of all staff to positive reward based training. Practice support also is required to provide appropriate facilities, proper trainer education and adequate protocols to provide information and class organization.
Conclusion Puppy classes have come a long way since they were introduced “last century”. Due to the ever- improving understanding of puppy development, puppy classes we must keep up with modern trends. Many puppy classes have not moved with the times and continue to use, outdated, misinformed and potentially dangerous information. This may lead to puppies having inappropriate experiences that will affect their future interactions with people and other dogs. From a practice point of view, Puppy Classes are not a sideline for the nurses or practice staff. Staff conducting puppy classes should be educated, well trained and committed to providing a suitable learning environment for puppies and their families, keeping up to date with current trends.
Recommended Reading List: Bailey J, Burch MR (1999) How Dog’s Learn Macmillan Dennison P (2005) The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Positive Dog Training 2nd ed Alpha Books Donaldson J (2005) The Culture Clash James & Kenneth Lindsay SR (2000) Handbook of Applied Dog Behaviour and Training Volume One-Adaptation and Learning Iowa State Press Lindsay SR 2001) Handbook of Applied Dog Behaviour and Training Volume 2- Etiology and Assessment of Behaviour Problems Iowa State Press Reid P (1996) Excel-erated Learning James &Kenneth