Help & Advice
A Good Puppy/training Class
A lot of trainers and training clubs offer puppy classes and most of the time it is a great idea to enrol on a puppy course to give your new pup the best start in life as he will not only learn some useful obedience exercises, but he will also get to know various people and other puppies, which will greatly aid his socialisation. However, not all puppy classes are the same and it is vital you choose the right one for your pup as going wrong at such a sensitive time during your pup’s life can have a detrimental effect on his behaviour. Choose a one to one training session first to see if you gel with the trainer and you are happy.
So here are a few simple guidelines to help you choose the best puppy class for your pup.
1. A good puppy class has limited number of pups attending, so you can’t just show up on the day with your puppy. This will ensure you will not end up being in a crowded room with 20+ other noisy barking pups and owners, trying to concentrate on what the instructor is saying or doing and finding it all very distracting. There is no ideal number for puppy classes – it all depends how big the venue is and how many instructors/helpers there are available, but 4- 6-8 maximum is probably the number you should be looking at and it should be a calm atmosphere!
2. There should be an upper age limit for the pups to attend – puppy life skill classes aid socialisation of puppies, not just obedience exercises. I love handling but NOT off lead puppy play. Dogs that have started maturing sexually might find the way puppies play (typically a bit rude from a doggie etiquette point of view) too much and react aggressively. Also, older dogs might not tolerate being handled by strangers too well, which could potentially result in displays of aggression – not so common in young puppies.
If the trainer uses a demo dog it should not wander about off lead going in your handbags or interfering with your dogs, or even with an assistance dog (actually seen this at a local gundog demo!)
Check the hall looks clean, smells clean, not of dog pee. Most clubs put down water bowls. Check if they are clean, changed frequently or slobbery. Take your own if in doubt. Puppies can get bad tummies even from a change in water. Add travel to that and the stress, treats used in training and a strange place and other dogs into that = a recipe for upset tums.
Do not let a trainer give your puppy rewards unless you know what it is -you might not want sugar loaded shop bought treats being given and they should always ask if your puppy/dog is allergic to anything you are aware of.
Clubs letting puppies off leads on slippery floors, with their hall doors open into car parks, or onto lanes/roads, or people going in and out unsupervised are definitely off the list.
3. If the puppy class you are attending includes off lead puppy play, puppies should not be let off the lead all at once – even when very young, not all pups are the same. They differ greatly in size (and it isn’t uncommon to have a big Labrador pup and a Chihuahua in one class) so can inadvertently scare or injure each other, they will typically be of various ages (so some might be slightly more bouncy or better coordinated than others), they will play differently, depending on their breed and experience (typically pups that live and play with adult dogs might be a bit rougher in their play than those that live on their own; similarly some breeds might present a play style that will be very intimidating for other breeds e.g. a bouncy, barge-y boxer will be a bit too much for a slim whippet pup).
So when you ask about puppy play – ask how many pups are off at the same time and whether they are grouped according to certain criteria.
And whether the floor is suitable.
And ask are they supervised ? It has to be structured. Controlled meet and greets are a better way to learn. Puppies do not learn much from other puppies running free. I have walked out of a club where my puppy Borzoi with no centre of gravity and gangly legs was expected to run off lead with a GSD and 2 Border collie adolescents playing roughly.
4. Training methods used during the class should be positive only (using food and toys and praise to teach the pups basic cues and get them used to handling ) – so no choke chains, rattle bottles, water sprays, squeezing the pup’s front legs for jumping up, or rolling them on their back to show them who is boss. All these methods can be very scary and highly aversive for any dog, not to mention a tiny, sensitive pup. If such punitive methods are used on a pup when there are other dogs around you can additionally pave a way for your pup to develop fear aggression as he will associate other dogs with the unpleasant experience – an opposite effect to what you intended!
5. Let’s not forget about the class instructor – only attend classes run by Professionally qualified insured instructors who are approachable and happy to answer any questions you might have, who have their qualifications there for you to see and are transparent about where they did their courses, their continual professional development ,this includes on their web pages.
If they sound like they don’t exactly know what they’re talking about, walk away.
Owning a new pup, whether it’s your first puppy or you’ve had dogs before, can sometimes throw things at you that you never expected could happen. Your instructor should be able to help you with these problems and if they don’t know the answer, they should refer you to someone who is likely to help – a vet or a dog behaviourist.
People learn in different ways. There should be demoes, hand outs , back up emails with maybe some videos.However it does pay to listen to the Instructor/s not chat among yourselves!At the end of the class should be a question time, also trainers not rushing off, setting aside time to see you individually.
A good instructor will also be up to date with current knowledge on dog behaviour so you won’t hear from them any talk of dominance, pack leaders and alpha rolls, which all belong to “old school” long debunked training methods which are not used or popularised by trainers who keep up to date with research and new developments in the field of canine behaviour and training.
It will be hard to teach everything in an hour or less and it will end with the puppy and owner not learning as the owners have not put in the practice at home. Also hard for Instructors, teaching a positive force free approach and another member of the household not wanting to change their ideas from the old military or police method of training The household have to be consistent in their methods and cues to give the puppy a chance.Make sure the family are all on the same page! Emails and phone chats before the course starts should make it clear about how puppy training is approached or even an owners get together evening with no dogs are put on by some clubs. Companion dog trainers do not usually include bite work and Mondioring in their schedules!
6. Don’t forget to observe a class before enrolling your pup on the course. Most good instructors will have nothing against you sitting and watching the class as they will have nothing to hide.
Research the Professional Association of Canine Trainers
(PACT) trainer lists, Pet Professional Guild ( PPG) lists, Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT), The ABTC Accredited Training Instructor, The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour (ASAB) accredited Certificated Clinical Animal Behaviourist, There are others--loads..... it depends whether you want a happy clappy type of class or want some serious up to date info coming your way.
If they are reluctant for you to come and watch, you’d be better off walking away and looking for an alternative option. When observing the class, particularly if it is an end of a course, a certificate award night, pay attention at how the puppies and owners are acting –pups looking at their owners, bright, alert and enjoying themselves or do they seem to be intimidated by the instructors and the pups seem stressed (so there will be cowering, hiding under chairs, reluctance to work, panting, flat ears and tails tucked under bellies – relaxed pups will have their tails up and wagging in a sweeping way, bright eyes, looking around confidently.
7. Don’t always go for the cheapest nearest option – sometimes classes that are too cheap also offer low quality service as the trainer doesn’t invest in continuous professional development, or paperwork, handouts, or their venue is cheap to hire and so not always suitable for running puppy classes like smelly dirty areas/fields. (with no loos !)
When evaluating a specific trainer, there are some red flags to look for in the language that the training facility uses in their brochures, on their website, or in their other communications. These are some of the phrases when you need to view sites with caution and do some research:
● Guarantee – no trainer can realistically provide a guarantee
● Dominance/Alpha/Pack/Leader – these terms are part of an outdated training philosophy
● No treats/food/Treats are bribery – this may indicate that the trainer focuses on punishment rather than reward
● Boot camp/Board and Train – companion dog owners need to participate in the training process along with their dog
● Schutzhund/ French Ring – indicates that the trainer has potentially taught dogs to bite
● Motivational training
● Negative reinforcement – could potentially indicate the use of inhumane training tools and/or methods
● Guard/Protection/Police training – potentially could indicate that the trainer has taught dogs to bite
● Remote/lead popping -free/tap and tell/e-collar – may indicate the use of inhumane training tools/methods
Granted, not all of these terms are absolute. However, if you see them, they are worth some research.
Stephanie Presdee - When not to join a puppy class:
1. Should the instructor suggest that you should be the alpha or pack-leader.
2. Should the instructor suggest using prong collars, spray bottles, shock collars.
3. Should the instructor suggest punishing your puppy for anything.
4. Should the instructor put puppies of all ages together in a single class.
5. Should the instructor allow free play for extended periods of time.
6. Should the instructor use any punitive training methods or training tools.
7. Should the instructor not explain why they are doing specific exercises.
8. Should the instructor suggest that your puppy is a wolf.
9. Should the instructor use words like stubborn or spiteful.
If you are thinking mainly UK there are so so many. You could include IMDT , Steve Mann or Absolute Dogs..or Cambridge Institute CIBDT, or British Institute of Professional Dog Trainers BIPDT, or Dog Training College, DTC . or Guild of Dog Trainers GDT.
The CTC is an advanced, two-year program from the Academy for Dog Trainers, which covers both dog training and behaviour. The Academy is known as “the Harvard of Dog Training” and is run by world-renowned dog trainer Jean Donaldson. You can find an Academy dog trainer here.
KPA CTP means that someone has taken the Karen Pryor Academy Dog Trainer Professional program. This is a six-month program and you can find graduates here.
VSA-CDT means that someone has graduated from the Victoria Stilwell Academy Dog Training program. This is a six-month program and you can find graduates here.
VSPDT means that someone is a licensed Victoria Stilwell Positively Dog Trainer. To be accepted, trainers must have an education and at least two years experience, and be admitted through the process.
PMCT means that someone has taken the Pat Miller Certified Trainer course through Peaceable Paws. You can find a list of Pat Miller certified trainers, Peaceable Paws affiliates, and Academy graduates via the Peaceable Paws website (look under trainer referrals).
If you’ve found multiple dog trainers with these qualifications in your area, you’ve got several to choose from and can move on to the next section of this article.
If you haven’t, then you can look for people who have CPDT-KA, CPDT-KSA, or CBCC-KA (all assessed by the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers) or the PCT-A or PCBC-A (assessed by the Pet Professional Accreditation Board). Again, these are people who have had their knowledge of dog training assessed.
These are not the only dog training certifications. It’s actually quite a confusing situation for consumers, which is why I’ve chosen to focus on the main credentials. There are other kinds of credentials you might look for if your dog has serious behavioural problems, and I’ll get to those later in the article.
Membership of a professional dog training organisation.
Another thing to look for in a dog trainer is membership of a professional organisation.
There are several organisations that a dog trainer might be a member of. One is the Pet Professional Guild, which is committed to force free dog training. Members of this organisation will only use reward-based training methods.
Another organisation is the Association of Professional Dog Trainers. Note that this organisation follows an approach called LIMA, which stands for ‘least invasive, minimally aversive’ which (as you can tell from the name) allows for the use of aversive in some cases, so quiz the trainer on the methods they will use. They say that "we allow trainers with all methodologies to join with the goal of exposing them to humane, science-based training methods. However, this does not mean that all trainers in our directory subscribe to this philosophy..." so you need to find out for yourself which methods they actually use.
By the way, APDTs in other countries are independent, have their own member assessments and follow their own guidelines; for example the APDT(UK) only allows its members to use non-compulsive methods.
The International Association of Animal Behaviour Consultants (IAABC) is an organisation for animal behaviour consultants, many of whom also offer dog training classes. Like APDT, they follow LIMA.
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