Since I had the great fortune to have several decades of my training perspective turned upside down by Turid Rugas, Karen Webb, Winkie Spiers, Anne Lill Kvam and Dr Amber Batson all in the space of 2 years, my life with dogs changed for the better. Never has this been at the forefront of my mind than right now with less than 2 weeks before a baby joins our family. Its no secret that I’ve made a deliberate move away from ‘obedience’ training. There are things that dogs are safer learning as an automatic reaction (’emergency stop’ is one and ‘leave’ is another) but in reality they are few and far between and we train them really just for the 1 time in 5 years we may need to use them to save the dogs life. Everything else I want to give to my dogs is covered by the experience and ability to make good choices for themselves.
However, as soon as we knew he would be joining us I enrolled us into puppy classes. Yes really 🙂 There are a couple of reasons why. I’ve a pretty good understanding about dogs and I’ve put in considerable work to keep improving and adding to that but there are always gaps and as detailed below, being a puppy parent is hard work. Every dog will teach you something new and having experienced professionals to bounce ideas off during this process is essential. There is a social element too, it’s useful to have a cohort of dogs and owners who are all going through the same thing. You can form social groups that continue on after the 6 week class has finished and those could become the first members of your puppy’s tribe.
Another reason to start planning this early is that great classes generally have a waiting list and it may also take a while to do your research, visit some different classes and decide which one is the right fit for you. Research is crucial , dog training is an unregulated industry and as such anyone can do a couple of courses and start charging for lessons.
There is a strange assumption among the ‘lightly qualified’ that puppy classes are the easiest and its a good place to start becoming a trainer. I have never understood this as let me be frank, new puppy parents are often high maintainence, they are dealing with all the things that people deal with when sharing their home with a new infant, they are sleep deprived, they are trying to develop new routines and habits, navigate feeding choices, toilet training, biting, they are coping with the babies dependance and most people are desperate to do a perfect job of raising this precious baby. To help people through this, puppy class trainers need superb people skills to be good at what they do, they need above average communication skills and to understand their subject inside out. Then there’s the dog skills and experience, to be a good puppy class trainer you need to have incredible skills in observation, understand of development and learning plus the ability to put that into real time.
Puppies brains are set up for learning. Their experiences of the world are creating the networks by which they will interact and understand the world for the rest of their life. Mistakes at this point can easily change the course of dogs lives. Thats some next level resonsibility right there!
I’m fortunate that my professional life has meant I already knew people running great classes and so I enrolled us on the two that I considered the best choices. The first one is a live week by week online class with my wonderful mentor and friend Winkie Spiers. Unlike a more traditional class, this is a fantastic course to begin before the new puppy arrives as it takes the student through understanding the dogs needs and how the environment and routine can be set up for success. The first, most impactful experiences the dog goes through can be managed to create the best outcome for the whole family rather than trying to back track and fix what we have got wrong. The other fantastic thing about this course is that you can attend from anywhere in the world. We will also be meeting up for some social walks once we are allowed out and about.
Our other class is with the lovely Amy Thompson from Behaviour is Communication. This is an in person class focusing mainly on life skills and early experience. Amy has the perfect mix of academic knowledge, hands on experience and great people skills. Attending this class will be 121 time for me and puppy as well as a wider social experience with the other puppies, at 2 kg our boy will be tiny and it’s a valuable opportunity for puppies to become familiar with different sizes and shapes of dogs in a safe and secure setting.
This week I will be getting the house ready for the arrival and also both of us will be getting vaccinations, although against different illnesses! He is spending lots of time learning social skills from his siblings and wider family, I am very much looking forward to meeting him ❤