My puppy classes have come a long way. Just like most, as a young new trainer, I was under the impression that puppy training is teaching them the same basic cues such as "sit", "down", "heel", but with more play breaks and simpler criteria. I thought that this will be the foundation of future well behaved dogs, so I focused on that.
We taught puppies to sit nicely, stay, down, give a paw... We also used to have a single confidence building class in the whole course but because I concentrated on different things there was just not enough time to have more. To this day I think the classes were good and people learned useful things, however, it was just not the essential things for puppies that age.
When my focus shifted, I was afraid of cutting down on traditional cues (what we like to refer to as “basic obedience”) and implementing more confidence building exercises. See, I understood that socialisation exercises are what puppies need – they need to be exposed to different sounds, smells, surfaces and provided with different experiences – but this is not necessarily what people want when they go to a “training class”. This is not a cool party trick, you know.
I then was told an amazing thought that I carry with me every day and remind myself of when writing classes’ curriculum. “A good coach will find the balance between what people want and what they need” and I’m trying to stick to that nowadays. I know that people need boring or simple exercises like letting a puppy explore a weird new object or guiding them through an obstacle challenge. However, I know what people want. They want basic obedience cues and it’s more than okay to spend some time on them too. I took on the challenge of finding a sweet spot and that's how the current puppy course developed.
Within years of running puppy classes in Glasgow, I have changed my curriculum and structure so many times that I believe the current one gives my clients the best of both worlds. I filtered the cues that will actually be useful in clients’ daily life with a dog (surprise surprise, it’s not a “down”), so we learn a bit of that, but my course is, first and foremost, about building your puppy’s and your confidence. It’s about creating a neutral dog that won’t go bonkers when another dog appears in sight and it’s about teaching you how to bring the calmness into the chaos that is life with a puppy anyways.
When you’re out there looking for the best puppy class, pay attention to what the school offers. Basic cues are not wrong and, if anything, can be very helpful but does the school spend enough time on desensitization to sounds, for example? Or are they simply giving you a handout regarding that? Handouts have enormous value IF they supplement the class' curriculum, not change it. I’ve done that, it doesn’t work. You need to be at least shown how it works, how to time the rewards right, how to keep your puppy under the threshold and what these confusing terms mean after all. These are all skills that are so natural to trainers and completely new to new puppy guardians. That’s why we practice them in classes. Full stop.
As a student, don’t be afraid to be curious – it’s your journey and you need to trust your coach. While we have that lovely socialisation window, let’s use it to our advantage. We can teach your pup to lie down in later courses.
To better understand puppy socialisation, you can also listen to this episode of our “Dog Trainer’s Diary” podcast and if you can't join our classes, have a look at the Sky Walkers Club on demand library to get you started!