Raising A Creative Canine

The introduction of a new puppy into a reactive multi-dog household

Stay in School!

How to Choose a Great Puppy Class! No Comments »

Stay In Class - Training Class Waltham HS - Charles River Dog Training ClubIf you have a puppy, you definitely want to consider educating your dog long term. Dogs are like us in the sense that they need to continue learning. Us, humans, do not only attend kindergarten or elementary school and then stop there. Many of us continue onto to high school, and then possibly onto college, to prepare us for whatever job we long to have. Only attending one set of puppy classes and/or one set of obedience classes are rarely enough. Dogs need to learn, not only how to do the various behaviors that will benefit them, but they also need to learn how to perform those behaviors in heavily distracting environments. A sit is not the same sit at home is not the same sit that happens at the veterinary clinic. The more the distractions go up, the harder it is for the puppy to perform those behaviors.

Puppies not only need to go to puppy class but they also need to continue their education by taking several obedience-type classes as they continue to mature. I use the term “obedience-type” because there are many different types of classes that can benefit the growing canine. Basic manners is a wonderful place to start but then you might want to take a specialty class of some sort like a beginning agility or tricks class.

Locate the training facilities in your area and be sure that they do use positive reinforcement training of some kind. These are classes where you are allowed to use food and toys to teach the puppy many different kinds of behavior. I highly recommend a clicker training class.

For those of you that do not want to use food to train, because you do not want to “bribe” your dog, please keep this learning theory formula in mind. There is a difference between bribing and reinforcing appropriate behavior with food as a reinforcer. The true learning theory equation is: I cue the behavior, I get the behavior, I mark that correct behavior (with an acoustic marker like a click or a verbal marker like “Yes!”) and then I give my dog a reward for that behavior. Here food and/or toys are generally used. As opposed to: I cue the behavior, the dog does not do the behavior, I get out a reinforcement (in this case, the treat) to help my dog do the behavior, and then the dog may or may not perform the behavior based on whether or not the dog wants the reinforcer that I am offering. Training in this way does not fit the true learning theory model. This will not build solid, reliable behavior.

Be sure to visit the classes in your area and do not be afraid to ask friends and family for referrals. Go and sit in on the class that you are thinking of taking, and if a facility will not allow you to do this, run in the opposite direction! Every training facility should encourage you to come in, watch the class in progress, and explain what training method they are using and why.

Look at the students taking the class: do they seem happy and content or do they seem frustrated and confused? Look at the dogs: are they happily working on certain behaviors or are they stressed, worriedly looking around at the distractions in the environment? Though these things can happen in any class, the goal is to achieve a certain amount of focus in a very distracting environment. Classes that are effectively taught can accomplish this, with students steadily improving, week after week.

Austyn started taking puppy classes at the MSPCA in Methuen, MA. They have classes on Saturday mornings and have a rolling admission which means that any puppy can start at any time. This is a clicker training class, and the fact that any puppy can come, means that your pup is introduced to a number of new dogs each week, which is very beneficial from the socialization aspect.

Because Austyn is going to be competing in obedience and agility, his private lessons have already started. (More on this later!)

In my next post, I will be giving you the Austyn/Kayden reactive dog update.