Find a Good Puppy School
For most families, the first point of contact for any dog advice is your Veterinarian. However a Vet is like your Human Doctor, they are a GP, their experience and training lies in medical welfare. They may offer wonderful advice, however, unless the Vet has specialised in animal behaviour (in particular dog behaviour) they should refer you on to a Trainer with the experience to help you develop further.
Your family, friends or work colleagues may be a great way to find a good trainer, however use common sense to filter this advice. One friend may rave about one particular training course, however this friend has a dog that leaps all over you whenever you visit – how reliable is that recommendation! Another friend has jumped from one trainer to another and yet seems to find fault with any methods used. Perhaps this friend is looking for the miracle cure.
Instead, consider advice from families where the dogs’ have great manners, otherwise speak to people you meet in the street or the park that have dogs with behaviour you admire. These are the ones who may have great advice or recommend a Trainer or a Course that you can find really worthwhile.
What Works For You?
The best way to find the Puppy School for you is to either ring and have a good chat or go and observe the classes if this is possible. Ask yourself the following questions to help determine what is best.
Do the pups get to run off lead and play?
Are older dogs introduced to puppies to increase skills?
Do the humans look like they are enjoying themselves?
Does the Trainer move around and explain the behaviour?
Do they encourage questions or just a present a standard format?
Do they encourage all the family to get involved?
Would I feel comfortable here with my puppy?
Vet Puppy Schools
Usually run by the Vet or perhaps the vet nurse, although there are some Clinics who may use private Trainers. Generally they charge a one off fee and will run perhaps 4 to 6 weeks for puppies aged 8 to 16 weeks. These classes tend to focus mainly on puppy social play along with offering advice on the future health aspects of your dog. A Vet generally deals with the health issues, a Vet Nurse may even have completed a course in Dog Training but does that mean they have the experience and ability to work with the different personalities of human and dog? Can they offer help when your puppy is grown up? Ask questions and know what you are paying for. Check if the operators have experience with training dogs of all ages. They should know how to cope with a variety of issues that you could face in the future (example; dog aggression, fear reactions).
Ask for a breakdown of what each week will entail. Is this really a socialising class or just a marketing exercise designed to sell food and services set up by the vet or the Pet Suppliers? Ask to see where the classes are being held. Is it set up for some activities with a non-slip floor or do they just squeeze into the waiting room?
Most obedience clubs are operated by a membership of dog lovers. Instructors are generally volunteers. Like all sporting clubs they are run by an elected committee and are usually a non-profit organisation.
Clubs will generally set out their own coaching courses to improve the skills of instructors. Many of these clubs run excellent puppy classes plus ongoing classes for older dogs. They have members in the club with years of experience breeding and competing that provide a wealth of information on health or social issues.
On the down side the standard of instruction will vary greatly as there may be different individuals running classes over different weeks. There are often limits as to how much individual Instructors can develop new techniques because they need the approval of the committee to vary the program.
Private Trainers / Schools
Trainers may operate either as full or part time, but either way you should expect a professional approach. Some Private Trainers may show you qualifications and certificates as proof of their competence. However be aware there is a growing industry of courses (as well as franchises) and there is no guarantee that they are relevant, or that the individual has the skill to run private groups. Other Trainers have spent years working with animals and attending seminars. They may also have developed good teaching techniques working in various outside industries or coaching in sporting clubs.
Preview their training area and decide if you feel comfortable and safe with the facilities on offer. You need to observe and decide if this Trainer displays the professional approach and ability to handle sticky situations. Do they appear to be able to adapt their style to work through particular issues you might have?
Prices can vary greatly. Some Trainers have invested a great deal of time and money setting up their own School. Others have to rent private space or organise public parklands as well as outlay money for insurances. When a Trainer has gone to these lengths then they have shown they are committed to providing professional service.
The best way to assess if a particular Trainer will suit you is to have a one off private lesson, this will give you a very good feel for how comfortable you are. Otherwise you could observe a class prior to paying out your cash. Watch the range of classes (not just the pups). Observe what happens and how the handlers seem to cope and enjoy the session. This will give you an opportunity to use your own judgement. If you don’t feel happy with the environment or the instructors you are unlikely to continue.
Courses and Schools are only one part of the training program for you and your pup. You are only there once a week, you need to practice what you learn. Take your pup everywhere that is practical. Put the pup in the car when you drive to the shop. Walk to the school to collect the kid and to sporting games on the weekend. Arrange Play Dates with other puppies and don’t forget to mix pup with sensible older dogs. Choose friends’ dogs that seem balanced, and encourage pup to mix with happy kids who will treat your pup with respect. Read any material on offer from books or even over the Internet, just use common sense to determine what will work for you.
Remember the objective is to have fun and enjoy working with your dog, whatever the environment.