Puppy Classes

Choosing a Puppy Class: Playing isn’t always good for your dog!
Being a dog trainer, I know lots of dog trainers. Also, calling yourself a dog trainer, and teaching classes does not make you a good dog trainer, or a knowledgeable dog trainer. Keep this in mind always! Finding a puppy class for Cargo was more difficult than I expected. I should have gone with my gut and observed the classes before bringing her. (Always go with your gut! How many times have people told us that?) Time got away from me, and we showed up to our first puppy class together.

These are the boxes to check when looking for a puppy class! (#1 is go to puppy class!)

Positive Reinforcement based. (Labels of dog training is a blog post for another day, but this is the most common term so I am going to use it here) You should be giving your puppy tons of cookies. Like all the cookies, like more cookies than you ever thought possible. That’s the right amount of cookies for your puppy. If the trainer is suggesting a training collar or slip collar then you need to find a new puppy class. Puppy should be in a well fitting harness or flat buckle collar.

Vaccinations are required upon entering. The AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) changed their guidelines on puppy socializing a few years ago, and most vets are still struggling with the changes. Previously, Vets have been keeping puppies close to home until they are finished with their puppy vaccinations. Now, we have discovered that the 9 to 16 week window is prime time for learning the world and learning how to adapt to new environments. Keeping puppy at home can actually cause more behavior problems than the risk for catching a disease. Be smart about socializing your pup. (See previous blog post) Puppy class should have a bunch of healthy and vaccinated puppies for you to socialize with.

Playtime and work time is separate, and clearly defined. Imagine letting kids decide to play or learn their letters in preschool. Obviously they are going to choose playing instead of working! They are babies and have a need to play! But you are in puppy class, and you both are there to learn. If you have stray puppies rolling up on you while you are trying to teach your dog to focus on you, then you are making class too difficult for you and your puppy.
Playtime should also be structured to accommodate all playstyles and sizes. Cargo is a monster when she plays. I do not expect someone with a 2 pound Maltese puppy to be okay with my bold crazy puppy being in their face. Play time should allow the wallflowers time to interact with other wallflowers until they are ready for wild and crazy play. Throwing everyone in together to “work it out” is a recipe for disaster.


Learning is tailored to your baby puppy. Your puppy should be learning that you are the most fun, exciting and important thing in their life. Puppy class should be working on teaching your puppy the foundations that will set him up for a lifetime of learning. Teaching puppy how to focus, his name, and some impulse control are really the big things that you should walk away learning in puppy class. Save the “sit” “down” and “stay” for when they are a bit older and understand how to focus and figure out their surroundings. If you have a good foundation, then the rest becomes very easy!

Again, go with your gut! If you don’t think the puppy class you chose is giving you the results you were looking for, then find a new one! Bad socialization will do more harm than minimal socialization. You and your puppy should be having fun when going out and doing things together. If puppy class is stressful for you or your puppy then it’s not doing anyone any good! Find a trainer you trust to help you with your puppy’s socialization plan.
Did you know that I have a free E-book on ways to keep your pup calm? Download it now by signing up for my newsletter at www.thefreckledpaw.com!

Puppy Socialization: What does it mean?

So you’ve been to the vet and they have said “make sure you socialize your dog”, the breeder said “make sure you socialize this puppy”, friends and neighbors say “make sure you socialize so you don’t end up with behavior problems”.
So what does that even mean? When I was becoming a dog trainer, finding this information was enough to make your head spin. Everyone had an opinion, or a guide, or lots of stuff you shouldn’t do.
Lucky for you, I have a few years’ experience now, and I am going to guide you through “Puppy socialization”
I was lucky enough to live close to Cargo’s breeder so I was able to work with her a bit when she was very young. We started our “field trips” when she was 5 weeks old. She is a bold puppy who was not fazed by much at that age, so we were able to start things pretty young. One of our first trips was into Bass Pro Shop. She got to climb on the rocks out front, see the cars in the parking lot, visit with people as she wished and investigate all the things inside the store. When she seemed a bit overwhelmed I would scoop her up and she would check things out from the safety of my arms. When she wiggled to be put down, I complied so she could go investigate as she wanted to.

Start early!

Puppies are tiny sponges when you first get them. The more you can expose them to in the first year, the better off the rest of your life will be with your puppy. However, (and this is big) make sure you are making the experiences positive ones! It’s better to have a handful of great experiences than a ton of mediocre ones, or a few bad ones. We made a plan to go to one new place a week for about 20 minutes. We’ve been to the barn to see the chickens and horses, we have been to the vets office, hardware stores, pet stores, training buildings, the parking lot of the outlet center, many parks, and the auto repair shop.
Many Veterinarians and breeders will recommend that you wait until your puppy has completed his shots to begin to take them out and expose them to things. The new American Veterinary Medical Association guidelines actually recommend exposure as early as possible! Now you have to be smart about it and avoid places where there might possibly be a sick dog, like the dog park, vet clinic or pet store until your pup has received a few vaccines.

Be an advocate for your puppy! When I take Cargo out, I tell people they can pet her if she approaches them. Sometimes she does, sometimes she creeps up, and sometimes she says “heck no!” I don’t care either way what choice she makes, I just support the choice. If she finds a thing that she finds frightening or worthy of working out, then I allow her the time and space to figure out what she needs to do to be successful. Sometimes we creep towards it and I touch it to show her it’s okay, sometimes we decide it’s too much for right now, and we walk away. If we walk away I make a mental note to try again when we get older and see how it goes. So far we do not have anything that has been scary more than once (Except plastic bags blowing down the street. That was scary a few times), so I am happy.
How to support your puppy
First things first. This is your puppy, your companion, and your family member. If someone is being rude to a family member, you say something or you leave the situation. Supporting your puppy from the beginning teaches them that you will always be a safe place, and you are trust worthy in these new environments. There are a few ways you can support your puppy’s choices in a new place.

Treats. Offer cookies when your puppy checks in, checks out a new thing, or person. Treats should always come from you, especially if your puppy loves his food. Often the desire for food can overshadow the fear they are feeling, and put them in a bad situation once the food is gone. Food also intrinsically makes us feel good. (There is science behind this) Feeding in a new location will lower your puppy’s stress level and make the situation not as strange.
Talk to them. Cargo had a hard time with people “appearing” through doors or on the trail. She still watches and wonders, but it’s getting to be more of a normal occurrence. When she is watching, I calmly talk to her and ask her what those people are doing or where they came from. This helps her hear my voice calmly supporting her, and it explains to the people why my puppy is just staring at them. When she had explored the situation to her satisfaction, she would check in with me for a cookie, then we would carry on. I never asked her to get closer to the people or the door until she was ready and checked in with me. (communication is a two way street)


You can’t reinforce fear. If she was really struggling with something, I would kneel down and let her take shelter near me. I would pet her and reassure her that she did not need to panic, and that I was right here to keep her safe. After all, I have decided she was going to live in my world and do things my way, I need her to trust me when something unexpected happens. Fear is an emotion, and as most of us know, we cannot control emotions.
Socialization does not end when your puppy is beyond the cute fluffy stage. Socialization is ongoing for the life of your dog if you are looking for a well-adjusted companion. Think ahead to the situations that your puppy might encounter over the next 5 years. Do you have a boat but it’s in winter storage? Visit the marina anyway, and let your puppy see the other boats. Obviously you can’t plan for everything that will happen over the lifetime of your dog, but if you have enough great experiences with strange places or strange things, when something strange does happen in the future your dog will have all those puppy experiences to fall back on!

If you need help deciding what path of socializing is best for your puppy, shoot me a message! I am happy to help in any way I can! In the next post we will explore those first things you should be teaching your puppy, and what to look for in a puppy play group!