Why Attend Puppy Preschool?

All too often, Puppy Preschool is an after-thought for new puppy owners. Perhaps they are confident in raising a puppy, they don’t have time, or they are waiting until their puppy has finished their vaccination. Other families might not sign up because they have another dog at home, so they aren’t worried about “socialisation”. In this blog post we will look at some reasons why Puppy Preschool should be a top priority when you bring home a new family member.

“I’ve always had *insert breed here*, so i know how to train this puppy”

Even experienced dog owners can find a number of benefits in attending puppy classes. In many cases a new puppy will be joining the family because an older dog has recently passed away. This means, for many families, it has been 10+ years since they have owned a puppy. Joining a puppy class can be a great way to find out what’s new in the world of dog training, as well as an opportunity to jog your memory on some of the puppy problems that you haven’t had to deal with for over a decade! Every puppy is an individual too, so this puppy may bring a range of challenges that you have not yet encountered, and your class instructor will be able to help you survive puppy-hood.

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Wilbur (bottom left) attended Puppy Preschool and made lots of new friends

“I have another dog at home, so my puppy has plenty of socialisation”

Socialisation refers to the process of introducing your new puppy to a range of new people, animals, places, and experiences. When we bring our new puppy home at 8 weeks old, they are in their critical socialisation period. This means their brains are like sponges, ready to take on new information. If you set them up with plenty of positive introductions to new experiences they will develop into confident and curious young adults, but if they are limited in their exposure or they have scary experiences, they can become timid and afraid in new situations. Puppy Preschool is a safe opportunity to bring your puppy into a new environment where they can meet new people, and learn to focus and relax in a stimulating environment. Play time with other puppies is a fun component of Puppy Preschool, but there is so much more to be gained by attending a well run class.

“I can’t take my puppy out until he is fully vaccinated”

The critical socialisation period is finished by approximately 14-16 weeks of age. It is still important to continue introducing your puppy to new experiences beyond this age, but they are likely to be more cautious in unfamiliar situations. A pup that is kept at home, without any new experiences in the outside world, until they are fully vaccinated at 16-18 weeks of age has lost a wonderful opportunity to easily make happy associations with the big wide world. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behaviour and the Australian Veterinary Association both agree that the benefit of attending puppy classes prior to completing puppy vaccinations far outweighs the risk of disease spread, which is minimal when attending a class run indoors on disinfected floors. In addition to puppy classes you can also take your puppy to friends houses, on car rides, and to other places where you can carry them. We have even had clients who take their pup out in a stroller so they can see the sights before they are fully vaccinated!

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Chewy learned about food toys at Puppy Preschool

“I’ll go to a training class later”

Prevention is better than a cure! There is no time like the present to begin teaching your puppy the skills he will need to make an excellent addition to your family. By attending puppy classes within the first few weeks of bringing your puppy home, you can teach them what you expect right from the start. There is no need to wait for problems to appear before you start training! Keep in mind that many well-run puppy classes book out weeks in advance, so if you are planning on bringing a new puppy home try to book them into a class as soon as possible. We love when clients phone us before their puppy even comes home!

In summary, Puppy Preschool is a fun opportunity for you to help your puppy experience new places, new people, new dogs, and new skills. At Treat. Play. Love. we keep our class size small to maximise the benefit for you and your puppy. We prioritise helping each puppy feel safe and confident in all class interactions, and we love helping new owners teach their puppy the skills they will need to make great pets.

 

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The Social Dog

Most clients i see want to spend time with their dog in social settings – friends houses, walks with friends, dog parks, the beach, etc. Sharing time with your dog and others can be one of the great joys of owning a dog. For some chilled out pooches it comes naturally to be social, but for others it can be more challenging (and some would prefer to stay home altogether).

One of the biggest challenges that we face as we prepare our dogs to be the social butterflies we so desire is the misconception that socialisation equals play. We try to do the right thing with our new puppy or adult dog by bringing them to as many play dates as possible and letting them mingle with other dogs. This can go well, or not…

Recognising inappropriate play can be really difficult for the average dog owner. It is easy for overly boisterous dogs to pursue a more polite or shy dog relentlessly, and equally easy for a shy dog to be overwhelmed without being noticed.

Rather than jumping in the deep end with play, take time to learn about body language so you can interrupt if play goes pear-shaped. The Dog Decoder app is a great resource for any dog owner to learn about basic dog body language.

Also spend time on some foundation training skills with your dog. Teach him that great things happen when he stays calm while other dogs are around. Help him learn to focus on you and respond to cues in the face of distraction. The majority of the time when we see other dogs it won’t be appropriate for them to play (e.g. passing on walks, in training classes, at dog-friendly cafes), so teaching your dog to be calm around other dogs should be your top priority.

When you do introduce your dog to new friends, focus on keeping the play short and happy and space out the play with short pauses where you reward settled behaviour. Happy play involves loose and wriggly dogs, lots of play cues (play bows, loose waggy tails, etc), and respect of the other dog. The players should take turns chasing and being chased, wrestling and being wrestled, etc. If you think either party is not enjoying themselves, pause the play.

Play fighting can easily degrade into actual fighting, and play chasing can become predatory, which is why those frequent breaks let everyone stop and chill, and keep from becoming over-stimulated.

Dog friends are awesome, but only when everyone is getting along and having a great time. Putting your dog in social situations that make him uncomfortable won’t help him to feel better around other dogs, it will likely make him feel worse. Your job as a dog owner is to ensure your dog is safe and happy, and that may or may not include play dates with other dogs.

If you need help with dog training in the Townsville area, contact Treat Play Love today.

Is he in training?

This afternoon I set out with my own dog, Wilbur, for a walk to explore the neighbourhood. When we go walking I always have my little treat pouch with some of Wilbur’s favourite treats, my phone, and a couple of poo bags. Being a pup of only 6 months old he’s still learning a lot of different skills, and he gets treats for excellent responses on walks.

A few minutes into our walk, another dog and owner (who we have met before) was across the road, ready to cross and come towards us. I stepped Wilbur just off the path, asked him to sit, and gave him a couple of treats and the dog came nearer. The dog’s owner was watching us, and asked “Is he in training?”

What a fantastic question! Every minute we spend with our dogs, we are training them, whether we want to or not. They are learning about the things that we like and don’t like, what they can expect from us in different situations, and when they’re likely to get our attention. Around the house and out in the big wide world our dogs learn what sights, sounds, and smells are interesting and fun for them, and which ones might be a threat of something unpleasant, and of course which ones are just neutral (and boring). Some dogs might be wary, and some dogs might be bold, but they are all discovering things about their family and their world all the time.

wilbur training walk

Our walk today was even more interesting than usual! Wilbur was learning about walking past distractions (like barking dogs, other walkers, interesting smells), he learnt about sitting for pats from strangers and kids (and even let them shake hands, polite young man that he is), he learnt that sometimes kids have doughnuts that they won’t share. We practised sitting when we see another dog, and that sometimes we just let them pass and other times we can say hello. We even learnt about saying hello to people in wheelchairs!!

When we left the house today I couldn’t have guessed just how many new and interesting learning opportunities we would have on our walk, but today I was proud to be Wilbur’s mum because he responded to all these things calmly, happily, and with confidence. And I sure was glad to have my treat pouch so I could pay a job well done – let’s see what our next walk brings!

Are we having fun yet?

These days there are so many awesome things that we can do with our dogs. In most cities you will find off-leash dog areas, dog beaches, social dog walks, fenced dog parks, and a host of other activities. There are also numerous events that aren’t specifically organised for dogs, but where dogs and other on-leash pets are welcome too. This could include local markets, pet stores, community events, etc.

It can be so much fun getting out and socialising with other dog people, checking out the breeds that people own, introducing your dog to other people and puppy friends. We love our dogs so much, so why wouldn’t we want to show them off?

Check what’s going on at the other end of the leash – is your dog having fun too?

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Wilbur at the Townsville Million Paws Walk 2014 – checking out the sights

Often event organisers and dog owners are well-meaning when they take their dog out and about, but for many dogs these social experiences can be overwhelming for them, especially if they are really only used to quiet walks around the neighbourhood.

Signs that your dog may be unhappy or too stressed in a certain situation could include inactivity and hanging close to you all the time, hyperactivity or hyper vigilance, pulling at other dogs and people beyond the point of being able to be redirected, barking or growling at other people or dogs, or showing stress signs such as trembling, yawning, licking his lips a lot, keeping his ears tucked back, and sniffing or pacing a lot. These are just some examples. Go to any heavily populated dog area and you will see plenty of dogs who would prefer a good game at home or a walk in a quieter area.

If you dog is showing signs of stress, what should you do? Remove your dog from the situation as soon as possible, and work on a plan to make that sort of outing something enjoyable. Depending on your dog you may just need to work on some basic manners training, or perhaps get help to develop a plan to change the way your dog views these things altogether. Or maybe these social outings aren’t actually important to you and your dog. There is a widely held belief that all dogs should be social butterflies and love any dog we set them up to play with. This just isn’t the case. Your dog may prefer to play with just a select few canine friends, or maybe none at all. So long as you help teach him not to feel afraid, and help him to pass on by without stress, there is no reason why you have to visit social dog locations.

Part of our responsibility as dog owners is to help our dogs be well socialised, confident, and happy members of society. They should be able to go out and about by our side without feeling afraid of day-to-day activities, sights, and sounds. Beyond that, if we want to get involved with our dogs at community events, it is important that we look out for our dogs and help them to enjoy the experience too! We are doing it for the dogs after all!