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I'm very excited and honored to have been asked to teach a puppy kindergarten (socialization) class. I spent many years as a Veterinary technician, studied breeds, and have trained or helped to train puppies.

This is the first class of it's kind to be offered in our area which makes it even more exciting.

I do have many ideas as to what areas I want to address in the new class. My question is, if you were a new puppy owner what things would you want to learn in a class like this? Yes, it will primarily focus on puppy socialization and manners but I will also be adding things like nutrition, healthcare, crate training, and leash training.

Any input will be appreciated.:)
 

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I looked for awhile to find a facility that actually teaches how to TRAIN a puppy as the focus, with socialization as well. Many places focus so much on socialization that they do very little actual training.

Puppy classes should be fun for the puppy, but I am a firm believer that socialization occurs through training, and I don't go to puppy classes that spend so much time with puppy "playtime" that little training occurs. JMHO

Each week covered training, socialization, and grooming/health care. Regarding grooming - one week everyone learned - hands on - how to clip or dremel their puppies nails, one week ear cleaning, one week teeth, etc. I think every puppy class should cover this. So many people don't know how to clip their own dogs nails, or they don't start young enough, and many have never cleaned their ears, etc.
 

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I looked for awhile to find a facility that actually teaches how to TRAIN a puppy as the focus, with socialization as well. Many places focus so much on socialization that they do very little actual training.

Puppy classes should be fun for the puppy, but I am a firm believer that socialization occurs through training, and I don't go to puppy classes that spend so much time with puppy "playtime" that little training occurs. JMHO

Each week covered training, socialization, and grooming/health care. Regarding grooming - one week everyone learned - hands on - how to clip or dremel their puppies nails, one week ear cleaning, one week teeth, etc. I think every puppy class should cover this. So many people don't know how to clip their own dogs nails, or they don't start young enough, and many have never cleaned their ears, etc.
Yes, I want to ad those under the healthcare subject. I want this to be a fun class for both owners and puppies but I want everyone to get something out of it, not just playtime. :)
 

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The curriculum I use in PK is similar to a Beginner's class.

Behaviors taught include:
  • Sit
  • Down
  • Walk on Loose Leash
  • Come
  • NAME GAME (I don't think enough classes teach this! - builds engagement and works on getting owners to stop using the dogs name as a warning or correction)
  • Kennel/go to your spot.
Add Ons:
  • Grooming (brushes/nail clippers/dremels, teeth cleaning, ear cleaning, bathing)
  • Health care (heartworm/flea preventatives, vet checks/vaccinations, common problems to watch for in the breeds attending class -ie: bloat=danes, gsd; ear infections=drop eared breeds/swimmers; luxating patellas=toy breeds, etc)
  • Pass-The-Puppy! (Socializing game where the puppies are passed around the room to the other owners to get treats, petting, asked to "sit" etc)
  • Puppy Agility (Introduced to walking over things on the ground, going through tunnels, nothing strenuous, just fun and confidence building)
  • Proper Puppy meetings
What you may notice, in my class, there is no "Puppy Playtime" with each other. I have in past classes and I don't find the puppies get much positive from it. There is always at least one "bully" puppy and with so many of the puppies in a fear stage period, I find it best for them to be socialized around the other puppies just by seeing and smelling but no playing.

In truth, I had only one PK class last year, down from 3 the previous year. I have started including the puppies in the Beginner's class this past year and I am loving it much more. The owners seem very happy as well.

People need to realize, Dog Obedience Classes are for learning how to control/play/take care of your puppy/dog. They are not Dog Parks! ;)
 

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Well if i were looking for a puppy class, pretty much everything mentioned thus far would be perfect IMHO. Not enough people know how to groom their dogs or realize how much easier that puppy will be if they're used to all kinds of handling NOW instead of trying to do it later. Plus early training basics, helps improve focus later as well.
 

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All I ask is that if you have a fearful puppy in your class, please don't force him to participate in activities that terrify him (pass the puppy, free play).

Make sure you tell people to remember to reward the good behaviors and not just focus on corrections. Example: Puppy is being quiet on his pillow chewing an appropriate toy = extra yummy treat. Remind people that their dogs are still babies.
 

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Everyone does PK different so I will give you the curriculum for our PK as well for comparison:

Behaviors learned:

Sit
Down
Touch
Watch Me
Wait - for impulse control
Leave It
Walk on Loose Leash
Name Game
Go to place

You may notice we do not teach "come" at this age. Instead we use "touch" for that behavior. With touch I expect the dogs nose to touch my palm from where ever he is and from whatever he is doing. We play the touch game which consists of two people and the dog in the middle each calling for a touch back and forth. We do not teach "come" at this age because that behavior should never be ignored, ever. Come is not taught until basic obedience 1 when the pups attention span is much better.

Depending on age of puppies, play/training is broken down throughout the class. Usually 15 minutes of training, 5 minute play. This is rotated throughout the 1 hour class.

We also break down play time, bigger pups in one area smaller pups in another. And we have a partition for a pup who may not enjoy play time in a group but maybe with one pup at a time.

We pass the puppy around daily to practice the behavior that was learned with a stranger as well. And one class is all about feeding/grooming/health, ending with mock vet office with sitting quietly on a table, strangers opening pups mouth, manipulating paws, etc.

Something that everyone seems to enjoy is that we open class with going around the room and asking what/if any issues each person/pup team has experienced over the past week. Whether it's house training, chewing, counter surfing, nipping, crate training, etc. Then that topic is touched upon during class.

Hope that helps, and I am sure I have missed something as puppy class covers A LOT :)
 

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What you may notice, in my class, there is no "Puppy Playtime" with each other.
My trainer has a "NO" interaction rule in class, I was upset about this until one day she let us allow the pups to interact. Then I understood why she had that rule, I could not get my pup to focus at all after that, she only wanted to play. If I am taking the time to go to a class I'd rather "train" there is plenty of time to play outside of class.
 

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I teach my own puppy class and do it as an ongoing thing, charged per session. It really works out great! New people coming in all the time and no one with a puppy ever has to wait for class to start. Because of this format, I don't have set lesson plans, although you can run classes with set lesson plans this way too (just have 6-8 weeks worth of lessons and rotate through them).

I personally would suggest leaving out the group play time. It is not terribly beneficial and can lead to behavior issues such as reactivity, fear, over stimulation and lack of owner focus. Socialization to other dogs is best done by just working the puppies in a class setting around other dogs, where the other dogs are neutral (not scary and not too interesting).

What I discuss depends on the students. If I have all dog people, we don't hit on any ownership related things. If I have pet people, I will hit on one ownership related topic a night but I don't take much time up with talking about those things. Instead I briefly bring it up and give a handout with more info. At the end of each class, I ask if anyone has any problems or questions. You will be amazed at what comes out during this that people wouldn't have brought up other wise. When I have gone to puppy classes with other people, one of my biggest pet peeves is having an instructor who spends great portions of class time talking. If you want to do a lecture with each class, I'd suggest adding an extra 15 minutes on and having owners bring stuffed treat toys such as Kongs to occupy their puppies while you talk. Do the lecture at the end and the puppies will be more likely to settle during it.

Things I work on in class are: basic obedience cues usually through luring (sit, down stand), foundation for other behaviors (such as heeling and stays), lots of restrained recalls, loose leash walking, fun tricks of all sorts, puppy obstacles of all sorts and people socialization. For people socialization, I hold each puppy's leash and feed them while their owner goes around and greets the other puppies. Everyone in attendance greets every puppy each week, so if spouses or kids come along, they greet puppies too (and I encourage them to come!). I work in all sorts of things to make the greeting "different" too - bring balloons one day and have each person walk around with balloons, have everyone bring the craziest hat they can find, have a day of big winter coats, plastic rain ponchos, canes, crutches, etc. Puppy obstacles can be just about anything too - tunnels, skateboards, wobble boards, perch work, low agility stuff, boards, ladders, wading pools filled with water or ball crawl balls or shredded paper, expens laid flat on the floor, etc. The more you can teach puppies to do the better!
 

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You can do socialization and teach basic tricks like sit, shake, lay down, come and stay.

You can also help teach people about the importance of good kibble and exercise.

:)

Good luck to you! You'll do great!
 

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I would include some info on teaching puppies to accept handling (for grooming/vet visits) and make sure to cover the common behavior problems people complain about like pulling, chewing inappropriately, mouthing, and jumping up.

The best puppy classes I've seen also do some "puppy agility" and have the puppies walking on different surfaces and things like that (as part of socialization).

The puppy classes I've been to usually ask people to keep the puppies separated (unless they're working on greetings or something) until the end of class when they have a short off-leash playtime (supervised carefully by the trainers to avoid any problems. If people don't want to participate in it, they can leave beforehand because it's at the end.

I also recently found this neat puppy class, maybe you can incorporate some of their ideas:
Puppies with Purpose (more info...)
 

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I agree with making it all 'trick' training with tons of teeny treats. For some reason if you say it's 'obedience' everyone manages to suck the fun out of it.

But if it's a TRICK!!!!! It stays light and fun while the pup learns tons!

Teaching a trick is the least important part of teaching a trick

Also using toys/food for ENGAGMENT...

 

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From a lifetime of designing and teaching professional seminars and university level classes, the most important thing to designing any class is two fold:

1. Who will be your audience (mentioned above)? Can you assume that your attendees will know basic puppy care or not? (probably not!) Will they know anything about training dogs? (probably no)

2. What do you expect (Want) them to know at the end of the class? (Obviously related to question no. 1)

Take both of these related questions when you are designing anf teaching the course.

I would also suggest that you have handouts for each meeting that summarizes what was covered so the folks have something to take home with them as they will never remember everything that was covered.

And remind all students that there is HOMEWORK! (i.e. training their pups at home during the week)

Good luck and keep us all informed how it goes!
 

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Discussion Starter #15
Thank you all so much for some great advice. It's helping me very much to design our class structure. :D
 

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My trainer has a "NO" interaction rule in class, I was upset about this until one day she let us allow the pups to interact. Then I understood why she had that rule, I could not get my pup to focus at all after that, she only wanted to play. If I am taking the time to go to a class I'd rather "train" there is plenty of time to play outside of class.
That's really unfortunate I think. For me, puppy playtime was a big selling point for puppy classes. It was a very controlled play split up between bigger puppies and smaller puppies. There was no bullying or growling allowed. If that occurred, the playtime was temporarily stopped for the dogs involved. There was only one incident of that and the dogs seemed to very quickly learn that wasn't an acceptable way to play.

I truly believe puppy playtime is a very crucial part of puppy classes. That was the first time my dog got to play with other puppies. Yes, after play time it would take her a few minutes to settle down and focus again, but that's also part of the training process, using distractions as well as teaching them to settle as soon as playtime is over.

I personally wouldn't go to any puppy class that didn't have off leash playtime. My trainer is recognized by the Canadian Kennel Club and it's very obvious that she knows what she's doing and she believes in puppy playtime during puppy classes, so I will trust her judgement.
 

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I truly believe puppy playtime is a very crucial part of puppy classes. That was the first time my dog got to play with other puppies. Yes, after play time it would take her a few minutes to settle down and focus again, but that's also part of the training process, using distractions as well as teaching them to settle as soon as playtime is over.
A good example of what I try to imprint on my puppies, which group play tends to contradict. I took Whimsy to a puppy class at the training club where one of the exercises was to let all the puppies mingle, then call them away from the group. Usually for Whimsy, this exercise involved her glancing at the puppies then staring at me, waiting to be rewarded for ignoring the distraction so well. The instructor felt I should encourage her to interact more with the other puppies. I politely declined. Her reaction was exactly what I want, a neutral attitude towards strange dogs. And it has paid off. She has been one of the only dogs in our Flyball class to have no interest in chasing when dogs run in the lane next to her and one of the only ones who will ignore other dogs if they chase her, she just continues focusing on her "job". I'm not saying you can't have that with dogs who have a lot of exposure to group play but IME it is much more difficult.

Puppy play time, doggy daycare and dog parks have become hugely popular over the past 10 or 15 years but to be honest, such things are more for the owner than they are for the dog. I taught puppy classes with group play for several years and I worked at doggy daycare for many years. IME there is definitely a risk of negative side effects resulting from too much dog to dog interaction.
 
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