While the old maxim that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks is definitely not true, what is true is that the learning experience provided to the dog when they are a puppy is of the utmost importance. Those first few weeks in a new family and new home will largely shape how that puppy will view their world for the entirety of their adult life. Puppy brains are little learning machines and the lessons they learn at this stage will go in easily and persistently.
There is no doubt then that the responsibility involved in raising a puppy to be a happy and relaxed member of society is a massive one, and one that requires knowledge, excellent judgement and empathy. For many puppy guardians, puppy classes are seen as the way to go, to seek professional help in giving their puppy the very best start that they can in life. The right professional can indeed help guardians to give their puppy a smooth introduction to the wider world, but care is needed to ensure the person leading the puppy classes is indeed the right professional.
The best and kindest methods to coach any dog, including in puppy classes, are positive reinforcement methods, rewarding the puppy with something they like when they get it right. When a dog learns that doing a certain thing gets them something they like, be that a tasty treat, a favourite toy or attention from their favourite human, they are likely to try and get the reward again. Dogs do what works to get them the things they want. Positive reinforcement training harnesses that, in the way that the dog will learn to associate their action with a reward. Gaining a reward also results in a release of dopamine in the brain, a neurotransmitter that is associated with learning and memory, and also the pleasure centres in the brain. Positive reinforcement based training uses that in-built natural feel good hit. Puppy classes using this reward based training are as rewarding to the humans to watch, as a room full of engaged, happy, wiggly puppies is a joy for everyone to see.
Another important reason to make sure the professional running any puppy classes you might attend with your new family member uses positive reinforcement methods is the risk other methods may pose to your bond with your dog. For a truly great relationship between human and dog, confidence and trust are essential. Any use of methods that involve fear, intimidation or pain can only damage that relationship. For this reason, make sure that you check out the canine professional running the puppy classes you are thinking of attending. Ask plenty of questions. Find out details of all the methods they use. If they mention anything other than positive reinforcement, reward based training, find another professional and another set of puppy classes.
Your bond with your puppy – and the dog they will grow up to be – is too important to risk not picking the right canine professional and the right puppy classes.
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