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Puppy Preschool: Weighing the Pros and Cons for your New Puppy


a black and white puppy
A Puppy Preschool attendee

When I chat on the phone with potential new clients, and I ask them what training (if any) their dog has done, almost invariably the answer is “He’s been to puppy preschool”.


Understand, that is like sending your now adult son or daughter out into the adult world with a kindergarten education. It's just completely inadequate.


The concept of puppy preschool has become one where a group of puppies gather to potentially learn and socialise, and for owners to gain knowledge about how to raise a happy well rounded young dog. Naturally, training and socialisation should be prioritised in this age group, and owners of young puppies are usually desperate for clear knowledge about how to deal with topics such as behavioural challenges, socialisation, toilet training, crate training and obedience.


These topics are all important, but puppy owners should be aware that the type of information and answers that they are likely to receive and the experience that their puppy is likely to have can vary wildly depending on where they attend and who is running the preschool.


So, let’s take a look at the pros and cons.



Considerations Before Signing Up:


a white puppy
A Puppy Preschool attendee

Understanding that puppy preschool classes are run by vet clinics, pet stores, grooming salons, and training schools for the primary purpose of building brand loyalty in the dog owner, and they are often sponsored by large brands of dog food or pharmaceuticals, is important.


Now, this is not always a bad thing, and most places genuinely want to run a good-quality puppy class, but it’s worth understanding.


What sort of class is it?


Before you commit to attending their puppy school, perhaps find out who is running the class and what sort of teachings they are likely to offer. If the class is being run by a certified professional, and you agree with the type of training that they are likely to offer, then consider enrolling.


However, if the class is being run by an employee who does not have dog training or puppy experience then perhaps consider the type of experience and advice that you are likely to receive. Unfortunately, a lot of puppies have detrimental experiences and I often hear that puppy preschool was a waste of the owner's time and money. Or if the class is being run by a trained professional, but their training beliefs don't align with your own, then you may be paying for something that you'll never use.


Ask some questions before you sign up.


Age and health


a black and white puppy
A Puppy Preschool attendee

Choosing the right time to attend puppy preschool is also very important. Most of these classes are aimed at puppies 8-16 weeks, and enrolling at an older age can be a waste of time if the content is aimed at a younger age bracket. If your puppy is already 16 weeks or older, an obedience class or private trainer might be a better option.


Additionally, most people will be looking to enrol their puppy at an age when vaccinations are not fully complete, so if that's you, you’ll want to be certain that your puppy’s health is not at risk. You need to decide what your comfort level is for your puppy to be out and about, attending a place where lots of dogs congregate when their vaccination levels might still be low, and weighing that up against the benefits to be gained in training and socialisation.


For me, the risk of my puppy contracting a disease is low, if I'm careful, compared to the risk of ending up with an anti-social dog. However, this is a very personal choice.



Benefits of Puppy Preschool


A quality puppy preschool class or course, if it's run by a professional with experience in dog training, should offer a lot of potential benefits to the puppy and new puppy parent.


a group of puppies
Puppies socialising in a controlled class

Socialisation


The opportunity for puppies to meet and interact with other puppies is not just cute, but super appealing to most puppy parents, because they’ve read a lot about how they should socialise their puppy. But understand that socialisation is about far, far more than puppies interacting with one another, though that can be one aspect of it. So, whilst they are likely to be socialising with the other pups it’s important that the trainer is also teaching puppy parents how to go about socialising their puppy completely and how to control that socialisation.


Care should also be taken that the more shy or timid puppies are not ending up having a negative social experience during the class AND that the bolder puppies are not ending up learning how to be a bully. Building confidence in the shy puppies and simultaneously teaching the overexcitable puppies to calm down and interact nicely should be prioritised.


Unfortunately, both sets of feedback are something that I hear a lot from puppy owners about their previous preschool experiences. I cringe when I hear that puppies are being sent to time out or failing puppy preschool. To me, that's a failure of the trainer or class instructor.


puppies at puppy school
Puppies learning to stay on their mat

Basic Commands


An introduction to obedience training should be fundamental to the puppy preschool class. Puppies in this age group can and should be learning simple versions of commands such as sit, sit stay, recall or mat command. Naturally, these may vary depending on the beliefs of the training location and the methodology employed by the trainer or class instructor so you may want to inquire before you enrol.


For instance, I train my puppy preschool participants without food reliance from day one, but I also make sure that they know that before enrolling so that they can make an educated decision about if that's the right option for them or not.


brown and white puppy
Puppy Preschool graduation photo


Behaviour Shaping


Ideally, the class instructor should be able to give practical advice to puppy parents about topics such as biting, jumping, barking, stealing, or chewing stuff so that they can go home and start applying it between sessions. Getting ongoing feedback during the course would be ideal.


In addition, advice on toilet training and crate training (if relevant) should be available.






Alternatives to Puppy Preschool:


a German shepherd puppy
Winnie the GSD worked with me in her home

Choosing not to attend a puppy preschool with your puppy is a valid choice for many people if the puppy preschool courses on offer locally are inadequate or run at an impossible time. This is not the end of the world if you look for a suitable alternative.


In-Home Puppy Training


In-home trainers can provide all of the information and guidance on obedience, behaviour and socialisation strategies that puppy owners need, and whilst they are not likely to be able to provide pup-to-pup interaction, socialisation can certainly happen.


For example, I take my fully vaccinated dogs into client sessions just as I do at puppy preschool so long as the client is ok with them attending.


Online Puppy Programs


a cocker spaniel puppy
Soda the Cocker Spaniel worked with me through my online program

Don’t discount the idea of joining an online puppy program. When the main aim of puppy courses and programs is to educate puppy owners about obedience, manners, behavioural problem solving, toilet training, crate training, and creating & controlling socialisation, a good trainer can provide that information in pretty much any format. Including a well-formulated online program.


For example, in my online program “New Puppy Parents – Raise Them Right!” I cover all those topics and more, educating puppy owners who then train their puppies. The feedback loop is not all that different to the feedback loop in an actual preschool program.



a white puppy
Puppy Preschool graduation photo

So, if you’re the owner of a brand-new puppy, or considering getting one soon, now is the right time to do some research into the puppy education programs that are available to you.


Find out what places locally offer puppy preschools and who is running them. You might even like to speak with the trainer to find out if it’s a good fit. Otherwise choosing a trainer who can visit you at home or has a puppy program to suit your aims and beliefs would be a great idea.


You only get one shot at this, and you’ll want to get it right. Prevention is so much easier than rehabilitation.







About A New Leash on Life Dog Training


a lady with three dogs
Zander, Keryn, Jaffa & Miki

Because I use a balanced approach to dog training if you choose to train with me, we will be using positive reinforcement and rewards, but we will not be using food. I prefer not to rely on food because I don’t want to take food with me every place I ever go, I don’t want my dogs to learn to ignore me if I have no food or run out, and I don’t want to end up in a situation where I might still be of less importance to my dog, even with food, than the dog he's playing with or bird he’s chasing etc. Additionally, I do use the word no, and I do teach a consequence process for ignoring me or for an unacceptable behavioural choice, but without resorting to fear, intimidation, or pain.


So, for me, I train my dogs the way that I feel aligns with my belief system – rewards for listening and good behaviour but without food reliance – consequences without violence for inappropriate choices.


What do you believe in?



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