While kids around the country are heading back to school, what about your pup? If you welcomed a new family member recently you might be checking out options for puppy kindergarten.
Aside from the adorable photo of your puppy in a graduation cap there are some really important reasons why your pup should attend. We’ll show you what to look for and how to develop a lifetime love of learning for both you and your dog.
To find a puppy kindergarten near you, look for a credentialed trainer (CPDT-KA etc.) and trainers who use positive reinforcement, fear-free or R+ methods. These are signs that your pup will be taught in a positive manner without the use of punishment, corrections or tools like shock collars or prong collars.
There is a growing body of evidence including this study prepared for the SPCA by Dr. Joana Makowska showing that aversive training methods and pain-based tools like prong, choke, and shock collars carry long term behavioral risks and negatively impact the emotional and physical wellbeing of dogs.
As the scientific studies improve, outated and often inhumane methods of dog training are no longer being used. Since we now know more about how dogs learn and how some of these training methods can negatively impact dogs we can "do better" by our best friends and set them up for success instead of correction.
Since the dog training industry is largely unregulated, and anyone can call themselves a dog trainer it is important to do your research before signing up your dog (and family) for training.
In a kindergarten program your puppy will learn the basics like, sit, down, stay, come and even how to leave things (or people), walk nicely on a leash and greet people and other puppies appropriately.
A lot of puppy kindergartens will allow the pups to socialize and provide some off-leash playtime. While this will help your pup sleep well it also has many other benefits. The puppies will teach each other how to play appropriately and having an experienced trainer who is well versed in body language will help keep the pups safe. You might see the trainer ask a puppy parent to call their dog away or give a dog a break from playtime when they need it.
Think of this like having a professional referee to help your dog learn how to play safely. This is why this type of socialization is superior to a dog park. In puppy kindergarten, all of the dogs in attendance will be around the same age (under 6 months) and in the same stages of development too.
Most classes will require you to bring your pup in a flat collar and leash or harness only. You should also be prepared with plenty of treats and a clicker if you are planning to use one. A good program might require you to attend a handler’s only orientation before you start training with your dog. This way you can listen and ask questions without the distraction of wrangling a wiggly puppy.
As long as your puppy is on the vaccine schedule, they can usually start puppy kindergarten at around 10 weeks old. In most cases,they will just need to be in the care of a vet and have a negative fecal test to get started.
While your puppy will learn the basics of obedience and the trainers will be able to help you address many of your new puppy parent concerns in kindergarten, you cant expect to master everything in a 6-8 week session - even if you’re practicing consistently at home.
Continuing obedience classes allows you and your puppy to work together to improve skills. You can use these classes to learn more advanced versions of the basics including working on skills like stay and recall in a distracting environment. Performing these skills in a group class adds a challenge of keeping your dog focused on you and not trying to hang out with their friends! You also have the benefit of a skilled trainer to help when you’re stuck and challenge you when you are excelling!
These classes are also a good choice for pet parents when bringing a rescue home. These dogs are often too old for traditional puppy kindergarten but may need help learning obedience cues and manners when they come into their new home.
For dogs with severe behavioral issues pet parents may also want to book some private lessons or in home training to help ensure a new rescue or older dog is set up for success.
Once your dog has the hang of the basics, you can keep training in obedience and work towards titles like Canine Good Citizen through the American Kennel Club.
This certification is the first step in becoming a therapy dog and can also be used to help your pup earn trick titles.
As a bonus, for some breeds having this certification makes it easier to get homeowners insurance or be allowed to keep your dog in an apartment or rental property.
If your dog loves to learn, consider adding some trick training to their repertoire. Tricks could include anything from learning to give a paw or play dead to painting or turning off a light. Some trainers can even teach your dog to fetch you a drink!
The AKC offers trick titles at many levels, including advanced where dogs and handlers create routines that chain together a number of tricks. You can work your pup’s brain and your creativity while having a blast and growing your bond
Dog sporting lessons
Once your dog has the basic obedience cues down, you can challenge them in other ways by providing some exercise for their minds and bodies. Dog sports can be tons of fun, even if you and your pup never become elite athletes.
In order to participate in sports like agility, your dog will need to be 8 months old as jumping before that age can cause injury. You will want to find an experienced instructor to keep your pup working over the obstacles safely and effectively. While the AKC provides a good list of clubs that offer training, you’ll want to do your own homework. Ask questions about how dogs are taught or if you can come observe a class before enrolling.
With any sport, you may need to also have a reliable recall and a dog who is comfortable working with you off leash. Although class will likely take place indoors or somewhere with a good fence, you’ll need your dog to be able to follow your cues even when the leash comes off!
Training for a career
Some dogs even those who mostly live a life of leisure as a housepet, can also have part time jobs. From therapy dogs to volunteer search and rescue teams you can teach your dog a job. The prerequisites and education for these jobs varies widely. But, the thing that is most important is ensuring your dog is enjoying what they are doing.
Asking a dog who is uncomfortable around children to work as a therapy dog in a hospital or elementry school propbably isn’t the best idea. Or training a dog who hates mud and water to perform live subject searches might not go over so well.
Trying different things and learning what your dog does and doesn’t like can provide great mental and physical stimulation. The dog who isn’t great with kids might really enjoy working with college students or first responders and the pup who doesn’t want to search in the woods or creek may excel at finding someone being hidden in an urban environment.
For breeds like labrador retrievers, Australian shepherds or border collies and others who need to have a job to feel mentally and physically at their best, training for a career in therapy, search and rescue, livestock herding or even personal protection can be a great idea. It may take a few tries to find a program that suits your pups needs and interests, but just like humans change careers, dogs can too!
Fueling up for training
Just like your kids need to eat right so they can learn, your dog does too. While if you are using treats for training, your dog’s teacher might recommend bringing them to class a little hungry, you don’t want your dog to be so starving they can’t pay attention.
Good nutrition overall will help keep your dog focused and at a healthy weight so they’re ready for whatever challenge school will throw at them.
At Ollie, we’re here to help! When you sign your dog up for one of our meal plans we ask a lot of questions about your pup including their breed, age and activity level. This helps us provide the best meal plan for your pup’s needs.
No matter how old your dog is, we hope you have plans to keep learning with them and having lots of fun along the way.
The Ollie blog is devoted to helping pet parents lead healthier lives with their pups. If you want to learn more about our fresh, human-grade food, check out MyOllie.com.