I thought Ian Dunbar was a weird, crazy man when I read his puppy books at the insistence of a friend. I listened to his advice, though, and took Silas to puppy class.
It might be exaggerating to say that puppy class saved his life, but it might not.
I rescued Silas at five weeks old. On our first day of puppy kindergarten, when he was ten weeks old, he was terrified of all the other puppies. On the fourth and final Saturday of puppy kindergarten, he was still not able to engage with the other puppies. So we rolled him over into their next program, a puppies-only, very closely supervised version of doggie daycare. By the end, he loved dogs.
I have no doubt that puppy kindergarten and puppy daycare are the only reason that Silas isn’t dog-reactive, and I’m not sure if the me of those days could have successfully managed a dog-reactive dog.
Our additional weekly socialization homework compelled us to do all kinds of other good things, too, like going to a variety of local parks and meeting a certain quantity of strangers. When Silas got older and became pathologically fearful of new things, that background saved us.
People are going to acquire puppies. By all means, if you know the person’s intentions in advance, do everything you can to help them make a wise decision. Once they have that dog in their home, though, it’s no longer the time to educate them about puppy mills, backyard breeders, or the wonders of rescue. The best thing you can do is help keep that puppy out of the shelter.
So, this is my mission for you: research your local training facilities. Find the class that you would take your puppy to, if you were so crazy as to get a new puppy. Use your experience of dogs and dog training to pick a good place. Then spread the word.
When you see a puppy out on a walk, or when your hair stylist tells you that she just got a new puppy, be prepared to pop out the name of that local puppy class.
I do this myself and find it to be extremely painless. People want to chat about their puppies. Then you can just slip in, “You know, the best puppy classes in town are at Fido’s Training Extravaganza.” Average Jane does not know that puppy kindergarten exists, let alone that socialization is crucially important.
Do you live somewhere with no puppy classes? Then hand out the URL for Ian Dunbar’s After You Get Your Puppy, which is online for free as a pdf.
Trained and socialized puppies very rarely wind up in shelters, so let’s help make every puppy trained and socialized.
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