Be the Change for Animals: Spread the Word

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.

Young puppy Silas

Poor scraggly guy.

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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19 thoughts on “Be the Change for Animals: Spread the Word

  1. Hear, hear! I’m always telling people who get new dogs to visit our trainer in town. There’s an unfortunate growing trend in shock-collar trainers in our area (affiliated with our girls’ rescue, to my deep shame and anger), and so I’m always warning people about them and their false promises. I feel like a dog training evangelist. πŸ˜‰


    1. We live in a fairly large town, and there are so many training facilities that it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Most of the puppy classes are just tiny on-leash obedience classes, though, which doesn’t really help with socialization. I actually lost a pretty crucial week with Silas trying to find a place, which is what inspired me to start telling people about the good places I did finally find.


    1. It’s a terrifying thought, right?

      If (and it’s not likely) we take on another dog while we still have Silas, I think it would almost have to be a puppy.


      1. My mom was a teacher and would get any puppy in the summer so that she had the extra time to devote to it in the crucial stage. And my mom’s dogs (country newspaper-ad puppies or pound puppies) always turned out amazingly.

        Ruby’s life (and mine) is so much improved by Boca, I find myself thinking how silly I was to want to keep her an only dog, although – Boca is easy. Two challenges would be a different story.


        1. My biggest issue with a second dog is that Silas resource guards me from other dogs. (That’s why I think we’d have to start with a puppy–so that a small incident wouldn’t turn into a serious fight if we made a mistake.) I’m not sure how hard it would be to work through, but I’m really not interested in having to work through some kind of problem ALL THE TIME.

          Also, our lives aren’t particularly settled right now, and two dogs makes moving even more complicated.


        2. Whenever I think of moving I think “no way.” I’ve just got our space/routine settled to optimize Ruby’s chances for success – can’t imagine starting over with windows, fences, neighbors, etc. I don’t think my last pair were a good match and that each would have been happier as only dogs. I knew from Ruby’s other dog-interactions that she was very (too) enthusiastic and also that she has no problem sharing me or any of her things. Boca takes her toys on a regular basis and she always defers. Dog dynamics are such an individual thing and I wouldn’t encourage you to get a second dog just because it worked out well for me!


  2. I just love pictures of Puppy Silas!

    I don’t even know if we have puppy kindergarten around here. Usually I let people know of adult dog positive training classes. Not that they ever enroll their dogs…I think sometimes people just like to complain about their dogs and label them as “dumb” because it’s more fun for them than actually addressing their dog’s issues.


    1. Here, places that do adult dog classes will usually run puppy classes, too. Not always the case, though–some places don’t want the hassle of sterilizing the room before puppies come in, or cleaning up their messes.


  3. Good advice! My biggest regret in raising my dogs was socializing them at the dog park instead of a class or puppy social group. They don’t have any lasting ill effects from bad experiences but I could have saved us all a lot of stress if I socialized them in a more controlled positive way.


    1. For a lot of people, it’s either the dog park or nothing. I don’t think I could pick one or the other in the abstract–some dogs parks are a lot rougher than others. I did take Silas to the dog park a few times when he was about a year old, and it was generally a good socialization experience for him. I stopped, though, because, like you said, it’s just so much stress.


      1. True! We still do go to some “dog parks” but they are more like off leash areas that are many acres and have no fences so you walk around it with your dog. It’s quite a different experience than the small fenced city like dog parks that we went to in the beginning. My issue there was that Kaya’s training was really poor so that she’d jump on everyone, annoy every dog that didn’t want her attention and steal toys and never give them back. I really had no control whatsoever. And Norman was super playful but submissive and was always getting humped and generally picked on:( Even though they were super friendly, perhaps neither were suited for the dog park at that time.


  4. This is such great and important advice! Before we got our puppy, Ian Dunbar’s books were recommended to me and they came in very handy. We couldn’t get Luke to puppy school because he had some minor health issues, but we got him to Obedience 1 as soon as we could. We never took any of our other dogs to school, but I’m so glad we did with Luke, and hope to continue his education as well.


  5. Oh yes, I will be traveling four hours round trip for several weeks to go to the best socialization class with my new puppy taught by my favorite trainer in Montana. I don’t even think that Portland had the best offering in terms classes that prioritize socialization over basic obedience. I count myself among the lucky ones to have been on this Montana trainer’s wait list. πŸ™‚


    1. There’s a really great class here, and a second best. We unfortunately wound up in second best, because of the timing. It wasn’t a bad class, but I think the more experienced trainers at the second place could have given us a little more advice about how to handle Silas, who (in hindsight) was obviously showing a lot of problem behaviors even as a wee little thing.

      Your puppy is in very good hands. πŸ™‚


  6. YES! And if they get an older dog, mention Family Dog or Canine Good Citizen classes. We are fortunate to have a wonderful obedience club in Jacksonville. The club has it’s own property and holds classes regularly. Everything from Puppy K to competitive obedience, along with Freestyle, Agility and Nose Work. Not only do I get to spend time with my dog, I get to spend time with other (semi)crazy dog people.


    1. That’s a good idea. I’ve struggled to find solid adult classes here that aren’t just standard obedience I stuff, but I should look around for one to recommend.


  7. I’ve forwarded Dr. Dunbar’s puppy book to every new puppy adopter I know. We took Honey to a puppy socialization class which was a safer and easier way to expose her to other dogs than to just rely on whoever we met in the neighborhood.

    But my biggest debt to Dr. Dunbar is an understanding of the importance of training bite-inhibition. I’m not a confident enough person to assume anything is ever perfect. But I’m convinced Honey is 99.99999% bomb-proof against biting. And when you have a dog that attracts toddlers like a candy factory (or whose floofy ends up under foot in elevators), that’s crucial.

    Dr. Dunbar is a life-saver.

    I didn’t know you took Silas to puppy kindergarten. But what a blessing to have it available. I’m sure it has given you one less challenge to deal with.


    1. It helped a lot. Although, at the same time, I wish someone had taken us aside and said, “hey, this puppy needs more, and more careful, socialization than average, here’s what to do.” Because looking back, a lot of his problems really should have been obvious to a professional.

      I do recommend Dunbar to a lot of people, although if it’s just a casual chat I don’t have time to fit it in. I wish he were slightly less extreme, though. His “have 100 people over or else” was so unrealistic for us (new people in a new town) that we just gave up.


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