It is Back to School Time – Let’s Think About Puppy Kindergarten

As the air gets crisper and the hours of daylight get shorter our thoughts naturally turn toward our (two-legged) children returning to school and our favorite college football teams hitting the grid-iron. With all of these scholastic themes in the forefront of our minds, we thought it would be a good idea to discuss and review why Temperance Animal Hospital believes that Puppy Kindergarten is so important.

What exactly is Puppy Kindergarten you may ask? And how is it different from Puppy Obedience Classes? At Temperance Animal Hospital, Puppy Kindergarten is a 4 week series of classes specially designed to help your good puppy grow up to be a great dog. The goal is to teach puppies how to interact with people and other dogs in new and unfamiliar situations in an appropriate manner. The result is avoiding the development of fear based responses and aggression based responses that can occur in improperly socialized puppies. Puppy Kindergarten is notObedience Class nor Agility Training. These courses can come later (like Grade School or High School does for our children). Puppies need to learn the foundations for healthy and positive interactions with the world around them so they can excel in more advanced Obedience and Training courses.

There are several Developmental Stages that puppies and dogs move through as they mature from Puppyhood to Adulthood. One of these Developmental Stages is the Socialization Period which occurs in puppies between 3 weeks of age and 4 months of age. This socialization period is the most important period of development pertaining to the prevention of future behavioral disorders. It is during this narrow time frame that puppies learn how to interact “socially” with the world around them. It is especially important to note that during this stage there is a very sensitive time frame between 8-10 weeks of age that has been labeled the “Fear Period”. Traumatic experiences during this developmental period can result in lifelong aversion responses. So extreme care should be taken to ensure your puppy does not undergo any potentially scary/threatening experiences during this time frame (shipping/transporting of puppies, elective surgery, being left alone during thunderstorms, etc.). By providing a safe and protected environment in a Puppy Kindergarten setting during this Socialization Period we can teach puppies how to appropriately react to new and unfamiliar experiences and reinforce that these experiences are neither scary nor strange. Ultimately, this will aid a puppy in growing up to be a confident, well mannered and loving member of your family.

Temperance Animal Hospital’s Puppy Kindergarten is structured as follows:

1)  Orientation:  Regardless of which week your puppy joins the rotation of classes, prior to class time puppy owners (and we encourage the entire family to become involved) will sit down with Angela (who is our Licensed Veterinary Technician in charge of Puppy Kindergarten) and discuss some of the challenges faced by everyone raising a new puppy. Topics covered include (but are not limited to): House Training Pitfalls and Solutions; Crate Training Puppies; Play Biting and How to Avoid It; and Puppy Nuisance Behaviors. Angela has a wealth of knowledge of puppy behavior and really helps new owners set realistic expectations for their puppies and come up with a problem solving plan for any issues that may arise along the way.

2)  Wheels and Sounds Night: As with every class, this night begins with a supervised and structured “play time” where puppies get to interact with other puppies and learn what is and is not considered “appropriate” by their peers. The objective of this night’s tasks is to teach puppies not to be afraid of objects that move and make noise. Puppies will experience bikes, tricycles, skateboards, hair dryers and fun (but noisy) toys. The class ends with a discussion of some basic training commands: Sit/Stay; Drop It and Leave It as well as some play time tips.  Homework assignments are given for the coming week.  YES HOMEWORK – just like real school, not all problems can be solved in the short course of one hour!

3)  Obstacles Night:  The objective of this night is to expose puppies to various everyday objects or obstacles they may encounter that could otherwise cause fearful responses. Puppies are taught to walk on different types of surfaces (plastic bags, bubble wrap, carpeting, tile flooring); to walk up and down stairs and ramps, weave through tunnels and even jump through hoops. This class ends with a review of previous commands and the introduction of “Off” and “Soft Puppy” commands.

4)  Costume Night:  The objective of this night is to introduce puppies to all types of people and different “looks” or visual stimuli. Class participants are encouraged to come to this night dressed in their most outrageous costumes or as their favorite characters (or hometown heroes). Believe me, some nights can be very creative indeed! Our Puppy Kindergarten staff also has a collection of hats, costumes, etc. to help liven up the puppies’ exposure to all different kinds of appearances they may experience later in life. During these exercises a lot of food motivation is used in order to prevent fearful responses so it is best if your puppy comes to class a little hungry. The class ends with a review of all of the previous command exercises, plus the introduction of the “Come!” command (the most important command your puppy will ever learn). And, yes… more homework
assignments are given.

5)  Health and Fitness Night: The objective of this week is two-fold. One is to teach your puppy that the Veterinary Hospital is not a scary place and despite popular belief, Veterinarians are not mean and scary people. The second is to
review a variety of topics designed to keep your pet’s health and fitness at optimal levels. Some of the skills taught may include: Getting weighed in at the front desk; How to stand still on an exam table; How to trim your puppy’s toe nails; How to brush your puppy’s teeth; and many, many more.

We want you to think of Puppy Kindergarten like Preventive Behavioral Care. We vaccinate puppies so they don’t contract deadly illnesses. We de-worm and administer parasite preventives so puppies don’t catch potentially dangerous parasites. In the same manner, we should socialize puppies so they don’t develop potentially dangerous (and in some cases deadly) behavioral disorders.

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