Source: Andrea Arden, Wikimedia CC0
Puppy classes are now available in most major urban centers. The rationale for enrolling puppies in such classes is based on research showing that dogs that do not have adequate contact with other dogs and people during the first months of their first year of age are likely to become more fearful, aggressive and out of control.
The basic research for this finding came from the work of John Paul Scott and John Fuller at the Laboratories in Bar Harbor, Maine during the 1960s. However, it would take two decades, after publication, before the world saw the first. puppy socialization course.
The credit for initiating the puppy lessons goes to Dr Ian Dunbar, who holds doctorates in veterinary science as well as in psychology (specializing in animal behavior). A while back Dunbar explained to me how it all started in 1981.
âI had just had my Malamute puppy, Omaha, and I suddenly realized that he was probably going to grow over 100 pounds. I wanted to make sure he was under control when he grew up, so I started looking for some sort of dog obedience school for him.
“At that time, the consensus among these training dogs was that puppies were not acceptable for training, at least until they were 6 months old, and some trainers would not accept them until they were old. one year old. It didn’t. It made sense to me because I knew from my research that puppies can begin their education when they are only a few days old, and their social learning continues as they interact with their littermates and fight over the pacifiers available on their mother, etc.
“So a dog training class that tells me I have to wait until my dog ââis a year old before I can start training him feels like telling a person that they can’t send their child to school before. to have a teenager, who would have gone beyond his most formative years to learn and develop social skills. It was unacceptable to me, so my only recourse was to start teaching puppies. “
A few years after he started teaching puppies, Dunbar made a video showing how puppy lessons should work. It turned out to be very popular and the idea caught fire. Soon, in many countries of the world, puppy lessons became an accepted and valued part of dog training. Structurally, these courses are based on allowing dogs to socialize with dogs and people, and they generally include simple reward-based training using food. Classes are fun for dogs and their owners, ensuring their continued popularity.
While the rationale (the beneficial effects of early socialization) is scientifically sound, empirical confirmation that classes of puppies actually have a positive effect on canine behavior once a dog becomes an adult is quite rare. Therefore, I was delighted to see that a research report examining the association between puppy classes and subsequent behavior had recently been accepted by the Journal of Veterinary Behavior.
The research team was led by Ãngela GonzÃ¡lez-MartÃnez from the University Veterinary Hospital of the University of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. He examined 80 dogs, 32 of which had taken puppy lessons and 48 who had not, and assessed their behaviors a year after puppy lessons ended. Behavioral information about the dogs was obtained using the Canine Behavioral Assessment and Research Questionnaire (C-BARQ), which is a validated 100 item questionnaire in which dog owners describe typical behaviors of their pets.
Puppy classes lasted six weeks and registered dogs were 3-9 months old at the start. The lessons were given by an animal behaviorist assisted by a group of volunteers. The courses were structured around the following activity model. All the dogs arrived on a leash and greeted each other in pairs (also on a leash). Then there was a play period, which involved around 15 minutes of supervised play while advice on positive training, canine behavior, and other useful information was given to owners.
Then there was a period of positive training. These were short training sessions, the exact duration of which was set according to the dog’s ability to concentrate. The researchers used food to train the puppies to lie down, stay, recall on command, and walk without pulling on the leash. Then there was a period of play and rest, after which the dogs had a session where they interacted with people and were handled.
During this part of the class, the dogs were rewarded with food when they approached volunteers, and when they allowed themselves to be touched and manipulated or had their ears examined and so on. The session ended with a few minutes of controlled play between the puppies where all the dogs were left off leash at the same time.
The experimental results of this study are presented in a series of complex regression analyzes, but the highlights are quite clear. Puppy classes have had a significant effect in reducing dog-dog aggression in familiar dog interactions. In fact, dogs that did not attend puppy classes had aggression scores 2.6 times more likely to be higher when interacting with familiar dogs such as dogs from the same household.
Dogs who did not attend puppy class were also 2.8 times more likely to score higher on non-social fear. This refers to cases where the dog shows fearful or suspicious reactions to sudden or loud noises, traffic, and unfamiliar objects and situations.
Puppy classes have also resulted in reduced sensitivity to touch, where the dog shows fearful or cautious responses to potentially painful or uncomfortable situations, including bathing, grooming, nail trimming, and vet exams. Dogs that did not attend puppy lessons were 3.1 times more likely to score higher on sensitivity to touch.
There was an indication that the puppy classes might also reduce the level of excitability in those who attended.
One result that I found particularly interesting concerns training capacity. In this case, higher scores on trainability are manifested when a dog shows a willingness to pay attention to the owner and obey simple commands. Additionally, trainable dogs are not so easily distracted, tend to learn quickly, respond positively to correction, and happily seek or retrieve objects. According to the new data, the odds of dogs attending puppy class scoring higher on trainability is three times the odds of dogs not participating.
Overall, this survey appears to demonstrate that there are positive behavioral effects that occur when puppies attend an early socialization class. The researchers summarized their findings by saying, âBased on data obtained from dog owners, [puppy class] may help prevent canine behavior problems as it reduces familiar dog aggression, non-social fear and touch sensitivity issues, as well as improved training ability. “
This certainly confirms Ian Dunbar’s observations when he told me, âOur puppy lessons certainly worked for my big husky, Omaha, since he turned out to be a gentle, non-aggressive dog who certainly seemed more obedient. than most dogs of his breed.
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