What is the Best Age to Begin Group Classes With My Puppy? - By Johanna Teresi, APDT, ABC Mentor Trainer & Owner of Four Legged Scholars LLC
Saturday, January 30, 2010 : 12:14:14 PM Updated Thursday, August 18, 2011 : 9:55:53 AM
The answer is 8 weeks of age after their first set of vaccinations. Surprised? Then keep reading.
Puppies are more likely to die (get euthanized) from not being socialized soon enough and developing bad behaviors than from disease from taking a group class.
Your puppy's socialization window is very short. It closes around 3-4 months of age which is also the same age when your puppy will be fully vaccinated.
Waiting until your puppy is fully vaccinated is risky. The socialization window is practically closed and your puppies learning rate has slowed down.
What about disease in group classes?
Disease in group classes is highly unlikely because a professional instructor will keep the room clean and free from disease. If adult dog classes are held in the same room then the adult dogs will be free of disease and vaccinated.
What is the socialization window?
This is the window where your puppy learns what is safe and what is not. Is important for your puppy to be acclimated to a variety of locations, people, dogs, challenges (climbing stairs, going through tunnels etc.), and objects (skis, tents, wheel chairs, etc.). In the wild, wolves need to learn about safety quickly so that they will not get eaten. For dogs as a house pet, this leaves limited time for the owner to socialize their puppy. Many adult dogs are fearful or aggressive of men or are fearful of certain locations. Generally this is due to the lack of socialization this dog received as a puppy before 3 months of age.
They also get to play with other puppies in a group class which allows them to learn how to play appropriately. Many dogs don't know this if they aren't taken to puppy classes soon enough. Bite inhibition is also learned from playing with puppies. If the puppy bites to hard the play session ends. If they do not learn bite inhibition they may be more likely to bite hard if they develop enough frustration or fear to bite as adults.
As a trainer there are two scenarios I see and hear of frequently (over concern or not enough concern):
Not enough concern: The puppy is taken to dog parks at a young age before 6 months. This is dangerous because your puppy is sensitive at this age and if he is attacked by another dog it may affect your puppy for life. Also the chances of disease are high. Any area that has a high track of un-vaccinated dogs is risky for your puppy.
Too much concern: People who avoid group classes like the plague with their puppy. The puppy grows up and never received adequate socialization.
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