Puppy socialisation classes – far more than a party

Puppy socialisation classes have now generally, thankfully moved on from being cited as ‘parties’, as we understand and appreciate that a well-run socialisation programme is far more than just a ‘party’ where often, encounters between puppies can be a negative experience, rather than the positive impact that we seek. Whilst we want owners to know this will be fun – owners are now more often seeking evidence-based advice. Do we think that ‘party’ really highlights the professional service that we want them to know they will receive?

Socialisation classes are so important for a variety of reasons.

  1. Many new dog owners do not understand socialisation and its importance in puppy development
  2. Even knowledgeable owners will benefit from a structured programme to guide them through the process
  3. Pet owners are encouraged to look to their veterinary practice for advice, so we must be prepared (and adequately trained) to give it
  4. It offers practices an opportunity to teach puppies about practice visits, making future visits so much easier and more enjoyable (for all parties!)
  5. If attendance in practice isn’t possible, then owners can be taught many basic handling skills that will help the puppies with veterinary examination and treatment
  6. Owners will benefit from interaction with other puppy owners – and share (probably mostly humorous) stories, experiences and advice
  7. It offers puppies an opportunity to learn how to interact appropriately with other puppies, in a controlled environment
  8. It offers us a chance to also talk about other important healthcare matters, such as insurance, exercise, nutrition and preventative healthcare, if we wish to do it in this space
  9. It gives nurses an avenue to learn more about, and practically apply behaviour training, increasing role satisfaction for nurses who have an interest in behaviour
  10. A professionally run programme is a chargeable service, resulting in nurse-generated revenue for the practice

Have we missed anything?

What about Coronavirus?

So the first question is, how much has the pandemic affected puppies in terms of socialisation and life skills?

Have puppy owners been able to ‘live as normal’ – going places they’d normally go, going in the car, meeting the people they normally meet, and introducing their pup to the enormous variety of experiences that they need to in order for them to become well-balanced dogs? Probably not. Even though we are no longer in lockdown (depending on where you are in the world), life is different right now. People are still working from home, and leading far more introverted lives, and this will have a significant impact on how well our future canine patients will deal with the world.

Separation issues are very likely to start unfolding over the coming months, and anyone who has experienced a dog with this condition will know just how distressing it is for the dog and the owner.

What about the potential impact of puppies who were adopted in lockdown and didn’t have enough socialisation and habituation – what are we seeing in clinics now? Is it positive or negative in terms of behavioural impact?

Where are the puppies coming from?

The origin of many of these puppies has also taken a turn during the pandemic. Many puppies have been acquired through farmed/imported/illegal routes, and what is the behavioural impact of this? Are we seeing these puppies and young dogs in practice yet? How can we help these owners?

What advice can we give NOW?

In a previous article (Puppy socialisation and lockdown – what’s the fallout?) we looked at the advice and support that could be given to puppy owners when we were, in the UK, in the depths of lockdown; and much of this advice will still be really useful to owners now.

If situations that we want our pups to be exposed to don’t occur naturally, then we can recreate them using many (and often ingenious and fun methods), and this should include ‘pretend’ separation such as leaving the house, or periodically having the puppy in a different room to the home office.

Virtual puppy programme

We also discussed online delivery of classes, and this remains entirely relevant, since face-to-face delivery is probably still not practical in the current situation. This could be relatively easy to set up; using software such as Zoom, having a prepared presentation, and a task list for owners to work through over the week, with review at the following class. They can still talk to each other and you, and you can still answer any questions the clients have. It is amazing how everyone has adapted to our new virtual world! There is no reason why this couldn’t be charged for in the same way as attendance classes either.

How can ONCORE help?

Our online behaviour course, addressing puppy socialisation classes, offers learning on the behavioural knowledge that you need to setup and run a successful puppy socialisation programme, and this intake will also cover the challenges we face during COVID – enabling you to:

  1. Help puppy owners at this difficult time and limit the ‘fallout’ from un-socialised adolescent dogs
  2. Help you with ideas on setting up virtual classes
  3. Enable you to support owners who are experiencing problems with their puppy following lockdown
  4. Set you in good stead for when the situation normalises and you are able to run classes again

You can find out more about the course and your tutor Linda here, and we’d love to see you join us on the next intake.

Blog written by:

Jill Macdonald, with guidance from Linda Ryan

Jill Macdonald

DipAVN (Surgical) RVN FHEA

Linda Ryan

BSc (Hons) Animal Behaviour & Welfare, VTS (Behaviour & Oncology), DipAVN (Medical), KPA-CTP, RVN, CCAB

ABTC registered Clinical Animal Behaviourist, & Animal Training Instructor

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