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Why do I need to take my dog to classes?

From the age of about 2 to 3 weeks, puppies start to interact with their environment. Their eyes are opening, they can hear, they begin to stand and walk. During this short period, puppies are capable of learning, but the rapid learning phase starts at about 4 to 5 weeks old.

This is the start of the most important development period – the time when social behaviours are learned. Many of the patterns of adult social behaviour and their accompanying emotions appear at this time. This is followed by a rapid organisation, through learning, of behaviour in dog to dog, dog to human, dog to places and dog to other species relationships.

At birth a puppy has essentially all the brain cells it is ever going to have, but what’s missing are the connections. In simple terms, during the socialisation period the wiring between some of the nerve cells is established, in response to external stimuli signals and the environment in which the puppy is raised.

During this period, puppies are highly responsive to stimuli in their environment and easily learn socially acceptable behaviours. This essential learning period is the time when the puppy’s brain is developing. Brains grow in size and they also change shape. How much they grow and how they change shape depends on the kinds of environmental stimulation puppies receive in their first sixteen weeks of life.

After about sixteen weeks, most of their brain’s development is complete and learning slows down.

Behaviours learned in these early stages form the patterns of response to events and situations that the dog encounters throughout its life.

The two really important learning events that puppies need are socialisation and habituation.

Socialisation is the process by which your puppy learns how to live happily and without fear alongside other dogs and humans. Your puppy learns bite inhibition,when and how to play and good manners around other dogs. Your puppy also learns how humans behave, what their role is in the household, how to behave around children. If your household includes other pets, then your puppy needs to be socialised to them as well.

We call the process of desensitising puppies to everyday things "habituation". Habituation is a very elementary early form of learning – best described as desensitising your puppy to new places, people and experiences   through repeated exposure. A lack of habituation, especially in adult dogs, can be very serious – dogs can be fearful or show anxiety reactions to all kinds of everyday encounters with children, other dogs, strangers, car rides, the vacuum cleaner – the list can be very long.

Owners who are not totally aware of this can inadvertently teach unwanted behaviours that remain for life. 

And finally there is the daily impact of the owner’s influence on the dog’s behaviour - the learned response to the reinforcers and punishers it meets in everyday family life.

Envisage the family in the park with the new puppy, trying to teach the puppy to come back when called. The playful puppy reluctantly returns, probably hauled in on a long line, only to be scolded for tardiness and returned to a short leash.

Is this puppy learning recall? – of course not.

Does the family believe it is teaching recall? – sadly, yes.

This is why you and your Puppy should join a class between the ages of 8 to 18 weeks

Unfortunately, things can also go downhill over the next year or so, as the dog goes through the juvenile stage. An adolescent dog continues to learn, motor skills become more co-ordinated and attention span increases. Sexually related behaviours develop with the onset of puberty. Other adult behaviours such as territorial, protective and dominance aggression develop after sexual maturity in both male and female dogs.

This is why your dog needs the chance to continue learning with you. Our Lifeskills  (LASSie) classes offer this opportunity.