Frequently Asked Questions: Primary School

How old should my puppy be when we start?

We strongly recommend that puppies start classes as close to 8 weeks as possible. As long as they've been in your home for 7 days without signs of illness (vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, discharge), they are welcome! Starting classes between 8-12 weeks of age is ideal for all sizes of dogs, however we will accept extra-small / small breeds past 12 weeks. Medium, large, and extra large breeds must start before 12 weeks of age. Not sure? Ask us. 

My [vet, breeder, groomer, friend] told me to wait until my puppy has all their shots...

I understand your concerns and absolutely agree if there is an ongoing health issue or contagious disease preventing your puppy from joining classes. However if your puppy is healthy and has had one set of shots (Distemper, Parvovirus), has had a faecal test run by your local vet to rule out parasites, or a dewormer, and has been in your home for 7+ days without signs of illness, then they are perfectly fine to join our classes.

Our school is sanitised 2.5 hours prior to our puppy classes, all students are fully vetted and healthy, and we have a strict protocol for classes that ensures we are surpassing expectations of cleanliness. In fact, we are the most veterinarian-recommended puppy school in the city! 

It has been proven by the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior that starting puppies in puppy classes well before 12 weeks is optimal to their behavioural health. The chances of your dog being under-socialised and developing fearful and aggressive behaviour later in life increases drastically if as a puppy he is not socialised with people, dogs, puppies, and novel objects, sounds and textures before 14 weeks. 

If you would like, you can send the linked information to your veterinarian in order to share and discuss the industry standards as your puppy's behavioural health is at risk if you prevent him/her from socialisation before 16 weeks or the second set of vaccines. It's paramount that even at 8 weeks, puppies are out for walks many times a day, simply avoiding dog parks and heavily soiled areas. If we wait until 14-16 weeks we have missed the critical developmental period that is focused solely on socialisation. More info here too...and here...and here too...

We work very closely with veterinarians and are very well supported by them. If you would like references, please contact us and we will send you a list. Most of Toronto's veterinarians refer their 8 week old puppy clients to us for socialisation with only one set of shots (as per the linked documents) and a negative faecal sample.

Which shots or care does my puppy need before starting?

In order to start Primary School classes, the requirements are: a healthy puppy who has had one set of shots (Distemper, Parvovirus), and a negative faecal test result or a dewormer from your local vet, and has been in your home for 7+ days without signs of illness, then they are perfectly fine to join our classes. If your puppy has been diagnosed with an intestinal parasite, please read on! 

My puppy has an intestinal parasite? Can we still come to class?

We have a protocol for parasite-positive dogs in our classes. Once your dog has been on treatment (from your vet) for 5 full days, we allow them in class but the most important part is to give the dog a "bum bath" because after a bowel movement, the parasite can remain on the outside fur/skin, which can then be transmitted to other dogs / people. During class playtime we would just be very careful and redirect any dog who is investigating your dog's back end, and avoid sharing water bowls, which we do anyway. 

This is a protocol that we have been given by Veterinarians. It's a very common parasite for puppies and dogs but with good nutrition and probiotics, you can build up some good gut health and prevent a recurrence. If you'd like, get in touch with Sabine Contreras at Better Dog Care and she, along with your Vet, is the best resource for battling these parasites once and for all.

My breeder wants to keep my puppy until 16 weeks - can we start classes after that?

We strongly recommend bringing your puppy home between 8-10 weeks of age to really capitalise on the early socialisation period. When your puppy is 16 weeks of age, their critical socialisation window will have closed any any socialisation attempts on your part will take longer, and more work after that point.

If your breeder is a certified professional trainer who uses positive reinforcement methods and is committed to giving your puppy more positive experiences (with the city, at least 50 different breeds of dogs, all different kinds of people, all ages, and various textures and sounds) than you are able to do here with us, then we might find that to be sufficient, but that is extraordinarily rare and not worth the risk since bonding is very important during this period as well. 

Should we do private lessons instead of classes?

If your puppy is between 5 and 16 weeks of age, the best place for them is in a well-run puppy socialization class (ours!). You will have the rest of your dog's life to work on training, but you only have a small window of time to socialize them. Don't delay this opportunity - get in here and get your puppy's behavioural vaccine before it's too late! 

We offer discounted private lessons for puppies in our Primary School classes, so take advantage of those while you're doing the classes. Call or email us to book and we'll have a trainer work with you one-on-one to help resolve the specific challenges you're facing at home and in the real world. 

What does "socialiSation" mean?

We often make the mistake of assuming that simply exposing our dog to a stimulus is "socialisation", however this could not be further from the truth. Socialisation is the process of creating a positive association with a previously neutral stimulus through gradual exposures and positive experiences. If we are simply exposing our dog to a stimulus and we fail to create a positive association, we throw caution to the wind and the result may be that the dog associates sometimes potentially scary (the feeling of being unable to escape is a common one), or it remains as neutral and is left open for interpretation later. 

In our classes, we expose your puppy to novel stimuli (mobility devices, sounds, textures, people, dogs, items) and each time they are exposed, we feed delicious, healthy treats. This links new/novel/scary things with something fabulous and creates a positive association. Your puppy will experience these things later and if you've done your homework, they'll remember the connection and think "Hey! When I see something scary, something great happens, so it's not scary at all - it's great!!" 

Can my kids come to class?

We are more than happy to have children (6yrs+) in attendance! Of course, because this is a group environment, we do have to have rules. Please ensure they have something to work on just in case the classes are not quite up their alley. A few ideas - colouring book, reading book / magazines, iPod and earbuds with quiet music, a tablet or video game device on "silent". Children must never run, shriek/yell, pet/pick up anyone else's puppy, and they must be attended at all times. Please read our guidelines for children/families. 

How many puppies in the class?

We have a max of 5 puppies per class to ensure each of our clients get enough individual attention and are not overwhelmed during playtime. 

Is there off-leash playtime for the puppies in class?

Absolutely! Our classes are a balance between socialisation, training, and off-leash playtime with instructor-led narration on body language and dog-dog communication. 

My puppy is scared [of other dogs, people, etc] will he be okay in classes?

Absolutely - this is likely the best place for your puppy as we focus 2/3 of every class on creating a positive association with people, dogs, textures, sounds, and various objects, with the intention of preventing fear from developing. It's typical for puppies under 16 weeks to go through a fearful period and we are qualified to help you navigate that safely. 

Always communicate this to your instructor so that he/she can ensure that your puppy is protected in playtime. 

What kind of collar should my puppy wear?

We require all puppies to be equipped with a back-clip harness (we sell these as well!) and a flat leash. Because puppies are very delicate (yes - all breeds are delicate in puppyhood!) as they grow and develop, we require a harness rather than a collar because we do not want you inadvertently damaging your puppy's neck, spine, thyroid, oesophagus, ligaments, and nerves - all of which can be damaged with a collar when pressure is used. We know how much puppies like to pop around and lurch toward everything exciting - they're not programmed to walk perfectly on leash! They were just born! We recommend always using a properly fitted harness for dogs of all ages, sizes, and breeds, and using a flat collar to simply hold their ID tags, city registration tag, and Rabies tag (when they're older). 

Can we do more than one class a week?

Yes! You can do two classes per week if you wish, in order to expedite the process and get as much in as you can. Many clients will do this and repeat Primary School immediately in order to capitalise on the critical socialisation period. 

Can my puppy go to dog parks?

Absolutely not! One of our major requirements is that puppies in Primary School do not attend dog parks. Why? Dog parks are breeding grounds for many types of parasites and diseases because they are frequented by high numbers of dogs who are not vetted upon entry. They urinate and defecate there and as we know, there is no poop-fairy, so the waste is absorbed into the soil and carried on your puppy's feet, or even ingested during play. Your puppy may have all their shots, however other puppies in the class may not have all their shots so it puts others at risk when you take your puppy to a dog park and then allow them to play in class.

Last but not least, puppies are developmentally delicate up to six months and some dogs are very sensitive even past that age. If your puppy goes to a dog park during their critical socialisation period and has even one mildly negative experience (a dog bowling them over, barking at them, pinning them, playing too rough, scaring them, biting them), they are more likely to carry that fear with them for the rest of their life, causing you headache and heartache as well.  

It's not worth the risk - you have the rest of your dog's life ahead, so be cautious and prevent what you can!