Send Your Puppy to School

Your puppy will learn a lifetime of skills at puppy kindergarten.

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The final lesson: Recognize that learning is a lifelong process, urges Karen Overall, D.V.M., Ph.D., a veterinarian who conducts an animal behavior clinic at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine in Philadelphia. She also used to conduct puppy socialization classes.

"One reason so many juvenile dogs are relinquished to animal shelters is that some owners don't realize their roles in properly socializing and training their young puppies," says Dr. Overall. "You need to understand what your puppy's needs are and what is considered normal puppy behavior. The sooner you can introduce fun and positive learning to your puppy, the less likely it is that you'll have to deal with serious behavior problems when it becomes an adult."

Success Story: Hershey
Hershey, a chocolate Labrador Retriever, joined the family of Mary and William White and their four children at age 8 weeks old. She was one of a litter of eight that had been surrendered to a local animal shelter. "We wanted a puppy that would be friendly with kids, and Labradors certainly possess an easy-going temperament," says Mary White, of Warwick, Rhode Island.

Within a few weeks of her arrival, Hershey was enrolled in a puppy kindergarten class being taught by professional trainer Bryon Davies. Mary White and her two older children, Emma, 9, and Burke, 7, attended class together so they could all learn how to work with Hershey. "When Hershey first arrived to class, she was scared and hid under a chair, but within 10 minutes she was out and playing with the other puppies," says Mary White. "By the third week of class, Hershey had learned the watch me, sit and down commands. Knowing that she would probably weigh over 50 pounds by her first birthday, these are key commands, especially because my children walk Hershey on a leash occasionally."

The children are also learning. When Hershey attempts to playfully mouth Emma's arm, Emma redirects Hershey to a more appropriate activity: chewing on a chew toy. To prevent Hershey from developing food bowl protectiveness, she has learned to go into a sit command and wait until the food bowl is placed on the ground. The children put added treats into the bowl so that Hershey learns to associate good things with their approach to her food bowl.

Next up for 4-month-old Hershey: obedience training when she turns 6 months. "We've learned from Bryon that training never stops and to always be consistent with our commands with Hershey," she says. "Puppy classes really help the dog and you. We have more patience and have a better idea of what to do to help Hershey learn and grow up to be a terrific dog."

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