Puppy Party or Puppy Pre-School: The Difference is Important!
Puppy Parties have seen a surge in popularity in recent years and have become a popular choice amongst pet owners in Leicester and beyond. Many Puppy Parties take place in Vet Practice waiting rooms and no doubt, your own Vet Practice will have one, too.
‘Puppy Parties’ have become synonymous with off-lead playtime, which, if not led by a very knowledgeable person with excellent body language skills (and a high ratio of staff to pups), can be doing much more harm than good to your precious pup.
We feel it’s time for a re-brand, and Clinical Animal Behaviourist Sarah Whitehead agrees:
“Maybe the time has come for puppy parties to be regarded in a new light. Perhaps the up-to-date image also means changing the name from puppy party to puppy pre-school. In other words: less ice cream and jelly, more kindergarten lessons in manners and social co-operation!” Sarah Whitehead (MSc)
The idea behind Puppy Parties is a very good one- similar age pups learning how to interact and gain social skills. If Puppy Parties are controlled and focus on training rather than play, they can be a fantastic experience for Clients and puppies alike. They can also serve to build positive associations of the environment, be it Village Hall or Vet Waiting Room.
We believe that Puppy Parties can serve a very valuable place in your puppy’s early socialisation and habituation, but are not a substitute for 1:1 Puppy Training at home or where you need it most, or a very high quality (and small-in-numbers) Puppy Class. Here are some ‘top tips’ to make sure your puppy is attending the ‘pre-school’ type, and not a risky ‘party’ affair:
- The sessions include, or focus on, basic training: We all want to teach our puppies how to behave, and most especially in the Vet Waiting Room. What will happen if your puppy’s first experience of the vets is uncontrolled play, or mismatched play friends who may bully your puppy? Learning to Sit calmly and offer you attention, to settle down on a lead, to be handled and examined and to stay still on the scale to be weighed should be high on the priority list. This is the perfect time to teach training around distractions. Puppy Parties should never have the main focus as rowdy, uncontrolled play.
- NO free-for-all or bullying! As we’ve learned, the Vet Waiting room is not a place that any Puppy Owner wants their puppy to learn is the place to have wild playtime with other dogs. We would all like a quiet, controlled and confident dog whilst we wait for their name to be called- not a pup that acts as though he’s had rocket fuel for breakfast because he’s usually there bouldering himself onto other dogs! Puppy Parties need a controlled structure- not an off-lead play session as the main focus. For puppies lacking social confidence, it’s even more important that they are matched carefully and supervised at all times. Play is very arousing and can easily tip over the top or become addictive, so needs a professional to observe carefully- puppies should never be left to ‘sort it out themselves’. One of the biggest dangers are puppies that are allowed to ‘gang up’ on other puppies or play boisterously (knocking over, pinning necks or pinning down other puppies). If your Puppy Party has an off-lead play session, it should be supervised carefully by an expert who can regulate the behaviour, and as an owner you should be educated on body language. If your puppy jumps up to you, runs back to you or sits by your legs during a play session, they may be asking for help or rescue and the play may have already gone on for too long- their asking for help should never be ignored.
- The space is a good size for the amount of Puppies: With many Puppy Parties taking place in vet waiting rooms, space is often very limited. However, it’s very important that your puppy feels that they can escape the environment if things get too much, and wait until he or she feels more confident. The space should also be clear of hazards- displays and stands should be moved for safety, and it should not be possible for your puppy to be chased under a chair or other object where they cannot escape. Here, he or she could display aggressive behaviour to defend themselves.
- NO pass-the-puppy handling! Gentle and considerate handling is one of the most crucial skills for your puppy to learn. A popular practise in Puppy Parties and Puppy Classes alike is ‘Pass-the-Puppy’- a handling exercise whereby your puppy is passed around to other owners, and you’ll in turn receive another owner’s pup! It’s certainly important for your puppy to learn that handling is positive, however, the safest way to do this is with handling by the owner, led by advice and guidance from the professionals running the session. Unfortunately, many pups display anxiety in such a group setting, as well as the humans, and this can be a very stressful experience for both- after all, if a novice handler was in charge of my pup, I wouldn’t be focused on the one I’m supposed to be handling! At worst, pass-the-puppy sessions can be behaviourally damaging for your new puppy, and it is a practise that should be avoided.
If you’re seeking a high-quality Puppy Group or Puppy Class, we’re delighted to have NEW options available in the Autumn, created carefully and with all of our principals at the heart. Plus, they’ll be attended by expert positive trainers, so you can be sure your Puppy is in the best hands possible. To find out more, go to: https://www.prideinpetsleicester.co.uk/group-training-workshops/
If you’re a local Vet Practice: Our advice is to contact a local and highly-commended Positive Reinforcement Trainer to deliver, at least, the basic training section of the session. This will give expert advice in this area (bonus!) and to ensure puppies are off to a fantastic start- and will give mutual benefit to Vets and Veterinary Nurses alike. If you’re a practice offering Puppy Parties, we’re very glad to report that our accredited force-free Trainer is available for such sessions, and has competitive referral options. You can contact us about this here: http://www.pipleicester.co.uk/contact-us