Downeast Dog News

Training Your Performance Dog

Agility, Obedience, Tracking
By Carolyn Fuhrer | Feb 01, 2019

Considerations Regarding Puppy Classes

First of all, I do believe socialization is very important and puppy classes can fulfill many needs of dogs and owners, but they are not an end-all solution.

As far as socialization goes, I want my dogs to get along with other dogs, but I do not want them to feel they must meet and play with every dog they see. I also want my dogs to like people and be comfortable around them, but, again, I do not want them to feel they must meet and interact with every person they see.

I want my dog’s primary interest to be me. I want my dog to look to me with any questions or concerns it has. I want it to understand that I will clearly and consistently answer any questions it may have and also help it safely explore anything it might have concerns about.

I also want my dog to see me as the best choice it can make and to see me as a great source of fun and play. Keeping your dog safe, exploring the world together, having a clear consistent structure, and being a great source of play is the foundation of a great relationship. These concepts should be in place before you expose your dog to puppy class which can be very stressful and overwhelming to certain dogs. It is important that you are valuable to your dog and that you have established value for reinforcers you may want to use – tricks, toys, petting, and praise. Learning requires being able to focus on the task at hand. Many times the atmosphere in puppy class is not conducive to learning and can even result in being detrimental to your dog’s ability to learn.

Lots of noise, the potential of having dogs running and jumping and knocking your puppy around, and puppies getting overly excited and out of control, may be too much for some dogs and certainly will not be an atmosphere where they can begin to learn. Some dogs do not want to engage in play. They just want to watch from a safe place. This is fine. Putting them in the middle of a situation where they may not be comfortable will not help them become better socialized.

Play groups are good for lots of dogs, but if your puppy chooses not to play, respect its feelings and work on engaging the dog with you in controlled, safe situations to build confidence. Work with your puppy one on one to create a foundation of focus, trust, value, and fun. Introduce distractions and new situations gradually and build on your foundation of relationship to create a confident dog that is able to cope with changes in its environment.

By working to create value in focusing and engaging with you, you will be well on the way to having a puppy that will have a positive confidence-building experience in puppy class and beyond.



Carolyn Fuhrer has earned over 100 AKC titles with her Golden Retrievers, including 2 Champion Tracker titles. She has recently become an AKC Tracking Judge.


Carolyn is the owner of North Star Dog Training School in Somerville, Maine. She has been teaching people to understand their dogs for over 25 years. You can contact her with questions, suggestions and ideas for her column by e-mailing