I can't tell you how many people I have had ask me about the safety of puppy class. If I had a dollar for every time someone disputed the safety of a Puppy Kindergarten class, I'd be writing this from my vacation home in Hawaii. It's not just puppy parents either- they are just worried because they are uninformed, by their breeder, groomer, veterinarian or Aunt Sue (if I had a dollar for every person who has a dog expert in their family, I'd have a nice vacation home on a private beach). Now, before everyone goes getting mad at me for disagreeing with their own pet expert- however experienced (or not) they may be, lets be clear. Most of these people are only speaking with concern for you and your puppy and that is commendable.
They are still wrong.
At least in regards to a well run puppy class, with an experienced, certified trainer present.
We discussed last week the requirements for my puppy class, but lets review just for fun:
1. Puppies need to be between 10 and 16 weeks of age at the start of class.
2. Puppies need to have had at least one DHPP vaccine (usually one is given between 6-8 weeks, with two boosters, given at four week intervals (6, 10, 14 or 8, 12, 16).
3. All dogs in all of my classes must have a negative fecal within the past 6 months.
4. Any dogs who show signs if illness (vomiting, diarrhea, coughing, etc) are not allowed into the classroom.
5. All dogs in all classes are required to have a leash and collar/harness.
Now, lets talk about why these things are important and why they mean safer classes.
1-2. All the puppies are the same age vaccine-wise, and very close in age. This is planned so that both physically and developmentally they are going through the same things. This means that they are all at the same risk for disease. By requiring a minimum of one vaccine (most have two by the start anyway), there is very, very little risk for catching something like distemper or parvovirus. I have seen both of these diseases firsthand and have no desire to see the effects again, especially in a sweet puppy student! I could go on for days on this topic alone, but instead I'll refer you to a much more concise statement put out by the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior on puppy socialization... right here... In short, it's really not worth the risk since there is very little chance of them actually being exposed to one of those nasty viruses. In addition to the vaccine safety, I like puppies to be close in age because they are developmentally the same- they are curious and playful before they are fearful in development. If we can get them to accept new things and explore in a fun way before they start developing fears, they will be better equipped to deal with new experiences in the future. The saddest thing to me is a puppy who is 6 months old and has had no experience with other puppies or only had exposure to a limited type of humans (no children, no hats, etc). By not being exposed to them early on, they can have trouble accepting these new things and can develop irrational fears. I know a dog who was obtained by a very loving family from a questionable 'breeder' and showed fearful reactions to many new things in this new home. In a effort to reduce his fears and stress, they tried to avoid these things, and still do to this day, 10 years later. While their hearts were in the right place, the fact that the dog has lived his whole life sheltered from these things and unable to cope with them is very sad. I do all I can to prevent this for my clients, and PK is a great way to start. Also, did you know that your new puppy is more likely to be euthanized because of a treatable, preventable behavior problem than a virus? It's sad, but true.
3. Poop is gross. You know what's even more gross? Intestinal parasites. If you really regret your lunch today, take a look at this awesomeness from Novartis about them: http://www.students.novartis.us/pdf/InternalParasiteManual.pdf
Also, I don't typically recommend clients google much, but if you type intestinal parasites into a search engine, you'll get some pretty gruesome results. I promise.
Aside from the grossness, parasites can make your dog pretty sick, even kill them if they go unchecked for a long time. Usually it's just GI upset, but as you know by now if you read about them, they can cause some pretty severe damage otherwise. You know what else? Some of these nasty creatures can be transmitted to people. Hookworms, for example can be transmitted to people when a person is say walking barefoot in an area that is heavily infested with the little guys. The larva can actually BURROW INTO YOUR SKIN. Because of all that, I am not a fan of parasites. I do everything I can to keep them out of my class. I bleach the floor after class (when I have an indoor class), and I keep unknown dogs out of my class area when I have outdoor classes. If any dog has diarrhea, they have to skip that week. If an owner tries to come into class without proof of negative fecal, I stop them at the door and tell them they cannot enter without it. I have no exceptions with this rule. Dewormers are good at stopping intestinal parasites, but since there are so many different types of creatures, there are multiple types of dewormer and they don't all work on all worms. To treat a parasite infection, the correct dewormer needs to be used for the correct amount of time. That's one of the many things you truest your veterinarian for. I will never accept proof of deworming in place of a negative fecal and if I do, it's time for me to retire. Not only do I not want any of my clients dogs exposed to these buggies, I don't want to be exposed to them, I don't want my family exposed to them, and I don't want my human clients or their families exposed to them. I've gone on long enough about this. No clean poop=no class.
4. This is pretty straightforward, if your kid was puking, would you send her off to school? I certainly hope not. If you do, you are deciding to not only make your poor sick kid get up and go to school when all she probably wants to do is sleep, but you are putting everyone at the school at risk. Other students, teachers, aids, the school nurse, other kids families, etc. It's irresponsible and I don't allow it in my classroom. Things that are terribly contagious like kennel cough are hard to get rid of in a classroom and will spread like wildfire. One dog who has diarrhea in class can be exposing everyone else to what they may have crawling around in that poop. That vomiting dog? He may have a heavy load of parasites that are wreaking havoc on his body. The best thing for him and everyone around if to get checked out by his veterinarian so he can get better.
5. If a doggie parent does not have the proper equipment for their dog (leash or harness and collar), how can they keep track of their dog?! I will ensure that this equipment fits properly at the beginning of each class, on each client as they enter the room (you'd probably think I was just greeting you and your dog, but I'm really checking out his collar/harness/leash to ensure that everyone is safe. Why? Because I don't want anyone to get hurt!
Now I hope you have a better idea of how a well-run, organized class for any age dog should go. This is even more important for puppies. I work hard to ensure that every aspect of class is safe for everyone, and that there is as little risk of your puppy getting sick or hurt as possible (unfortunately, you can never get rid of all risk completely). My PK classes are fun for everyone, safe for everyone and we get some pretty awesome pictures from week to week. The next time someone tells you that PK isn't a good idea, ask them why- they may just not know how class should go for the little fuzzballs.
AAHA Canine Vaccination Guidelines
Novartis Guide to Internal Parasites:
American Veterinary Society on Animal Behavior