• Amy Thomson

Puppy classes & COVID19

3rd June 2020

Since the start of lockdown my classes that are run in a hall have had to stop. However, I have been able to carry on providing valuable training sessions in an alternative format – a live, online classroom with me safely in my home and owners safely in theirs. These have proven extremely successful and have many benefits!

I’ve been asked many times recently “when will you be running hall classes again?”. Unfortunately I don’t know, but it will when halls are able to reopen and people feel/are safe to attend.

The next question I am asked is “well how do I socialise my puppy if the training is online?”.

So here are my answers.

As a trainer, I need to be hands on. I want to be able to demonstrate the exercises with a puppy or dog to show you exactly what is needed so that you can be successful when you practice yourself. To do this, I need to be close enough to you so you can see what I am doing clearly. With current social distancing rules, I am required to stay 2 metres apart from you (remember this is the minimum distance – the further away the better). In order to demonstrate in a hall environment, I need to borrow a dog (or use an invisible or toy one which really won’t work). If I borrow a dog, I need to use my own lead (to avoid cross contamination) but in order to change the lead over, I need to break the 2 metre rule as you’ll need to hold onto your dog too until the leads are swapped over.

If I returned to running hall classes now, I would need to ensure it was deep cleaned after each class (toilets, chairs, tables, door handles, basically anything anyone comes into contact with) or I would have to pay for the hall to hire a company to carry out the deep clean – both options would mean I have to pass the cost of this on to you. This would also be time consuming meaning a reduction in the number of classes I could run.

I wouldn’t be able to pass you a toy or any other equipment that may help your dog achieve success in the exercises. I also wouldn’t be able to pass you any tasty treats or equipment that I think your dog may have more success with!

I would have to ensure that all clients were set up AT LEAST 2 metres apart and then what happens if you accidentally let go of your lead and your puppy runs up to another person (yes, it happens occasionally), we would have to get close to someone else to retrieve them – another reason why I couldn’t introduce puppy play at the moment either. This distance can also cause frustration within your puppy as you won’t be able to get close to each other at all.

Also, I would only be able to let one member of the family attend, so everything learnt in that session would need to be remembered by that one person to enable them to feedback to the rest of their family – can you guarantee to remember everything with a puppy or dog that may have distracted you during class? I also believe that everyone in the family should be involved and it would be a sad thing to prevent this happening when in fact the whole family can take part in online training.

Current guidelines are that 5 people plus 1 trainer can gather in an outside, secure location. However, this also means: - no facilities to wash hands - no toilet facilities can be used - more distractions for your puppy = less focus - weather conditions - wind, rain, hot sun - not nice for you or puppy - parking needs to be distanced too

All of this on top of the above points will compromise the quality of your experience and your puppies experience will be less positive, meaning you won’t achieve what we set out to in classes normally.

A lot of people think that socialisation means having their dog play with other dogs, but actually it is much, much more than that! When we talk about socialisation, we mean exposing your dog to as many different sights, sounds, and smells as you can whilst making these positive experiences. Socialisation with other dogs is actually done best when you introduce your puppy to all different types, sizes and ages of well-mannered dogs. Puppies aren’t always the best at reading body language, they haven't yet learnt social skills and therefore, adult dogs (who are comfortable around other dogs) are better for your puppy’s socialisation. It is important to offer variety without overwhelming your puppy though.

Introducing them to different people (joggers, bikers, skate boarders, elderly people and children), places, things (wheelchairs, crutches/sticks, vacuum cleaners, brooms, washing machines etc) and even floor surfaces should all form part of puppy’s socialisation programme.

You can still socialise your puppy in the real world at a 2 metre distance - actually this works in your favour as you can teach your puppy that they can’t say hello to everyone and that it is more rewarding to be with you - if they get rewarded enough for being near you whilst other people and dogs are around, they will still be seen as positive but you’ll become more important to them – remember, not every dog wants to be greeted, so you shouldn’t allow your dog to run up to another dog anyway, especially if it is on a lead.

So please consider this when asking me about my return to face to face classes. I’m not prepared to risk lives or lower my high standards of training when I have a perfectly suitable alternative with my online classes. We introduce all the basics and practice the training around increasing distractions in tthese classe, giving your puppy the skills they need in the outside world and work with you as a team.

So for me, its online training at the moment! However in the next couple of weeks, those attending online classes will have the opportunity to attend outside social walks where guidelines can be adhered to keep everyone safe.

My next available online course starts on Monday 8th June 6pm but I can be flexible on class times

Great video from Puppy School about socialising puppies at the moment: