This January we celebrate the 30th birthday of off-leash puppy classes. Happy Birthday SIRIUS® Puppy Training! It’s hard to believe that I taught the world’s very first off-leash, puppy socialization and training classes thirty years ago at Live Oak Park in Berkeley (where SIRIUS classes are still held to this day). Basically, I started SIRIUS simply because I wanted a local puppy school for my Alaskan Malamute puppy, Omaha. After ten years researching dog developmental behavior at UC Berkeley, I was well aware of the critically important and permanent effects of early socialization and of science-based training techniques and I certainly didn’t want Omaha’s schooling to be put on hold until he was an adult. Little did I know that SIRIUS puppy classes would change the way that pet dogs are trained worldwide.


Before SIRIUS, there were no puppy classes; dogs had to wait until they were six months to a year old before being allowed to go to classes that largely comprised on-leash obedience drills. SIRIUS welcomed puppies as young as 12 weeks of age (now younger) and the SIRIUS curriculum emphasized the crucial and indelible importance of early socialization, bite inhibition, temperament training, plus simple solutions for common and predictable behavior problems, as well as teaching basic off-leash manners using the hands-off, science-based principles of lure/reward training.


Basically, puppy classes prepare dogs to live with human companions. It was no surprise therefore, that SIRIUS classes were immediately embraced by dog lovers worldwide. The methods are quick, easy and effective, and … a whole lot of fun. Puppy classes champion user-friendly and dog-friendly training techniques that are suitable for the whole family, especially children. The original SIRIUS Puppy Training video (the first dog training video to be produced) quickly spread the word and during the late 80’s and early 90’s, puppy classes sprung up all around the world. This new breed of puppy trainers rallied together to form the Association of Pet Dog Trainers — the largest association of pet dog trainers worldwide.


Puppy classes certainly revolutionized dog training, creating a completely new field of pet dog training. However, puppy classes offer much too little much too late. Yes, puppy classes are absolutely brilliant and are simply too much fun to miss … but so much needs to be done before puppies attend class at three months of age. Far too many puppies start classes with existing behavior problems and already showing signs of being fearful of people or other puppies. A much earlier intervention is necessary to prevent puppies from developing utterly predictable behavior and temperament problems, such as housesoiling, destructive chewing, excessive barking and separation anxiety and most important, puppies must be safely socialized to people before they are three months old so that they do not become shy, fearful or aggressive towards people as adolescent dogs.


The time is long overdue for an additional quantum leap to catalyze a sorely needed paradigm shift in puppy raising and training. This year, SIRIUS is starting an initiative to attempt to coordinate all of the dog professions — breeders, veterinarians, trainers, retailers and shelter personnel — to promote a preventive educational program for prospective and new puppy owners. So much educational information is readily available for free but the challenge is to make sure that prospective and new puppy owners become aware of its availability.


Basically, far too many people purchase eight-week-old puppies that are not housetrained, not chewtoy-trained, have not been taught to come, sit and lie down on cue and are not sufficiently socialized to people, even though by eight weeks of age, the Critical Period of Socialization is already nearly two thirds over. Furthermore, many new puppy owners are unaware of the extreme urgency of maintaining errorless housetraining and chewtoy-training programs (which also prevent the development excessive barking and separation anxiety), teaching manners and continuing to socialize puppies with people during their first couple of months at home. We are really neglecting early puppy development and missing out on this narrow window of opportunity. Far too many untrained puppies become tomorrow’s shelter dogs.


Socializing puppies to people is quite safe in breeders’ kennels and puppies’ new homes, provided that outdoor shoes remain outside. As a rule of thumb, starting with neonates, puppies need to meet and be handled by at least 100 people (especially children and men) by eight weeks of age and then meet another 100 people during their first month in their new home. Puppy time should be party time!


This is the third year that DogStarDaily has promoted the message that “Puppyhood is the Time to Rescue Adult Shelter Dogs.” To put it bluntly, the coming months are shelter-dog manufacturing season. When puppies soil the house or chew destructively, they are often relegated to the backyard, where they continue to eliminate and chew indiscriminately and quickly learn to dig, bark and escape. When neighbors complain of the barking, the adolescent dog is further confined to the basement or garage. Living in virtual solitary confinement, adolescent dogs become hyperactive and hard-to-handle and de-socialize surprisingly quickly, becoming wary and fearful of people. Many such dogs are surrendered to shelters between six months and two years of age. Shelters try their best to re-home dogs with existing behavioral baggage, but there are just far too many dogs in shelters. Let’s make a difference this year. Remember, all shelter dogs were once puppies. Let’s do our best to make sure that fewer puppies become shelter dogs and instead, continue to enjoy life forever in their original puppy homes.


A lot of the information for breeders and prospective and new puppy owners is available as free downloads of two of my eBooks — BEFORE You Get Your Puppy and AFTER You Get Your Puppy. Additionally, we shall soon be posting two Puppy Raising Initiatives — one for Prospective and New Puppy Owners and one for Dog Professionals.


Everybody, please, please, pleeeeease, download these two free eBooks and email them along with the links to the Puppy Raising Initiatives to every dog owner and every dog professional that you know. If you are a dog professional, you may customize the first page of the eBooks with your company name and contact information before emailing them to your clients with instructions to forward the books to every dog person that they know.


Let’s get these eBooks out there. Many dog owners, or their family, friends and neighbors, will get another puppy at some time in the future. It is essential that prospective and new puppy owners receive the relevant educational information at the appropriate time.


If these eBooks and links to the Puppy Raising Initiatives are emailed to a sufficient number of people, who likewise forward the material to all their doggy contacts, the concept of earlier preventive intervention could well reach critical mass and cause the needed paradigm shift in puppy raising. Let’s all rally together to try our best to prevent young puppies from becoming shelter dogs. Prevention is the Key.

Products from Dr. Ian Dunbar

  • Voted the #1 BEST BOOK by the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. Easy, fun-loving, dog-friendly methods for teaching a new puppy old tricks (such as basic manners), or for teaching an older dog (or older owner) who is new to training.

  • Day 3: Off-leash Verbal Control, Phasing out Food Lures and Motivating Your Dog to Perform Quickly and Reliably

  • 1. Socialization & Training
    2. Behavior Problems
    3. Walking & Heeling
    4. Recalls & Stays

  • In this DVD lecture, veterinarian and animal behaviorist Dr. Ian Dunbar addresses one of the most worrying behavior problems any dog owner can face — dogs that bite.

  • Day 1: Business, Promotion, People Training and Games

  • When puppyhood collides with adolescence... you need different training techniques. Successful adult dog training requires controlling the dog’s energy and reactivity to regain attention.

Do you work in a dog rescue/shelter? Sign up for the Dog Shelter Behavior & Training Program – Free on Dunbar Academy