Obedience Training vs. Socialization: What’s the Difference?

You’ve been dreaming of this day for months. The day that you finally get to bring your new puppy home and embark on your new journey as a dog parent!

Your petite pooch will be eager to fit in with the rest of the family, but first, they’ll need some elements of training. The first thing you want to do is enroll your dog in socialization classes and obedience training. 

If you’re a first-time dog parent, you may wonder what these types of training are and why they matter.

Obedience classes teach your puppy basic commands, while socialization classes help your puppy learn how to act around other dogs.

Young puppies are easy to train, but they have a small window to learn socialization skills. If you wait more than ten weeks to start their training, it may be too late and lead to behavioral problems as they grow into adulthood. 

Training your puppy is both fun and rewarding for them and you. Here’s what you need to know to get you started:

  • What’s the difference between puppy training and obedience training?
  • When should a puppy start socialization classes?
  • At what age should a puppy get obedience training?
  • What will my puppy learn at socialization classes?
  • What will my puppy learn at obedience training?
  • How to choose the right socialization or obedience class
  • Trainer vs. behaviorist
  • Which type of training is right for your puppy?
  • The cost of training

What is the difference between puppy training and obedience training?

There is a lot of overlap between puppy training and obedience training. Puppy training is focused on exposing your puppy to other dogs and humans to help them begin to develop social skills. These classes tend to focus more on play elements and building strong bonds and relationships.

Obedience training is a more structured program that teaches basic commands and appropriate behavior. Because there are various difficulty levels in obedience training, dogs of all ages can enroll in multiple classes. Obedience training allows your dog to become a lifelong learner. 

When you enroll your puppy in puppy-specific obedience training, socialization and how to behave around other dogs is a natural part of the learning process. 

What age should a puppy start socialization classes?

If you don’t want your puppy to be the unruly one at the dog park, you’ll want to start their socialization immediately. Your puppy should start socialization classes right after receiving their first set of vaccinations at around 8 weeks old.

A puppy has a short window to properly learn how to manage its behavior and interact with other dogs and animals. After 14 weeks, it becomes harder to establish these foundations with your puppy, and they may develop inappropriate or problematic behaviors as they grow.

At what age should a puppy get obedience training?

As with socialization classes, it’s vital to teach your dog basic commands and manners in their early stages. 

Vaccinated puppies as young as 8 weeks can enroll in obedience training, but even before you take them to classes, you can work with them to start to practice basic commands like “sit,” “down,” and “come.” 

Obedience training for puppies combines elements of socialization with teaching behavioral and command skills.

What will my puppy learn at socialization classes?

The main focus of socialization classes is to allow your puppy time to interact with other puppies and humans through play. 

Just like the preschool experience for human children, puppies enrolled in puppy training classes will meet and play with dogs of many backgrounds and personality types. This exposes your puppy to different temperaments and helps them learn how to build social attachments and how to cooperate. 

Puppies in socialization classes also get to interact with other people, which will help them build confidence and develop appropriate behaviors for the many other humans they’ll come in contact with in the world beyond your home and neighborhood. 

To get your puppy used to different environments, puppy socialization and obedience training classes use elements of navigational training to help your puppy understand how to interact with their surroundings. Steps and tunnels are two popular navigation training tools.

Noise

Many puppies become startled by noises that they don’t know. Puppy training classes expose your dog to sounds they don’t know and help them work through their fear and uncertainty and build confidence. This training element is beneficial for puppies who may live in small homes or neighborhoods where their barking or howling can lead to noise complaints. 

Basic manners

Puppy classes teach your dog basic manners by using positive reinforcement. Every time your puppy does what you ask them, like to “sit,” you reward them with physical affection like a chin scratch or a toy or yummy treat. 

Teaching your dog basic manners helps you become more knowledgeable about your dog’s temperament. By learning more about your dog’s personality and giving them a foundation in basic skills, you’ll be able to get your dog to listen to you confidently. Especially if you notice they’re getting overexcited or upset.

What will my puppy learn at obedience training?

Obedience classes will take your puppy to the next level of training. This highly structured training builds upon the groundwork laid by socialization classes.

In puppy obedience training the trainers start with basic commands, “sit”, “down”, “stay” and “come” and other life skills, including the best way to walk.

Obedience trainers show you how to use a leash and harness and how to walk alongside your dog, when they’re on or in one. This helps your puppy become comfortable in their walking gear and learn how to behave when faced with strangers and other distrations when they’re out on on a leash. 

If your puppy has any behavior problems at home, or when they’re outdoors, obedience classes are the ideal opportunity to get to the root of the issue and rectify it before the behavior gets too bad. 

Obedience training can also teach you about your puppy’s healthcare and grooming. A side-settle or a chin rest command can allow you to examine them or brush them without them moving. 

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How to choose the right socialization or obedience class

Choosing the most suitable training class for your puppy, whether it’s a socialization or obedience class, is crucial in your dog’s development. You need to consider several things before enrolling your puppy in any class.

Health and hygiene requirements

Before starting any training classes with your puppy, you need to ensure that they are up to date with their vaccines. Responsible trainers will ensure that all puppies have had their first vaccines and have been given a clean bill of health before accepting them into the classes. 

The classroom must be cleaned regularly, using animal-safe disinfectant products. Puppies have many accidents and can be prone to illnesses that can spread bacteria and viruses if the environment isn’t appropriately sterilized. 

Don’t hesitate to ask questions regarding hygiene and about any health and safety concerns you have. If the class trainer doesn’t ask you about your dog’s vaccines and health, it’s a red flag indicating that you need to pick a different program.

Class size and atmosphere

The canine class size in puppy or obedience training shouldn’t be too big. The best dog training classes limit the number of dogs allowed at any one time. 

Each puppy requires personal attention to learn, and a classroom with many pups (and their human guardians) cuts into the amount of precious learning time each puppy has. Some puppies become overwhelmed in a group environment and need a little time out before interacting. Classrooms with enough space to find a quiet corner are perfect for this as they’ll allow your dog to acclimatize themselves to the atmosphere.

The ideal ratio for a training class is one trainer for six puppies. This will give each dog the right amount of attention to learn.

Puppy training techniques 

There are many different training techniques used to train puppies, but as a whole, puppies learn best when treated with kindness, respect, patience, and positivity. So make sure that whichever training class you choose uses positive and humane training techniques to train the dogs. 

Your puppy training classes should be using positive reinforcement to build trust and a strong bond between you and your dog. If you reward your puppy for doing the right thing, they will continue to do it correctly and with enthusiasm. 

Puppies shouldn’t be punished for making mistakes. Your puppy should never be trained by using negative methods, such as physical punishment, shaker cans, squirt bottles, or by yelling or screaming.  Harsh training methods can psychologically harm your puppy, damage your relationship, and cause them to become anxious, insecure, and fearful. 

Certified trainers

While the dog training industry is mostly unregulated, there are ways you can vet out the best trainer. You can start by looking into their education, background, and any certifications they’ve earned. Professional dog training programs take many hours and lots of hard work to complete, and what they’ve earned could show how committed they are to training dogs and understanding canine behavior.

You can, and should, also look into what real dog owners are saying about them. 

Peering into your prospective trainer’s track record to see how many dogs they’ve successfully trained (whether they show dogs or family pups) is one way. 

Seeing if they specialize in training specific types of dogs is another. If you have a dog with herding breeds in their lineage rather than sporting or scent hound breeds, they’ll benefit from a trainer who has experience working with dogs like them.

You can also ask to sit in on one or more of their training classes. This is a great way to see how the trainer interacts with their doggy students firsthand and if the puppies and dogs under their care are happy, relaxed, and responsive to them.   

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What is a trainer vs. behaviorist?

A dog trainer is a teacher or coach who will help your dog learn new skills, while a behaviorist is essentially a therapist for your dog.  

Trainers teach your dog to sit, stay, and come when called. They help prepare your dog to behave well in social situations, like being walked on a leash and not getting distracted when other dogs or people are around.

A behaviorist takes a more psychological approach and will help you pinpoint and resolve your dog’s behavioral problems. These could be anything from biting and aggression to separation anxiety to destructive tendencies like chewing shoes and furniture. 

The behaviorist will analyze your dog before designing a plan to help you to correct their behavior.

Which type of training is right for your puppy?

Socializing and obedience training go hand in hand (or paw in paw), and you can start training your puppy as soon as you get them home! 

Like human babies, baby dogs have minds like little sponges– they see and absorb everything! It’s never too soon to start to encourage your puppy to “sit,” “come,” or “stay,” especially if you make a fun game out of it! 

As soon as they have their first vaccines, they can begin to interact with other puppies and people and build social attachments that lay the foundations for more structured training.

As your puppy gets a little older, more challenging obedience classes will help them understand how to behave and listen to commands. They will then learn how to walk on a leash correctly and sit or lay down. Obedience classes will also allow you to work with a trainer to solve your puppy’s behavioral problems.

Remember above all to be patient. Puppies require short training sessions with play, snacks, and nap breaks. They have short attention spans and can be overwhelmed, just like human kids.

Consider your budget

There’s no need to break the bank when starting puppy training. If you can’t afford a private trainer for your puppy, there are lots of group classes around that are more budget-friendly.

You could also consult your vet! Some vets and vet techs offer puppy training that’s more affordable than private sessions. This has the added bonus of making your vet’s clinic feel like a fun and safe space. If your puppy becomes used to going to the vet’s clinic for training classes, it’ll remove the fear for future visits to the vets.

Key takeaways on socialization vs. obedience training

When you become pet parents and bring your new puppy home, you can start training them right away! Even before enrolling your new pup in puppy obedience classes you can begin to show them how to do basic commands, and introduce them to other dogs and humans around them. 

Our dogs deserve to live their happiest and healthiest lives, and a lot of that comes from the socialization skills they’ll learn as you walk them through obedience training. 

Starting training early with your pup is the best way to help your canine companion become a confident, well-behaved dog with a strong, trusting relationship with you and the other humans and animals around them! 

Kate Basedow, LVT
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