Rose Davidson / Lantern photographer
In one class, every time a student gets something right, the reward is food and compliments, not to mention a scratch or two behind the ear.
They come in different sizes, shapes, colors and breeds, but these students are all puppies learning to socialize with other dogs and people other than their owners while they’re still young.
“They’re just babies and we want it to stay fun,” said Debby Miller, an instructor of the puppy socialization classes at the Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine. “We want to prepare dogs so they’re comfortable in the world.”
The class is also known as puppy kindergarten.
Miller has been involved with puppy socialization for about seven years at OSU and has a history in animal behavior consulting.
It is important for puppies to interact with new people and dogs at a young age. The first eight to 16 weeks of life is a critical socialization period, and dogs that miss out on the new experience of meeting people can suffer later in life, according to the College of Veterinary Medicine Veterinary Medical Center website.
“We want to make happy, healthy, comfortable puppies,” Miller said.
Dog owners also said the class is a good opportunity to teach their dogs how to be good companions. The puppies learn helpful everyday obedience commands including “sit, stay and down.”
Any dog owner can sign up for the six-week puppy socialization classes. The cost is $100 for the full session, and students and faculty receive a $10 discount.
“(The class) has been such a help because (my dog is) very rambunctious,” said dog owner Tammy Clark. “I like the way they train with treats and more positive reinforcement.”
Clark said her dog, Maui, a morkie, has also learned how to interact with dogs of different sizes. The Yorkshire terrier and Maltese mix will only grow to be about six pounds.
OSU veterinary students help with the puppy kindergarten class and get credit for class.
“This is not just about playing with puppies,” said Morgan Fitzgerald, a second-year in veterinary medicine.
The class provides practical experience for the veterinary students and counts for an elective credit toward graduation. The students are tasked with monitoring the dogs’ needs, filling water bowls when necessary, helping with training and cleaning up any messes, Fitzgerald said.
Melissa Handler, a third-year in veterinary medicine, helped teach the class last year as a student and now has a puppy of her own enrolled in the class.
“When I taught, I thought it was interesting how owners expect their dogs to speak English. You have to teach them what you mean,” Handler said.
Handler also said owners learn the difference between the playful noises and threatened noises dogs make when interacting with one another. The dogs have the opportunity to play and socialize with one another without leashes.
It is important for dogs to have a normal experience playing and interacting with other dogs off their leashes to develop normal behavior later in life, Miller said.
The class enrolls only six puppies so students can focus on each dog individually.