PUPPY TRAINING/SOCIALISATION CLASSES.
There are studies out there now that are now saying that a badly run puppy class can have detrimental effects on a pups and ultimately adult dogs behaviour and I would agree with that. Dogs learn through association and if a pup is having a scary or traumatic (to the pup) experience they can associate that bad/scary experience with things in the environment in which it happened. If at a puppy class that association could be with other dogs, the building, the trainer etc, so Yes, it makes sense that a bad puppy training class could cause a lifelong fear or phobia of what they associate with the perceived scary stimulus, even more so if it happens in a puppies fear period (explained in which age dog ). Having said that a well run class can be of great benefit, not only with training but also helping with socialisation, with good associations to other dogs and also good experienced trainers will be able to give you pointers on things outside the class too.
Good classes are always busy so you should seek one out long before you are due to get your pup, months before. If one is recommended then go along and have a look before booking it in, go along a couple of times so you are happy, look for trainers that are fair, firm and consistent, that employ reward based, dog friendly techniques, look for puppies in the class being happy, not stressed, or being put under unnecessary pressure or mental and physical abuse, sadly it still happens and there is no need whatsoever for it if you do it properly. Here is an example of a silly thing that a dog trainer did at a class, he got out a starting pistol while training was going on and fired it to "get dogs used to bangs." Some of the pups present might have developed a lifelong fear of bangs and similar noises because of this, and in doing so give the dog and owners a lifelong problem to deal with.
If you are at all worried about what you see going on in a class then look elsewhere.
But again do take the time to look for a good class well before you get a pup, don't leave it till you have a pup and in the panic of trying to get some work done in the early critical learning period have to join a badly run class because no others are available, you and your dog may well live to regret it.
Puppy socialisation classes are slightly different to puppy training classes and should come first. It is an opportunity for your new friend to meet and greet other pups in a controlled environment and personally I think it is a good thing. Good socialisation of your pup should be top of the list so you end up with a sound adult dog (see the /socialising-your-dog topic). Most often these are run by the vets that you will have chosen to take your pup to but again they need to be well run as you want your pups association with the events to be a good one so they can associate good things with other dogs and indeed the vets as through life you will no doubt go there often. Make sure that the classes only have pups of a similar age to yours there and not huge older pups (or really juvenile dogs) that might frighten and give bad associations to the whole thing. It should be as it says “A socialisation class”, not a formal training class, it should be fun and safe for all concerned. Again get booked in for the classes as early as possible, they will take place after your pup has had their second innoculation, but you can get classes booked in well in advance of that. A good vets should run regular socialisation classes as it is also beneficial to them if your dog is a happy well socialised dog with good associations to the vets. Classes may however be booked by the vets but carried out elsewhere, which is better than none, but at the vets itself would be more beneficial. These socialisation classes should be run by a behaviourist or someone well versed in such. Again like the formal training classes if you are not happy with what is taking place leave. Sadly some vets have little training or interest in actual canine behaviour with only a week of their five year training applied to it, and sometimes it is the vets themselves that start bad associations and problems with dogs going to the vets, (see /taking-your-dog-to-the-vets). Many good socialisation classes are run though by qualified and experienced behaviourists/trainers outside of the vets, go by recommendation.
To summarise well run socialisation and training classes are to be recommended, THEY SHOULD BE FUN AS WELL AS SERIOUS SO YOUR PUP/DOG HAS GOOD ASSOCIATIONS TO ALL THAT IS GOING ON, at all times though do not allow your pup to get too stressed, if it looks like your pup is not understanding what is required of them then take a break. If you push things (and a good class taker will not do this) you may force your pup into a position called learned helplessness, the pup will close down as it does not know what is required of it, and if put in this position regularly a risk of future mental and behavioural issues may be the result.
Go back to or learn lots more on my /socialising-your-dog page.
Remember, always try to finish any sort of training on a good note.