Trainers and other dog behavior experts urge people to enroll their dogs in group training classes, and with good reason. Group classes are a fine way to teach most dogs basic manners they need to thrive in human society and homes. Puppy classes that include plenty of off-leash playtime are essential for teaching pups bite inhibition, polite play skills, dog-dog communication skills as well as manners. Specialty classes like doggy dancing/canine freestyle, agility, and nose work ramp up the fun factor, and provide additional energy outlets for dogs. And all group classes are excellent opportunities to give dogs much-needed mental workouts, as well as practice in responding to their humans amidst abundant distractions.
How do you and your dog get the most out of dog training classes? Read on for some tips.
- Arrive on time. Better yet, try to get there a few minutes early to give your dog a chance to sniff around and settle into the class environment.
- Bring necessary paperwork on the first day. Classes usually have policies regarding required vaccinations a dog needs to participate. This is for all the student dogs’ safety. If you haven’t submitted vaccination records ahead of time, bring copies to the first class so your dog can join right in the fun.
- Be prepared. Potty your dog before class. Exercise him ahead of time if he tends to bounce off the wall with energy. Bring him to class hungry. If you usually feed him a meal around class time, skip it. Hungry dogs are more motivated to pay attention and train, and class will be full of distractions – other dogs and people with treats (aka human pez dispensers to dogs!). You’ll be glad for the extra bit of motivation.
- Bring plenty of training treats. You’ll need ‘em! Small soft treats work best. Dogs can eat them more quickly than hard dog biscuits, which means you can get in more repetitions of an exercise during class practice time. Small pieces ensure your dog won’t fill up before class is over. Make sure they’re treats your dog really likes, not those you think he “should” like.
- When not to bring your dog. If your dog is in estrus, it’s probably best to leave her at home. Please don’t bring your dog to class when he’s sick. That won’t be any fun for him, and he might get the other dogs sick. Find out about attending a make up class together, or just come to class anyway without Fido. You’ll still get a lot out of class and be able to practice and keep up your dog up to speed.
- Supervise kids. I love it when kids in the family help to train the dog. I don’t love it though when people bring kids to class expecting the instructor to supervise them. If you bring kids to class, please keep an eye on them for their own safety, your own peace of mind, and to minimize disruptions.
- No retractable leashes. They’re bulky, cumbersome and difficult to manage while training your dog, especially for heeling and loose leash walking practice. Instead, use a flat leash and collar.
- Speaking of collars, a regular flat collar is best for a positive training class. That means, no choke chains, prong, pinch or shock collars. Those devices rely on pain to control dogs, don’t teach dogs what you’d like them to do, and frequently lead to growling, lunging and barking when the poor dog’s on leash. I don’t know about you, but if someone put one of those things on me and started jerking and popping the leash while I was in it (a la Cesar Milan), I’d get growly in no time.
- Banish the cell phone. You’d be surprised how many times students have answered calls and then proceeded to have a full-on conversation in the middle of class. Please, silence cell phones before class. If you must take a call, step outside of class with your dog.
- Smart footwear. Here’s one I bet most folks don’t think about, but you should. Training classes include exercises that require movement and walking around, sometimes at a fast pace. Humans in training class find that their hands are very full during class time. They’re holding a leash, possibly a clicker, dispensing training treats, paying attention to what they’re doing and what their dogs are doing. Flip flops or high heels will make doing training exercises all the more challenging for humans. Your best bet for footwear is a pair that are comfy, with a flat stable no skid sole.
- Pay attention & listen. Need I say more?
- Be responsible for & monitor your dog at all times, especially if you’re in an off-leash class or puppy playgroup.
- Communicate. Does your dog have food allergies or dietary intolerances? Are you having trouble doing an exercise? Did you find the instructions confusing? Instructors try to have 360-degree vision in class, but we can’t notice everything all the time. So please, talk to your instructor. Ask questions.
- Practice, practice, practice. Dog training classes give you the tools to go home and practice you’re your dog. Dogs don’t generalize well, so if you want to really learn something, you’ll need to train him a lot outside of class. Typically, each class sessions builds on the things learned in the previous meeting. Practice between class sessions so you and your dog are ready to move on to whatever’s coming in the next meeting. Practice in as many settings as you can and at different times of day. Practice in short intervals; three to five minutes a few times a day is much more effective and fun for dogs (and humans) than long marathon sessions.