“A rose is a rose is a rose,” wrote Gertrude Stein, but the same isn’t true for dog training classes.
There are classes just for pups, adolescents, or adults; in basic and advanced manners; to improve a particular skill like coming when called or loose leash walking; for shy or fearful dogs; for leash reactive dogs; specialty classes such as tricks, freestyle, agility, rally, nose work and treibball; and more!
With so many classes to choose from, how do you make sure a group training class is the right fit for your dog? Read on for some tips and important considerations.
- Is it a positive training class or an old-school punishment based class? Positive reinforcement training is the only humane effective way to train dogs. It includes reward-based training and clicker training. Punishment-based training relies on force, pain and intimidation to control behavior and may include leash pops, yelling, choke chains, prong and shock collars. Between the two there’s no contest. Positive training is the only way to go if you want your dog to learn most effectively, to enjoy training and to trust you. If you’re not sure what methods will be used, get in touch with the training school or instructor and ask. Better yet, ask to sit in on a class so you can see for yourself.
- What’s the maximum class size? If you’re new to training, you may want to opt for a smaller class so you and your dog get more individualized attention. (One caveat: No one taking a group dog training class should expect exclusive attention from the instructor – heck, they’re called “group” classes for a reason.)
- What do you want Rover to get out of the class & what does the curriculum cover? This may seem obvious, but surprisingly often, people come to classes with inaccurate expectations about what their dogs will be learning. Class content varies a lot. Basic manners classes typically cover at least sit, down, stand, leash walking, recall (come when called) and stays. Advanced manners classes take these behaviors and more to the next level. Some puppy classes like those offered by Sirius, are held off-leash and include lots of puppy play, which is essential to teaching pups bite inhibition. Other puppy classes are held on-leash and may or may not include off-leash puppy play. Some classes build their curricula around what students most want to learn. Others have set curricula.
- What does Rover need to know before he can take the class? The answer is usually “nothing” for puppy classes, basic manners classes and nose work. Specialty classes like agility, freestyle (doggy dancing), and rally obedience typically require student-dogs to know some basics. Some advanced classes require that dogs have graduated from a particular class at a particular facility, e.g., Sirius Puppy 2 classes are typically open only to graduates of Sirius Puppy 1. If it’s been a long time since Rover practiced behaviors necessary to take the class, bone up with him well before the class starts so he can hit the ground running on Day 1 of class, rather than spend time reviewing and catching up.
- Is Rover fearful or shy? Some dogs are so anxious/fearful that group training classes aren’t for them. Depending on the severity of the dog’s fear, expecting her to train in a group setting is unrealistic and may be downright unfair and unkind. These poor critters are far too upset to eat or learn in a class setting. If your dog is very fearful, private positive training is your best option to help conquer her fears. Classes designed especially for fearful dogs are another option, provided the methods are positive reinforcement-based, and the dog’s fear is not too severe for the class.
- Is Rover leash reactive? Most group classes are conducted with dogs leashed most of the time. If your dog reacts poorly to the sight of other dogs or strangers when he’s on leash, a garden variety group training class isn’t right for him. Instead, enroll him in a special class designed to address this behavior. I’ve seen these classes listed as “Growly Dog”, “Reactive Rover,” and “Control Unleashed.”
- Does Rover display aggression? Dogs that behave aggressively towards strangers, other dogs, or who guard food, toys or owners from dogs or humans may not be suitable for a group class. A dog that barks and lunges at mail carriers but is otherwise comfortable with strangers may be fine in class. A dog that barks and lunges at all male strangers may not be OK in class. When in doubt, check with the instructor to see if the class can accommodate your dog’s behavioral issues.
- What are the general policies regarding student dogs? Most classes have specific policies about dogs that will be accepted. Policies typically address the dog’s age, required vaccinations, whether or not the dog has bitten and injured a human or another dog, and whether student dogs must be spayed or neutered. Informing yourself about these policies ahead of time is the best way to avoid surprises on the first day of class.
Next up, how to get the most out of your dog’s group training class.