I welcomed new students to my classes this past Saturday. Every time I do that, I am reminded of the questions people have about classes, including questions about what they can and cannot do for you. So here are some quick tips.
Things Group Training Classes Can Do
- Provide a support community. Group training classes, especially age-based classes like puppy training, provide a great place to meet other people with similar experiences who can help you with issues you might be facing.
- Connect your dog with playmates. Especially in puppy classes and play-based classes, you may find a good play match for your dog, even if you don’t have any in your circle of family and friends. You may even find someone you can meet up with outside of class. The class will be supervised, and the instructor will provide guidance about what to look for in safe dog play. For young dogs, this socialization experience is especially important.
- Provide a grounding in the basics. Most basic manners and puppy classes provide an overview of basic topics. They should also provide tools that can be applied to training related to specific issues in your home or schedule.
- Connect you with a training professional. It can be hard to know where to start when training your dog. Your instructor is a resource, and can provide information about other training services in your area. He or she may offer advanced classes or private training and behavior modification, or may be able to refer you to somewhere these services are available.
- Provide a safe practice venue for your dog. As I said, the training class is largely about providing information to the people. However, we have all had the experience of a dog that behaves very differently at home than he or she does out and about. Your class is a safe environment where you can practice with your dog and gain some insight into what behaviors need more training.
Things Group Classes Cannot Do
- Solve complex issues specific to your dog. Group classes generally cover basic behavior issues in addition to manners training. However, because instructors have to work with the whole class, they may not get to every issue, or may not cover it in the detail you would like. Find out how you can contact your trainer with additional questions. For complex issues, be prepared to set up time to address the issue outside of class. Depending on the complexity of the question, the time involved, and the trainer’s policies, extra charges may be involved. Your instructor may also refer you to another trainer or behavior professional.
- Provide a good environment for scared or aggressive dogs. Specialized classes for extremely fearful, aggressive, or reactive dogs do exist. However, they have a specialized format and must be conducted in a wel-configured space. Many general classes are a poor fit for dogs with these issues. If you are considering a group class, and you don’t know if it will be a good fit for your dog, contact the trainer before class begins. The trainer may have questions about your dog’s history or may recommend that you observe a class without your dog before enrolling.
- Train your dog for you. Training classes are definitely for the owners (see 3 & 5 above). A good training class will provide you with the tools to train your dog, but the instructor will not train your dog for you. Nor will you learn everything you need in class. Practice at home will be required in order to get the most out of your class.