So you just got a new dog, and want to make sure that you and Rex (or Rexi!) are building a solid relationship to ensure a happy future together. You have the basics: dog food, water, toys, treats and an exercise plan. What next?
Obedience training is valuable for dogs of all ages, from brand new puppy to senior. An obedience class will teach your dog the basic life skills necessary to be a good canine citizen, and will also provide you with an opportunity to work closely with your dog as a team. This bonding experience will help you to learn how your dog thinks and improve your communication with him or her. Basic obedience classes also provide a good foundation for continued training in a variety of dog sports.
Each obedience school or class will be different to one degree or another, and it is important that you choose a class that will be a good fit for you and your dog.
What To Expect From Dog Training Classes
Most obedience classes meet for an hour once a week for six to 10 weeks — so sign up for a time that fits your schedule! The exact lesson plan will vary from class to class, but most classes cover the commands sit, down, stay, come and leave it, plus walking on a loose lead. Many dog training clubs plan their classes to prepare the students for a test at the end, such as the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen test or the S.T.A.R. Puppy program. These programs cover the basics and add in other life skills, such as being still for brushing and sitting nicely while you shake hands and chat with another person. Some classes may also work in tricks so that you can have a little extra fun!
Things that you should bring to class are a leash about 6 feet long (no retractable ones!), a collar that your dog is comfortable in, and something that motivates your dog and can be used as a reward, such as treats or a favorite toy. And don’t forget your dog!
How To Find A Dog Training Class Or Obedience School
One of the best places to start your obedience class search is with your local dog training club. Try doing a quick Internet search for training clubs and kennel clubs in your area, or use the American Kennel Club’s “Club Search” feature; All dogs are welcome to attend classes hosted by AKC clubs — not just purebreds! Dog club websites generally have contact information for some of the club officers, and may also include a complete listing of the classes that they offer and the scheduled session dates. Even if a club doesn’t host classes, the club officers will be able to connect you to local trainers who have their own private obedience schools.
Another good option is to ask your veterinarian about local trainers and obedience schools, and check the bulletin board at your pet supply store. And there is always word of mouth! Find out where your neighbors and friends from the dog park took their dogs to obedience class, and ask if it was a positive experience.
Group Dog Training Class Vs. Private Dog Training Lessons
Group obedience classes typically have eight to 10 students and dogs, with activities being done both as a group and individually. The plus to this format is that it provides an excellent socialization opportunity for your dog and also allows you to watch the other students if you are having trouble figuring out how to get your dog to do something. You may even meet a training buddy to practice with outside of class. Puppy classes generally include a group playtime as part of the class to give the puppies a chance to run and play together. The downside to this format is that the instructor has to split his or her time between all of the students, which will limit any extensive one-on-one assistance.
Private lessons are one-on-one sessions with an instructor. The plus to this is that the instructor can focus on you and your dog and help you for the entire class period. The downside is that private lessons are typically more expensive than group classes.
Deciding which option to choose largely depends on your dog’s personality and experiences. Many dogs and puppies enjoy the group classes and do well with that format, but if your dog has special needs or an uncertain past, this might not be the right choice for you. Shy or fearful dogs are often more comfortable in the quieter private lesson setting, and dogs that act out or don’t get along well with other dogs will benefit from a less stimulating environment. Always be an advocate for your dog, and feel free to opt out of an activity if you are concerned about the safety of your dog. By the same token, be considerate of the other people and dogs in your class. The goal is for everyone to have a positive experience and learn a lot.
You may be thinking, “What about sending my dog away to boarding school?” While this is a service that some trainers offer, it can be challenging to achieve lasting results, especially if you have never trained a dog before. This is because consistency plays a huge role in a dog’s training and behavior. If you send your dog away to a training camp, your dog will be forming a working relationship with the professional trainer and learning the commands and signals that the trainer uses. When you pick your dog up, you will need some lessons to learn how to get your dog to do what he has been taught. It is kind of like buying a newer model of your car — all of the buttons and features are in place, but you will need to learn how to access and use them. All of the same efforts will need to be made as if you had taken your dog to a class yourself, except with this option, you and your dog will learn at separate points in the process (your dog first while he is away, then you when you pick him up), whereas with a regular class, both you and your dog will learn together. Sending your dog away to training camp can be a successful option, but it still requires some effort on your end.
Once you have figured out which type of class would be best for you and your dog, find a training facility and an instructor.
Choosing The Right Instructor
The instructor plays a huge role in how an obedience class is run and how your dog’s training will progress. Here are some things to consider:
1. Credentials. What experience does the instructor have? Ideally you want an instructor who has a lot of experience training dogs. Some ways to determine this are to see if he (or she) has been certified by a formal training organization or if he has titled multiple dogs in dog show competitions. Find out if the instructor has attended training seminars, if he has taught classes before, and how the students felt about the training.
2. Training style. There are many different approaches to training. Choose an instructor who is fair and kind to the dogs and never cruel. Some instructors or trainers will say that they use “pure positive” training methods. This is the perfect option for some dogs, especially puppies who are just starting to learn and dogs of all ages who are timid or lack confidence. Other dogs need poor behavior to be marked so that they can learn what is not acceptable and what is (for example, firmly telling your dog, “No,” when she barks at your classmate and then praising her for being quiet and looking at you), and require a more balanced approach to training. No matter what, the primary focus of every class should be on rewarding the dogs for what they do right and creating a positive association with correct behavior.
3. Flexibility. Different dogs learn in different ways. Breeds like German Shepherd Dogs that were developed to work closely with humans are very eager to learn and love making their people happy, while breeds like Great Pyrenees that were developed to protect a flock of sheep without any human input tend to be more independent and less interested in your opinion. This does not make one breed or mix smarter than another — it just means that their brains work in different ways and that their training will need to be approached a little differently.
Try to find an instructor who has worked with dogs similar to yours before and been successful. If possible, watch the instructor work with a class and see how he adjusts his methods for individual dogs — some owners may be told to be firmer when giving commands, while others are encouraged to be more exciting to get their dog interested in the task at hand. This flexibility of teaching style shows that the instructor has a lot of “tools” and training methods to offer you, and can help you figure out the best way to motivate and communicate with your dog.
4. Communication skills. Just because a person is a brilliant trainer doesn’t mean that he will be a great instructor. As well as knowing how to train dogs, the instructor needs to be able to teach and communicate with you so that you can continue your dog’s training after class is over. Choose an instructor with whom you feel comfortable and who is able to communicate effectively.
Choosing A Dog Training Facility
While the instructor is the most important factor in having a positive class experience, you should also consider the facility where the classes will be held. Your local dog training club may have their own building where they hold classes and events, or perhaps the instructor has his own private room or building. In good weather, classes may be held outdoors. The training facility needs to be close enough to your home for you to be able to get to class on time, and needs to be a safe environment for you and your dog. If you will be working off leash at all, the area should be fully enclosed.
The school or instructor will probably ask you for a copy of your dog’s vaccination records to ensure that all of the dogs in class are healthy and up to date on vaccinations. Many training schools also require student dogs to be on flea and heartworm preventives to control the spread of pests and parasites. If your dog becomes ill or there is some sort of outbreak in the area, respect your training facility’s policies to help protect all of the dogs in the class and community. This is especially important in puppy classes, because there are many devastating diseases that spread easily between young dogs. Dogs who have a contagious ailment should always stay home from class.
Setting A Foundation For Lifelong Dog Training
No matter where you and your dog end up taking an obedience course or from whom, enjoy the experience. Go to every class, and savor the opportunity to spend some quality time with your dog. The things that your dog learns in class will be lifelong skills, and the training methods that you learn will enable you and your dog to continue learning things together for years to come.