If your dog isn’t the anxious or aggressive type, group dog training classes are a great way to kickstart you and your dog’s training education. Learning to interact and communicate with your dog in a public place even just one hour a week will improve your relationship immensely.
As a dog trainer and group class instructor myself, I wanted to compile a list of the things you need to know in order to get the most out of your experience. If you follow these simple tips, you and your dog are sure to be at the top of your class!
1. Bring extra special food rewards!
Group training classes are full of exciting, interesting, and distracting things. Let’s be real, your dog would much rather explore and socialize than learn to "stay". What's a dog parent to do? Up the ante! Bring some sort of reward that your dog would never get at home, like boiled chicken or string cheese. It can also be helpful to bring an extra special toy to keep things interesting! Get creative and have fun with it.
Bonus tip: Having a pet treat pouch can also be very helpful. Treat pouches allow you to reinforce behavior much faster and more easily than having treats in a plastic bag or in your pocket.
2. Ask Questions
If your teacher explains something that you don't quite understand, ask follow up questions. As instructors, we do not expect our students to be dog trainers. We love when pet owners go the extra mile to understand the content taught in class. Don't be shy! If you need extra help with something, speak up, that's what we’re here for!
3. Take your dog outside
If the only place (outside of your normal home/walk routine) you bring your dog each week is training class — good luck! Imagine if you only left your home for one outing a week, and this outing was the only place where you had the opportunity to hang out with other people, and here you were expected to give someone your undivided attention.
Now imagine you were a puppy being asked to do this. It’s the same for our dogs!
When you give your puppy or dog the opportunity to become accustomed to being in new places a few times a week, this ensures they are being set up for success and can learn and engage successfully when they actually go to their weekly dog training class. The goal is to desensitize your dog to the hustle and bustle of the outside world. This way, group dog training class will just be another place of the many places they get to go.
Getting your dog to a new place away from your regular home/walking route at least three times a week is a great start!
4. Practice during the week
Just like any experience, you will get out of your group dog training class what you put into it. If your dog only practices the skills taught in class, in class, then you won't get very much out of it. Practice the skills you’re learning in your group dog training class everywhere! Practice at home, on walks, in the car, at the park, and any public place where dogs are allowed; practice in busy areas with distractions.
If you need more inspiration or guidance, ask your trainer for homework assignments. We have plenty of ideas on how to make this training stuff stick.
5. Be patient!
This is likely going to be one of the most difficult and demanding experiences your dog will ever have! Don't expect your dog to be perfect by the end of the first class. In fact, expect them to be all over the place. Group class for your dog is like what Disneyworld is for a small child. There's so much going on and it’s super distracting. Try to be kind and understanding of this, or better yet, enjoy it! Dogs are hilarious. Revel in the joy and ridiculousness of your dogs behavior and try not to worry so much about them being perfect right away. It's also important to be patient with yourself! This stuff is not easy and learning to 'speak dog' can be a little daunting at first. Give yourself time and you'll be fluent in no time.
6. Don't stop training stop after class is over because training never stops!
This is the big one. One of the most common questions I've been asked as an animal trainer is, 'How long does it take to train a [insert any species of animal here]?' I think this question is indicative of a general misunderstanding of what training actually is.
Training is teaching. Learning to train your dog is simply learning how to teach your dog in a way that they will understand. When a student is training to become a doctor for example, there is a school/university period, certainly, but the training never really ends. The doctor is practicing their basic skills every day and is hopefully taking opportunities to learn new ones. Luckily for us our average pet doesn't need to learn how to perform surgery, but the general concept of training and learning and communicating is universal. Have your dog practice those basic skills every day, and try to continue to expand those basic behaviors throughout their lives.
7. Make it fun!
Training class does not need to be serious. It should be fun! If you aren't having fun in class, your dog probably isn't either. Dogs learn through play — the more playful you can be in class, the better. And the best part about making it fun is that you will enjoy class more as well!