Dog training classes can be a fantastic and enriching experience for both person and pet. Through them, you and your dog can learn how to better communicate, how to work as a team and how to more fully understand one another. You can troubleshoot common problems and challenges, and you can set your dog up for success by teaching them how to focus, learn and cope with frustration. However, not all dog training classes are created equal, and before you commit time, money and effort into attending a weekly training class, you need to make sure you’ve chosen one that will be worthwhile and beneficial for you and your pup! Here are some tips to assist you in finding a great training class that both you and your dog will enjoy.
1. Choose a Positive Reinforcement Training Class
There are a couple different schools of dog training out there, but the one that’s the most enjoyable and accessible is positive reinforcement. Trainers that use positive reinforcement will help you focus on teaching your dog when they did something right as well as offering better behaviors to try when they make mistakes. Positive reinforcement is fun for both owner and dog, and it encourages a lifelong love of learning in both. The tenet of positive reinforcement training is simply this: ‘rewarding a dog for behaviors you like will make those behaviors happen more often. Not rewarding a dog for behaviors you don’t like will make those behaviors happen less often.’ It’s an approach that’s both gentle and powerful, and it’s a training method that allows any family member to participate in training, no matter their size, strength or age. Positive reinforcement training is based on the science of learning theory, and good trainers are regularly learning more and sharing what they’ve learned with others.
2. Watch Out for Red Flag Words and Phrases
There are certain words and phrases that are red flags in dog training, and if the trainer you’re considering for classes uses them, you may want to look elsewhere, or at the very least, request clarification. Avoid training classes that tout using “dominance” or “pack theory”, promise to teach your dog “submission” or assure that you’ll become your dog’s “alpha”. These are antiquated terms based on a method of training that the science of learning theory has disproven for decades. These types of training classes tend to focus on using punishment and leash corrections. Such methods can cause behavioral problems and weaken the bond of trust between you and your dog.
3. Avoid Pinches, Prongs and Punishment
Similar to the red flag phrases above, there are some training tools you also want to avoid using. Steer clear of training classes that advocate the use of pinch collars (also called choke chains), prong collars, shock collars or any other method of physical punishment. Trainers who use these tools will usually call the yanks on the collars “leash corrections” and probably won’t refer to them as punishment. However, if the methodology of the class is essentially “correct your dog when they make a mistake, so they don’t make it again”, that class is using punishment, and this type of training is stressful for you and your dog. Punishment based training can create or exacerbate behavior problems, weaken the human-animal bond and can’t be used by the entire family.
4. Ask Questions
When you’ve found a class and a trainer that look good on paper (or internet), reach out to them and ask a few questions. What type of training do they use and why? How does their approach benefit the dog and their owner? What skills do they like to focus on and why? A good trainer will be happy to answer these questions and explain the theory behind the practice.
5. Sit In On A Class
Most trainers are more than happy to allow prospective students to sit in on a class to get the feel for their teaching style and approach. Once you’ve arranged a time and class to observe, come without your dog so you can focus your attention on the trainer and the students. Is the trainer explaining things in ways that are clear to you? Does he or she thoughtfully answer student questions? Do the dogs and owners in the class seem to be enjoying themselves? Did you? Sitting in on the right training class should make you feel excited to join the next round with your dog.
6. Be Picky About Playtime
Some training classes, especially those for puppies, devote a portion of each class to play and socialization. This can be great, or it can be something of a disaster. When you sit in on your class, if there’s playtime, watch how it works. Is the trainer supervising and teaching owners how to read their dogs? Do any dogs appear stressed or overwhelmed? (Look for the ones that are hiding under chairs or constantly trying to move away from another dog that keeps on following and trying to play.) It’s better to pick a class with no playtime than one that’s poorly organized. Bad experiences during play sessions can leave some dogs, especially young ones, with lifelong anxieties about interacting with other dogs.
7. Training Class Should Be Fun!
Perhaps the most important tip of all, the training class you choose should be a blast. You and your dog should look forward to attending each week and should enjoy the behaviors you practice between class sessions. Above all, look for a class that you’re excited to attend, whose trainer makes you feel enthusiastic about teaching your dog and motivates you both to keep on learning, even after class graduation.
Dog training classes can be a huge benefit for you and your dog. You’ll learn a lot of useful practical skills, but even more importantly, you’ll be teaching your dog how to learn. That skill is even more valuable than the tricks and tips you’ll be getting every week, because it sets the stage for a lifetime of working together, solving problems and resolving challenges as they arise. Attending the right dog training class is one of the best things you can do to strengthen the relationship between you and your pet.