Group obedience classes aren’t for every dog out there. In fact, you’d be surprised at how many dogs shouldn’t be in a group class. That may surprise you, especially coming from someone who teaches group dog training classes for a living and who, by the way, happens to think that group classes are a real benefit to most dogs.
No one really gets “kicked out” of classes, if we’re being honest. I know a lot of people say their dog was kicked out, but in all the years of teaching classes, I’ve never kicked a dog (or human) out of my classes.
Here are some of the reasons I’ve recommended against group classes for some of my clients:
- The dog is too frightened in class. Dogs are scared for lots of reasons: they’ve had a traumatic experience, they never got out much before they were 12 weeks old (lack of socialization), or they’re just skittish by nature. For these dogs, I recommend to the owner that we do some in-home private lessons first, to see how much progress we can make in a quieter, less stressful situation.
- The dog isn’t friendly toward other dogs. Unfriendly dogs in a group class is an accident waiting to happen. It’s not fair to the other dogs in class (or to the unfriendly one!) to be put in that situation. Group classes are for dogs who don’t have any issues with other dogs (other than lack of self control). Again, for unfriendly dogs, in-home training is the recommended course of action.
- The dog isn’t friendly toward people. Another unfair and unmanagable situation for the dogs and their owners. It’s a question of safety. Unfriendly dogs need more than general “good manners” behaviors. There’s a larger, more serious underlying problem that needs to be addressed. It’s important for unfriendly dogs to have one-on-one interaction in a controlled, distraction-free environment if real progress is expected.
- Excessive barking. Out of control barkers usually fall into one of the above categories (scared, anxious, or unfriendly in some way). Excessive barking, for me, means uncontrolled barking that lasts at least 50% of the time in class, and it persists even when the barking dog can’t see any other dogs. In this case, the dog is way over the threshold where he can learn anything. Excessive barking is an indication that class is just too much for the dog at the moment. In-home coaching can help the owners teach the dog is a less distracting and stimulating environment and allows the dog to actually learn something instead of having the owner just try to quiet the dog.
When anyone “gets kicked out of class,” it’s not because their dog is bad. It’s because the dog needs a quieter, less distracting environment in order to have success. Once some in-home training has instilled the basic good manners behaviors and the owners (and dog) have learned some basics, re-entry into group classes is a real possibility. It’s never a badge of shame!
Never fear — all dogs can learn. Your trainer is setting you and your dog up for optimal success when she suggests in-home training.
Your turn: have you experienced success with private lessons with your dog?
Absolutely! Rex was completely untrained as a 2 1/2 year old rescue…and leash reactive. Very. Three blocks away, a dog I could barely see elicited an explosion of bark/lunge/snarl/growl/hackles raised. Well. We couldn’t very well go into a class situation and scare the bejeesus out of everyone, two-and four-footed alike. Hence, I’ve worked, on and off with a couple of trainers for three years, with great success. We have also successfully completed (and learned a ton from) a growly-dog class, but only at the recommendation of our wonderful trainer, who knew he was at the point where he could succeed, and that I was motivated enough to make it work. Private coaching has made all the difference for both of us. I highly recommend the one-on-one that a skilled, positive-rewards trainer can offer.
Above, in 4) do you mean “way over threshold where the dog CAN’T learn anything?” Well, they’ll always learn something… ):
Thanks for all your great information, posts and humor. Still waitin’ for you to open a branch office in the Pacific NW.
Laurie Luck says
Hi Jeanne, thanks for stopping by! Yes, we know about leash reactivity with our sweet Lily. Put her on a leash and she appears very scary. In reality, without her leash, she’s very appropriate with other dogs.
Yes, there are situations where *no* learning is taking place. It’s akin to being chased by a serial killer: when you’re running, you have no idea where you’re going, where you’ve been, or what you’ve done. It’s straight up flight or fight. In that mode, no learning is taking place. The sympathetic nervous system is in control and it’s only worry is keeping you alive, not in teaching you (or your dog) anything.
Thanks again for stopping in!