Dog Training Classes

It’s a sad fact that many of the behaviors that lead to so many dogs being abandoned and put down–house-soiling, chewing, barking, and the like–are completely preventable, and often treatable. All that’s needed is some time and a commitment from you, the new owner, to teaching your dog good canine manners.

A group obedience class is the best way for most owners to learn how to do just that. Unlike a book or video, a live class offers:

  • Tailored advice and feedback from a professional dog trainer.
  • The chance for your dog to get comfortable around people and other dogs. This is especially important for raising a safe, friendly puppy.
  • An opportunity for your dog to practice listening to you with a ton of distractions around.
  • A regular date with your dog when you can learn to better understand each other and bond.

There’s an abundance of training classes out there, but because the dog training industry isn’t regulated, you’ll find a wide range of quality, too. It helps to do a little homework before you enroll.

How to find a training class

The best way is through word of mouth. Ask your vet, the breeder or shelter where you got your dog, the local humane society, as well as dog owners in your neighborhood for recommendations. If you spot a dog at the park with stellar obedience skills, ask her owner if they went to a local class.

You can also search for trainers in your area on the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) website and ask if they teach classes. The APDT doesn’t screen its members, but it encourages them to use humane methods and to keep up with the latest thinking in dog training and behavior.

Signs of a good class

Ask if you can sit in on a class and watch the instructor in action. Here are the signs you’re on the right track:

The trainer uses treats, praise, and games to teach. These methods are considered more effective–not to mention more humane–than physical punishments such as jerking the leash, shaking the dog by the scruff, rolling the dog onto his back, and any other technique that frightens or hurts the dog.

Puppy classes allow time for supervised off-leash play. When puppies play-fight, they teach each other to mouth softly instead of biting hard. That lesson–called bite inhibition–is a crucial part of raising a dog who’s safe around people as well as other dogs. To get this benefit out of a group class, the puppies need play time.

The class requires proof of vaccination for all dogs. Otherwise, your dog’s at risk of catching a doggy disease.

There’s a cap on the number of students. Any more than about 15 students, and you’ll have a hard time getting any one-on-one attention and feedback. Not to mention that more than 15 dogs in one room can quickly turn chaotic.

The group classes are separated by level and the age of the dog. Expect separate classes for puppies and adult dogs, and for different levels of obedience training.

The space is clean, orderly, and large enough to give the dogs some “personal space.” Cramming dogs into a small room together can make them overexcited or stressed.

The trainer clearly demonstrates and explains the exercises. She’s teaching you how to train, so she needs to be a good communicator with people as well as canines.

You can bring family members to class. Anyone who’s going to be training your dog will benefit from dropping in on the class to practice.

Students get some one-on-one time. A good instructor will spend part of the class going around the room while the human/dog pairs are practicing, in order to offer guidance and feedback.

The mood in the class is upbeat, and the other students–both human and canine–look like they’re having a good time.

What you’ll pay

Price varies widely, starting at about $75 for a series. Some shelters offer discounts on their classes if you adopt a dog or puppy from them.

Who needs private training

You won’t get much one-on-one attention from the trainer in a group class, so if you have a specific problem you want to work on, you may be better off with private sessions.

Also, private training may work better if you have a hectic schedule and would have a hard time making it to every class; they usually meet weekly for about an hour, and run for a few months.

Bottom line: A training class is the best way for most owners to teach their dog to be friendly and well behaved. Because dog training is completely unregulated, it’s a good idea to do some research before you enroll to ensure that you and your dog will have a productive and fun time in class.