First, let me preface this post with the statement that my dogs are not perfect. They have done well and are therapy dog certified, but I still need guidance as a handler and always will, and their training is ongoing – far past the certification. So, with that being said…
I have lots of folks who ask me about the training process – both for therapy dog certification and in general. Not everyone wants to head towards a therapy dog certification, and that is totally understandable. And let’s face it, it’s not for all dogs or all handlers. I am always impressed by folks who pursue other training adventures – agility amazes me, and if you haven’t watched Fly Ball, you’re missing out! I definitely recommend that everyone work on skills at home in the comfort of their own home… but also recommend getting into a group class.
My two cents on group training is this: DO IT. Your dog will lead a happier life as a result of being able to be with you more because of positive behaviors. You will lead a happier life as a dog parents as a result of being able to take them places. It is worth the time and financial investment to find a class(es) and follow through with them. And remember, the classes don’t train the dog – the classes train the handler on HOW to train the dog. That training comes on your own time, but furthers the canine-human bond ten-fold.
Group classes also foster more than just your dog’s obedience skills. Being in a close proximity to other dogs is a huge win, and something that you really can’t replicate at home even if you have multiple pets (they already know each other). And, it’s a controlled environment, unlike letting your pet roam at the dog park while anxiously hoping that an aggressive dog doesn’t come into the ring.. because at that point, all bets are off. In addition, you make connections with other dog handlers, learn about canine signs of stress, discuss leash handling, and if you’re in a great training group like I have been fortunate enough to be in, you also learn about nutrition, essential oils, and much, much more.
I will also pose the thought that registering your dog for puppy class and puppy class alone probably won’t achieve the skills, socialization, and behaviors that you’re after. Just like humans, dogs need reinforcement. Puppy class will most certainly get them off to the right start provided that you continue to work with them, but the next level is also preferable. Remember, you don’t have do this for their whole life if you don’t want to (we all have different goals). But, like young children, it is important to lay the groundwork for an excellent, safe, and loving relationship early on.
Do your homework on the training site. Who is the trainer and what are their methods? What is the environment like? Approximately how many dogs will be in the class? And yes, check the cost, but remember that less is not always more. You don’t need to break the bank, but looking for the cheapest may not be the best for you or your dog (just like dog food… which will be a topic for another day).
I owe so much gratitude to Gail Furst and the Pet Connections program (https://ontarioarc.org/services/support-services/pet-connections/). I have worked with Gail since Katie was a puppy, and have been thankful to be able to work with her throughout the training of all three of my dogs. If you aren’t able to work with Gail, pick someone like her. The facility is spotless, she is kind yet has clear expectations, she covers way more information in a class than just the training, and she truly wants you and your pup to learn and succeed. I have also had the pleasure of working at Finger Lakes Pet Resort. Charlie took two puppy classes there last summer (Mary is fantastic!), and we actually trained at their facility with one of Gail’s classes. It is a clean, loving environment, and their grooming and daycare/boarding options enhance the venue. Again, regardless of where you train, just do your homework first.
Group training? YES!
(If your dog is not comfortable around other dogs, consider checking if your training venue or trainer will offer private lessons to get you started. I fully understand that there are dogs that would not thrive in a group class for other reasons – I am writing this based on the dogs that can handle it.)