By: Amber Roberts
Obedience training is an excellent step in your relationship with your dog. Whether you have a new dog or a dog who could use a brush-up on manners, a basic dog obedience class is a great way to build a foundation of skills that will benefit both you and your dog in the long run. Additionally, training classes allow you to bond with your dog and allow him the opportunity to learn and exercise his mind, as well as his body. You’ve enrolled your dog in formal obedience classes; so what can you expect next?
How should I prepare for class?
Your initial class may be a humans-only orientation. This provides an opportunity to make sure you know what to expect, without the flurry of fur that comes with a roomful of distracted dogs in a new place.
Prior to class, make sure your dog is properly vaccinated and healthy enough to attend a class. This will require a trip to the veterinarian for a physical exam and vaccinations. You may need to submit your vaccine or health records to the trainer before your first class.
To make the most of each class you will want to bring along any supplies your trainer recommends, which may include:
- A dog collar with identification tags
- A non-retractable leash
- Bring a few varieties so you can find the best motivator for your dog
- For some dogs, a toy or praise may work better than food
- A treat bag
- A clicker
What will my dog learn?
If you have a puppy between eight weeks to six months of age, he may benefit from a puppy kindergarten class. Puppy classes tend to focus on socialization and may introduce some basic obedience skills, while basic obedience classes are geared towards dogs six months of age and older and will cover more ground.
A basic obedience class is more than sit and stay. Manners are important, but a beginner dog obedience class can help your pup learn about interacting with other dogs and people in addition to the many lessons on good behavior. Additionally, your dog is not the only one who will benefit from class; one of the goals of an obedience class is to hone your own training know-how with the help of your trainer. She will also be available to discuss additional behaviors you observe at home.
Enrolling in a group class can help your dog learn how to listen while surrounded by distractions, work on socializing with other dogs and people, and figure out how to pay attention even when you’re not at home.
A class size between five and ten dog and owner pairs is common. A small class size is ideal to help keep all of the dogs focused, and to ensure you’re getting any necessary one on one attention you may need from your trainer.
Skills you can expect to work on at a basic level are:
- Name recognition
- Leave it
- Polite greetings
- Leash walking
How does my dog learn?
You may expect to see a room full of dogs and their owners, the words “sit” and “down” ringing through the air until the dogs comply. The reality may be much different. Trainers will usually recommend that you limit the number of times you make a request. Instead of demanding that your dog sit, you should lure your dog into the correct position, state the command, and praise your dog for a job well done.
You may be wondering why you’d praise your dog for something you tricked him into doing. Your dog may not have known he was sitting when you said it, but because he wants to please you he will likely repeat the action in order to receive more treats and praise. If you reinforce the behaviors you desire, he will remember and repeat those behaviors in the future.
Positive reinforcement, providing a reward in response to the behavior you’re trying to achieve, is the most recommended training method. Reinforcement doesn’t always mean handing over treats and food. Part of training is phasing out the treats and replacing the food reward with praise. Many trainers recommend clicker training; the use of treats along with the “click” of a handheld clicker will teach your dog that a “click” means a job well done. Trainers also make use of a word such as “yes!” or “good!” rather than the sound of a click, making sure to use the word every time your dog receives a treat or does what you’ve asked.
How long does dog training take?
Training classes tend to run for six to ten weeks, meeting once or twice per week. This provides a good amount of time to work on basic manners and training, but every dog is different; breed (some may be more calm or excitable than others), age, and prior training should all be taken into consideration when setting expectations for your dog.
Practice is also important! If you’re working with your dog only once per week at class but not reinforcing that learning at home you won’t be doing either of you any favors. The skills you learn at class should be applied daily: practice at home, at the dog park, or while you’re walking. Without consistency your dog may struggle with the basics, and you will likely fall behind in class. Short practice sessions will help you and your dog advance your skills, so take five minutes a few times per day to have some fun practicing the skills you are learning at class.
While practicing new skills with your dog, there are some things to keep in mind. Training should be fun, so keep it short and simple at first. Always end your training sessions on a positive note, and don’t push your dog to continue if he seems to be getting frustrated.
Basic obedience classes are not meant to resolve larger behavioral issues (like leash aggression). If you have behavioral concerns aside from basic obedience and manners, you may need a private consultation and additional training. If you have other training needs, your trainer can assess your dog’s behavior and make recommendations for further instruction.
Should I enroll in a group class or private class?
You may find that a group class is not the best learning environment for your dog. A reactive dog may benefit from a smaller class size or private lessons. A very shy dog may do well in a group class if given the time and space necessary to feel comfortable. If you communicate with your trainer and pay attention to your dog’s signals and body language you can find the right training option to meet your needs.
Experienced dog owners may wonder if a class environment is necessary. You may have the skills you need to teach your dog, but you have much to gain by attending a basic obedience class. The socialization that a class offers is a wonderful thing for your dog, especially if you don’t often have a chance to visit with other dogs. And the opportunity to learn in a new environment will help your dog learn that no matter where you are, he should practice his skills and manners. The trainer may also be able to offer new methods or make recommendations to give your training a boost.
If you start off on the right foot with your dog you can spend more time enjoying each other’s company and less time struggling with impolite behavior. Basic obedience training classes are a great option to supplement the daily training you practice at home.