Updated: Feb 12
We are huge fans of group classes for dog training, but just because we love and enjoy doing them does not mean group class is the right format for all dogs. They are a fantastic format for dogs to learn skills so long as they are done at the correct time for the dog.
At K9 Culture Dog Training, we are very strategic in how we incorporate group classes into our dog training programs. We start with the concept of always set your dog up for success and one of the great advantages of group class is also one of its challenges to effective training with your dog if not done in the proper sequence.
For those unfamiliar with group class and their format, it is basically a group of 10 to 25 dog owners working with their dogs at the same time in an instructor led environment. This format is great for helping dogs learn how to ignore other dogs and people and instead, learn how to focus on their owner despite the distractions. This is an excellent skill that ALL dogs need to learn.
The problem with many group classes is other than a 1 on 1 private lesson, this is the only format of training many dog trainers provide. This becomes a severe problem for a dog just starting training for we have found it is way too much stimulation for most dog’s skill level and ability to manage their energy and impulses to just jump right into. It is much like jumping in the deep end of the pool and you have not been taught how to swim yet, it usually does not go very well.
This type of group class curriculum causes a lot of stress to the owner for it is natural to become frustrated when your dog is not doing well or perhaps “loosing their cool,” because they have not been taught how to cope with the level of distractions present. Once the owner begins to become frustrated, the dog smells it and becomes frustrated and then everything goes down hill from there. We have so many each month that come to us because they felt they got nowhere doing group classes with other trainers for this was the format those dog training companies used.
First, we need to teach your dog how to manage their energy and exercise impulse control. While we build these two skills with your dog they should also be taught how to focus on with distractions and then lay a foundation of basic obedience commands. Only after these four areas are established should a dog begin group classes. By following this process, we find our dogs have a lot of fun at group, are more engaged with their owner and learn faster. The other benefit is the owner does not get the sense of overwhelm that can happen when their dog was clearly not ready to be in a group of a dozen or more other dogs.
Group classes for your dog are certainly important. They just need to be added to your dog’s training program at the right stage and all dogs learn at a different pace and because of that, there should be no hard and fast rule of “X” number of training days and your dog starts group classes. Each dog is unique in how they learn, how they communicate, their ability to focus and a myriad of other emotional factors. This why we base the start of group class attendance on the progress of each dog’s training and skill level. We know the first one or two group classes any dog starts will be a bit challenging, but by doing what we can to properly prepare them for the adjustment in distractions, the transition goes much faster and creates a better bond between the dog and owner. The dog feels like they know what the rules are and how to win before they start playing the game which is how it should be for we want the dog to be able win and not get frustrated.
A good group class should not have too few nor too many dogs. The least number of dogs in a fun and engaging group class should be no less than five dogs but anything over 20 dogs is far too many dogs for even a highly skilled dog trainer to manage effectively. We find the ideal number is eight to twelve dogs.
Unfortunately, not all group classes are designed to be greatly beneficial for you and your dog. A growing trend in the dog training industry is a business model of nothing but group classes that are led by an instructor that runs the class from a manual filled with step by step exercises. The drawback of this type of dog group class is the instructor is more of a moderator not a trainer. It takes a dog trainer working with and actually doing all of the training with a minimum of 100 dogs before a certain degree of competency and knowledge is acquired. Group classes lead by a trainer that does not actually train dogs one on one for clients just does not have a same skills as a seasoned trainer that has personally trained a couple hundred dogs for every dog in the class has a different temperament, issue they need help with, energy and ability to manage their impulses. This is not even considering the fact that each owner also has varying degrees of confidence, handler skills and leadership with their dog.
When selecting the right dog training program for you and your dog, you should consider first what your goals are you want to achieve from training. What is you End Goal you want accomplished?
Next, find a dog training company that has full-time dog trainers that actually train dogs, not just read from or refer to a manual on what to do.
After that, pick the trainer that most closely aligns with your philosophy and you feel can help you and your pup get to your goals through a combination of Day Training, Day and Train Programs, Board and Training, Private Lessons AND Group Classes as a strategic mixture of the training implemented at the correct time for your dog.
Have Fun with your dog, and see you in Group Class!
K-9 Culture Dog Training