You’ve got a puppy and you’re overwhelmed by his energy level and total lack of concern for your sanity, or you’re having problems with the dog you already have. You seek advice from your veterinarian, and he or she tells you to enroll in training classes. You can’t see how you can fit this into your busy schedule, or it’s just too much bother to go to classes for six or eight weeks, so you call a private trainer. Guess what? Nine times out of 10 you’ll get the same advice. Just what is so important about these classes?
If you’re starting with a puppy, socialization to other dogs and people at his age is crucial if he’s to develop into a nice, sociable dog. He’ll learn things in a good puppy class that are hard to compensate for when he’s older if you skip this step. Basic obedience is a must for older dogs. Even if you’ve trained dogs in the past, going to a class gives you the benefit of working around other dogs and people in a setting outside of your home and yard. Your dog will meet new people and new dogs, and he’ll learn that they aren’t scary or threatening. He’ll build up confidence if he needs it and learn to tone it down a bit if he’s already too confident. He’ll learn to pay attention to you when he’d rather be horsing around. He’ll learn acceptable manners. Your instructor will help you learn good training skills or fine-tune the ones you’ve already learned. And you can learn a lot from watching your fellow students.
Even those of us in the dog training business benefit from enrolling in a class. Like the shoemaker’s kid who goes barefoot, the dog trainer’s personal dogs sometimes have a lot less training than they should! Continuing on to more advanced classes or specialized training such as agility is great for dog and human alike. By the time you get to this level you’ve made good friends who enjoy doing the same things you do — having fun with your dogs.
What is the big deal about socialization? Without making the effort to socialize him well, you might wind up with one of those dogs that is okay with his family and his fellow house pets, but is frightened of visitors and timid outside of the home place, or who becomes overly territorial and protective of his environment and family. Dogs are like us — we benefit from exposure to more than just our own little world.
Now that you’re convinced that enrolling in obedience classes is a good idea, how do you find a good one? Ask your veterinarian for a recommendation. Ask a friend who has a nicely trained dog where they went. Check out the facility before you enroll. Is the building clean? Does the staff seem genuinely interested in you and your dog? Is their training philosophy acceptable to you? What about the trainers — how much experience do they have? Have they worked with a wide variety of breeds and mixes or just a few? Observe a class or two. Do they seem to know more than one way to train a dog? How are their people skills? Do they have a problem with your breed? (We all have breeds we’re not particularly thrilled to have in class, but good trainers don’t make anyone feel unwelcome.)
Does everybody get enough attention? Is anyone “lost” in the corner, not getting help they need? Do students with the trainer’s favorite breeds get the lion’s share of attention? Observe how the instructor handles difficult dogs — and difficult people. Do the students and dogs seem to be enjoying themselves? If everything looks good to you, then join up. You and your dog will be glad you did.
To those people who still say they just don’t have the time to properly train, socialize and exercise their dog, but still expect perfect behavior — maybe this isn’t the best time in your life to own a dog. It’s a serious commitment and it always takes time.