Group Dog Training Classes
by Kathryn R. Gubista, PhD
As professional dog trainers, we receive lots of inquiries for group classes/sessions. While this may seem like a logical first step in training, group classes are not ideal learning situations for untrained, novice dogs. In addition, dogs with behavioral issues, such as anxiety, aggression, fear, etc., really struggle in group settings. Why are group classes so challenging?
Dog Class = High Stress Situation
Group classes are high stress situations because of all the distractions. Many dogs are stressed and restless just seeing other dogs and/or people. If class is held outside, add a new level of distractions with the sight and smell of squirrels, rabbits, bicycles, cats, birds, leaves, etc. Group classes are stimulation overloads. Training new skills to novice dogs requires quiet and calm, which are not features of group class environments.
How to Learn Training Skills
Low stress situations are optimal when teaching novice dogs new skills. Private sessions are less stressful than group classes because other dogs/people are not present. However, the presence of other dogs can be helpful in training. This is true only if trained therapy dogs are working with novice dogs in friendly, social environments. Socializing and training dogs in calm, friendly environments is the fastest, easiest way to train new skills because dogs are relaxed and happy.
Value of Group Sessions
So, if group classes are not the place to teach new skills to novice dogs, what is their value in training? Group classes are great way to practice training skills in higher distraction situations. First, group classes include a teacher who can guide the class and monitor any problems. In addition, dogs become comfortable around other dogs when they see each other regularly.
How to Learn Socialization
Often times, people hope group classes include socialization with other dogs. However, group classes are not the venue to practice socialization skills. Group classes should focus on obedience, leash skills, self-control and other related skills. Dogs should be under control and not interacting with other dogs. Board and Train (B&T) programs that provide playtime and group training are the optimal way to provide socialization training.
Group Class Opportunities
Our training programs include group classes to supplement private sessions and B&T programs. Group classes provide an invaluable opportunity to practice basic obedience and leash skills in high distraction situations. The classes are important for both you and your dog to build confidence to take on any challenging public situations. All our clients are encouraged to attend our weekly group classes during our 8-month group class season (March-October). Just like mastering anything, practice makes perfect and group classes are a great way to practice dog training skills with distractions.
How to Optimize Dog Group Classes
What is the best way to optimize dog group classes? First, basic obedience and leash skills should be learned in low distraction situations. Once basic skills are learned, dogs should start attending regular group classes. Dogs who previously exhibited leash reactivity can learn how to be accepting of other dogs through the combination of private sessions and/or B&T supplemented with group sessions. Please contact us for more information.
Kathryn R. Gubista, PhD is an evolutionary biologist, college biology instructor, former zookeeper, author and certified professional dog trainer with Lucky Dog Training Asheville. Please follow us on Instagram @TrainingLuckyDogs and @KyloRenPup. Please contact us for more information at TrainingLuckyDogs@gmail.com or call us at 828-423-9635.