I just finished up one of my favorite classes I've ever taught or taken. The class was my new Real World Adventure class, which met at a different, diverse location each week and worked on practical skills in real world locations. The handlers and their dogs had a blast and all made improvement every week. Some thrived on the hiking trail, some in the feed store, but all of them gained a diverse skill set and it was a wonderful dive back into teaching for me after over a year away from them.
One thing I want to talk about is the importance of group classes in any dog's training experiences. Every single one of my dogs, including Tabiri, has been through group classes at some point in their life. The first thing I did after scheduling what day my new puppy was coming home was sign them up for puppy classes. Why? You might ask, considering I teach puppy classes I shouldn't need them in order to train my puppy. And that's true, whether I'm taking a class from a coworker or a training facility unaffiliated to myself, most times I know the material being taught. However, classes aren't only for teaching skills. They provide a structured, controlled environment with which to practice and bond with your dogs.
Let's look at my favorite benefits of group classes:
1. High Distraction but Controlled Environment - whether I'm working with a new puppy who needs to build up their positive experiences with the world or a new rescue who needs to build confidence, doing that in a real world setting is tricky because it's entirely possible the unexpected can happen to give you setbacks - whether that's an off leash dog in your face, a child running up and pulling your dog's tail, or someone laying on the horn. In class, that is less of a concern because every dog is on leash, every dog is vetted, children running up to dogs can be easily intercepted, and in the typical environment there aren't odd and unexpected stimulus.
2. Practice Being Around Dogs and People and Not Interacting - One of the problems owners of friendly dogs encounter in public is that people want to say hi to their dog. In short order, it's very easy for that dog to become conditioned to expecting to say hi to every person and dog they meet. This can lead to the dog pulling wildly toward every single person or dog they pass. In class, the dogs get to practice being around other people and dogs and not interacting. This is a hugely underrated skillset. Similarly, if you have a nervous dog who always has people and dogs invading their space, class gives the dog a safe space where they can decompress, learn, and build confidence.
3. Practice and Repetitions - if I'm honest with myself, even I don't work with my dogs as often as I really should. Class gives me motivation to actually do my homework. It also allows me to practice behaviors and skills multiple times in class so my dog can start to get those skills in their muscle memory.
4. Troubleshooting - a good instructor will be able to help your troubleshoot any issues you might be having with your dog. That might be something you can practice in class like your dog is very slow to move into a Down. Or it could be something you just talk through such as a house breaking issue.
5. Demo Dogs - not every instructor has one, but a good trainer's demo dog is worth their weight in gold. They can demonstrate finished skills so that owners understand how a behavior should look. They might be able to provide boundaries and structure to a pushy puppy or coax a shy puppy out of their shell. They may simply provide a neutral, unreactive dog to those people whose dogs are struggling with dog distractions. This is something that you don't necessarily have access to out in the "wild".
6. Specialty Classes - Most trainers and facilities have the standard straightforward classes such as Puppy Manners, Adult Manners, Advanced Puppy, Advanced Adult, and so forth. However, there are also classes such as Agility, Scent Work, Reactive Rover, Fearful Fido, Troublesome Teens, Control Unleashed, and Real World Adventure classes that focus in on a more specific skill set. These are the classes I live for as a teacher because they're flexible and more fast-paced.
7. Requirements are Often Flexible - One of the reasons when I was first stating off with Argos that I didn't enroll in class was because he was far beyond the basics, but the 102 class had prerequisites. However, if you ask, most instructors are happy to chat and evaluate your dog to see what class is the best fit.
8. Support - In big facilities, it can be harder for trainers to take the time with each handler, but those trainers should still be a wealth of advice and support should you be struggling. They should be celebrating your victories with you.
9. Breed Promotion and Visibility - This point doesn't apply to everyone, but it's a piece that purebred fanciers often forget. The more your breed is visible, the more you're promoting the breed. While I worked at a training facility we sometimes had breeds come in and bring their keeper puppy. We had a Mastiff breeder, a Glenn of Imaal Terrier breeder, a Silken Windhound breeder and more. And invariably, people asked them about their dogs. They got to talk about their breeds, show off their stable temperaments, and their classmates left more knowledgeable about the breed. This is an aspect we so often forget to promoting our dog breeds - if they're not visible to the public, they might as well not exist. You might not need to training help with a puppy you bred, but it's still nice socialization practice and breed promotion.
Now, not all group classes are made equally. I have audited classes (a service most trainers offer if you aren't sure if a class is the right fit) and chosen to go elsewhere. I have enrolled in a class and felt it wasn't the right fit for me and my dog. You should absolutely feel valued by your instructor. Everyone should be getting the amount of individual attention they need for a dog to succeed. And the class shouldn't be generic with the same solution applied across every dog and every problem. Dogs are individuals and their struggles need to be approached with that in mind.
When I send my Azawakh puppies home, I cannot stress enough how much a good group class can help aid in confidence building and socialization.
If you are interested in classes with me you can sign up for classes here:
If you aren't in my area, I'm happy to chat about how to find a good trainer near you.