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Guide to finding a good training class

First Contact

You should be able to speak to the instructor themselves or another person who can give you appropriate information.  If you book online, someone should call you back to discuss your needs rather than simply being slotted into a class.

This person should be able to explain the methods used in class and justify them in terms of current research into dog cognition, behaviour and training.  They should also explain the equipment recommended.

They should provide you with a client and dog profile to complete and discuss this with you before you attend a class with your dog.

Class numbers

Delta Society recommends 4 puppies in a baby puppy class (up to 6 if space permits and there are at least 2 instructors) and 6 older dogs (up to 8 with 2 instructors).  The larger the class the less opportunity the instructor has to get to know you and your dog and the greater chance that the class will be generic, rather than catering to the specific needs of class members. 

The Venue

All classes for puppies who have not completed their vaccinations should be held on a disinfectable surface.  While these are usually held at veterinary practices, other venues may be appropriate.  There should be adequate space to avoid physical contact when puppies walk to the end of their leads.  If at a veterinary practice, classes should take place out of hours and there should be alternative arrangements so after hours cases do not enter the class.  There should be sufficient seating for all participants. 

Classes for older dogs are usually held in larger venues – most in Australia are held outdoors but some may be in community halls or undercover areas.  There should be few or no distractions – if in a public area, the instructor should have contingency plans to manage this. There must be sufficient seating and space between dogs.

The Instructor

While formal qualifications in dog behaviour and training are desirable they are not mandatory. As the industry is unregulated, those conducting training can call themselves experts and specialists so be sure to explore the experience of the instructor.  Experience in training security dogs or in the services does not necessarily qualify instructors to conduct companion dog classes.

The Program

The puppy or foundation program should be a defined length and the instructor should explain what you can expect to achieve by its conclusion.  You should receive written notes and homework.

The instructor should have each lesson planned before the program commences but should retain flexibility to change this to suit the needs of class members.

The program should focus on real world exercises rather than the stricter form of competitive obedience.  Exercises should include sit and down and walking on a loose lead rather than heel.  The instructor should also be able to advise on common issues owners experience e.g. toilet training and mouthing for puppies and jumping up and walking nicely for older dogs. Their recommendations should not be punishment based but should focus on teaching appropriate behaviour and rewarding it.

It is highly desirable that the first lesson is held without dogs or puppies. This ensures that class members can concentrate on the class material and they are informed on important issues like class entry and exits, how to manage their dogs at the next class etc.  It also allows the instructor to get to know clients and discuss their needs.  A competent instructor may recommend private lessons at this stage for dogs who may have issues in group classes.

The instructor should establish and maintain a calm atmosphere in class with dogs relaxing on mats when not performing active exercises.  They should focus on assisting owners to “read” their dogs’ body language and respond to it before the dog becomes concerned.  Class focus should be on calm relaxed behaviour of people and dogs at all times.

Referrals

Companion dog training classes are not suitable for all dogs.  Some dogs have issues with their behaviour which are not resolvable with training and instructors should have a referral network to assist the owners of these dogs.  This should include veterinarians and veterinary behaviour consultants.

Summary

Dog training classes play an important role, not just in training the dogs but also in educating owners to manage their dogs responsibly.  But they should also be fun for owners and dogs.