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Is a Group Dog Training Class Right for Your Dog?

Is Group Dog Training Right for Your Dog?

What Image Comes to Mind When I Say "Dog-Training Class"?

Odds are good you imagine about six dogs in a facility with an instructor standing in the middle demonstrating what to do.

I suspect this is what most people think of when they think of dog training. Maybe it’s because of the word “class”. We’ve all had classroom experiences. We’re used to classes being in a group. So, when people look for dog training, I think this is the default.

But, is this really the best setting to train a dog in? 

It depends…but probably not. 

Let’s look at what a group class is, the dynamics that go into it, and the pros and cons that come with training a dog in that kind of setting.

What is an In-Person Group Dog-Training Class Like?

Typically, here’s how a group class works.

You begin by filling out forms and signing up for class. Usually a group class of 6 weeks will run from $120–$180. So, $20–$30 per 45-minute session.

The first class may or may not be an orientation without dogs. If so, during that session a trainer will introduce the clients to the basics of the approach. 

After the orientation (if there is one) you have around six people bringing their dogs to a shared space. Sometimes it’s a smaller space, and sometimes a larger one. It all depends on what they have access to.

A trainer will ask, “can I borrow your dog” to one of the people and take the dog into the middle of the group so everyone can see. The instructor will then demonstrate how to teach your dog a skill, such as “sit” or “lay down”. Then, the clients will replicate what the instructor did with their own dogs. As they do so, the trainer will walk around the room and give tips to help them refine what they’re doing.

After people have had about 5 to 10 minutes to work with their dogs, the trainer will begin the process again with a new skill.

Eventually, the 45 minutes will be up, and the class will be over. The trainer will then start getting ready for the next class with a different set of dogs.

After the entire 6 week course is over, your dog will probably have learned how to do about 5 to 8 tricks (or “skills”). If you want to learn more than that, you will need to sign up for more 6-week courses at about $120–$180 each

Why Do People Choose In-Person Group Dog Training?

1. It is (seemingly) economical

When you compare the price of in-person group classes with in-person private dog training, it’s easy to see why most people are looking for in person group dog training.

Typically, when people are looking for “basic obedience” classes, a trainer will teach them how to train specific skills (this is not how I train, but is is typical). Since it takes time for people to practice the skills in a class regardless of the number of people and dogs present, private skill training will take about as many sessions a group training. However, you might be able to get by with only 4 to 5 classes rather than 6 with private training. 

Now, lets look at the cost difference. 

From what I’ve gathered, the average rates for in-person private lessons run between $100 to $125 for a 45-minute to an hour session. For a total of 5 sessions, that will run you $500. And it’s common to pay an additional charge for travel time if the dog trainer comes to your home. As I’ve already noted, group dog training is six sessions for around $120 to $180. Group classes cut the financial investment significantly. 

2. People want to use the class to "socialize" their dog

Unfortunately, this reason to take a dog to a group class is a misunderstanding of both “socialization” and how group classes operate. The errant assumption is that if they train around others with their dogs, then their dog will naturally become friendly around other dogs. 

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. In fact, the attempt can backfire (which I will discuss later).

For some dogs—those who are already social but not prone to hyperstimulation—in-person group classes do offer the opportunity to work around distractions. That might be helpful, up to a certain extent. 

Personally, I prefer to set dogs up for success from the very beginning and training, which includes having them in a less stimulating environment for learning, but other trainers see this as a benefit of working in a group. 

What Dogs Should NOT Be In a Group Class?

1. Dogs who struggle with fear

Not all dogs are comfortable around other dogs or people. Anytime you place a dog into an environment they don’t feel safe in, you are triggering and exercising the fear networks of the brain. That means each time you come into the setting, the likelihood is that the fear response will become stronger, not weaker. Before a dog is ready for a group environment like that, you need to work with the dog so that it can feel safe around other dogs and people. In my opinion, that’s a prerequisite for being in a group class.

2. Dogs who get overexcited

If a dog is triggered to the point of getting overexcited around other dogs or people, then the dog is “over threshold”. This is not a good mental space for learning. (Click here to read more about this.) 

Worse yet, this constant experience can lead to frustration on the part of the dog. Continued frustration can lead to displacement behaviors that may become aggressive. So, the more a dog is stuck in an environment in which it is constantly hyperstimulated, the more likely frustration is to build, which can lead to potential aggression. In order to be in a group class, this type of dog will need to learn how to be more calm around other dogs and people first. Again, I see this as a prerequisite for being in a group class.

Yes, this means group classes CAN make the issues worse

Fear and overexcitement are not behavior issues as much as they are emotional issues. If you want to address emotional issues by focusing on behavior (which is what the standard group class does), then you are barking up the wrong tree. 

Worse yet, for dogs who struggle with emotional issues, group classes are more likely to feed into the problems and make them worse rather than help overcome them. 

In both cases, I recommend you choose private lessons instead. 

Why I'm Not a Fan of In-Person Group Dog Training

Are there benefits to group dog training? For some dogs, yes, there are. As I’ve noted, they tend to be cheaper than private lessons and some dogs are able to learn how to respond amid distractions.

But overall, I think that the problems far outweigh the benefits.

1. They aren't really as cheap as they seem.

Imagine what it would be like to try to train six dogs in 45 minutes. Your group teaching time will probably take up about 15 minutes of that. That leaves you with 30 minutes. If you divide that among the six students, you will have approximately 5 minutes with each student, and that is it.

That means the focus of a group class is specifically on the agenda of the class. You won’t really have any time to ask the instructor about the real life issues you are having in your home with your dog. If you do get to ask them, you are going to get a very quick and short response that may not even be very helpful.

But, this is how a group class needs to be run. If the trainer were to spend 5 minutes with everyone specifically to address their in-home issues, that would take up 30 minutes of the class. That would leave only 15 minutes for the entire 45 minute agenda. It’s perfectly understandable as to why trainers are not going to be very helpful with the issues your dog may be struggling with.

The problem here is the nature of how group classes are typically structured. Group class time is for group learning, which means focusing on the agenda. If you need help with your dog outside of that, you would need to sign up for private lessons.

On top of all of this, (and here’s a little secret that many dog trainers don’t want you to know) a lot of the skills-based training you may find in a group class is available on YouTube for free.

So, going back to cost, you end up paying $20 to $30 for about 5 minutes of the instructors time and lessons that are available to everyone for free. Suddenly, it appears that in person group classes are not as cheap as they first seemed.

2. An in-person, group-class environment is not conducive to optimal attention for learning.

As I’ve already mentioned, many consider the distractions that surround the dog in a group class to benefit the learning experience. Earlier, I mentioned that as a possibility. However, I actually think that the distractions are a detrimental to learning in those early stages. Think about it this way…

Have you ever tried to listen to an audiobook while driving your car? Have you ever tried to listen to that same audiobook while driving your car through a busy city during rush hour? Your ability to absorb information from the audiobook decreases dramatically when your attention is challenged by distractions.

Here’s something to remember:

Stimulation drives arousal levels up. As arousal levels rise, the ability to process new information and learn goes down.

It’s the same when you’re trying to teach your dog. The ideal training situation involves an environment that is not stimulating to the dog. In other words, the best environment to teach in is your home without anyone visiting.

3. People generally sign up for dog training classes because they are facing struggles in the home, and group classes aren't designed to help with that.

When I meet with people in my initial free 30-minute phone appointment, one of the things I usually ask is whether they have worked with a professional dog trainer before. It’s not uncommon for people to say that they have taken their dogs through group classes in the past. 

When I ask them what they thought of the class, I rarely come across someone who has actually been happy with the experience. Usually, they are lukewarm.

This is not surprising in the least when you think about it. 

Remember, in-person group dog training classes are not designed to help people address problem behaviors. Group classes are designed to teach people a specific agenda.

That means that most people who sign up for group dog-training classes should be signing up for private lessons instead.

In private lessons, they get 100% of the trainer’s attention. The trainer is there to answer their questions and help them to learn how to deal with the struggles they face on a day-to-day basis with their dog…which is the opposite of what should happen in a properly-run group class.

So, it’s really no surprise when people come out the other end of a group dog training class feeling disappointed. After all, when people are encouraging them to sign up for the wrong thing, I would expect them to feel like they did not get the value that they hoped for when they coughed up their hard-earned money.

4. Group classes tend to be skills-based and are of questionable value in this day and age

When I’m talking about “skills-based classes” I’m talking about classes that are focused on teaching you how to teach your dog specific, individuated skills. In other words, they teach people how to train their dogs to “sit” or “lay down”. They may also use more situational names such as “polite greetings”. Popular titles for these kinds of group classes might be “Basic Training Class”, “Basic Obedience Class”, or “Good Manners Class”. 

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a good thing to teach dogs skills. So, the problem with these kinds of classes isn’t necessarily that the content is bad. 

The problem is that you can generally get the content of these classes on YouTube for free. Admittedly, there is a lot of terrible information on YouTube, so you have to know how to sort through it if you care about the health and well-being of your dog. But the fact is that the information is out there for free. 

Is it any wonder I generally do not recommend spending money on a class that teaches such things?

Dog looking happily at camera while person offers a hand

Here is My Solution to the Problem

Yes, I admit it: I have a bit of an axe to grind when it comes to in-person group dog-training classes. From what I’ve seen, many who sign up don’t get the help they need and are paying far more than they need to for something they can probably get for free. 

That being said, I think it’s important to try to find a solution to a problem rather than just complaining about a problem.

Here is my solution…

My Canine Coaching Course Private Lessons

My Canine Coaching Course isn’t like most dog-training classes out there. The program consists of a series of private sessions that teach people how to think and function like a dog trainer, rather than teaching them how to train individuated skills. 

That’s why I can teach clients far more in four to six sessions then a typical in-person group classes can teach through multiple six-session courses. 

Plus, because they are private sessions, I am also able to slip in time to help them address their real life in home dog struggles, despite the fact that I also focus on an agenda. 

When you add it together, it’s the best of all possible worlds.

Is it any wonder that’s my clients love this program so much?

Here’s a quick story you may be interested in…

I had a client working with me online, going through my Canine Coaching Course with her two dogs. After just two sessions, I decided to ask her if she was getting the value out of the course she had hoped for when she paid for it. 

Boy, did she have something to say about that…

One of her dogs had already been through two group classes (12 sessions total) with a well-known instructor, so she knew what group classes were like. Excitedly, she said, 

“My dogs and I have learned more in just these two sessions then we did in all 12 sessions combined.” 

Yes, in just a couple sessions, we had already gone far beyond anything they had previously learned. 

I can get those results because I do not follow the standard skill-based dog-training model. Instead I teach you the basic concepts, principles, and techniques of modern, science-based dog training so that you can basically become a mini trainer.

There is a potential barrier that discourages people from investing in the course, however: The price of several private lessons can be quite steep. 

To address that, I offer it to clients at rock-bottom dog training rates through my Online Dog Training Anywhere Program over Google Meet. And when people tell me they cannot afford even those rates, I’m willing to work with them according to what they can afford. 

My Canine Coaching Online Group Class

By working online, I can eliminate nearly all of the problems that come with in-person group classes. Because you work in your own home, you maintain an optimal environment for your dog’s education. Because I am training multiple people at once with the core material, you can share the cost of the program with others, which leads to reduced pricing for you.

Of course we still have to focus on the agenda, like any other group class. That means group class time isn’t the place to address issues unrelated to the agenda. 

To address that problem, I offer the option (and I strongly encourage this) to purchase a couple of online private sessions at a reduced rate. This allows me to teach a group of people my Canine Coaching System, while also fitting in time to address their real household needs.

If you are considering training for your dog, I recommend you check out my Canine Coaching Course. It’s perfect for dogs of any age. 

You’ll be amazed at what you and your canine companion can learn in a short amount of time. 

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