How To Choose A Training Class
8th June 2019
Training classes have come along way over the past 50 years, with more owners than ever choosing to take their family pet to classes of some sort. It isn't surprising that we have higher expectations for our dog's training given the important role our companion dogs play in our lives and the increase in dog-friendly places which allow us to bring our dogs out and about with us. Training classes allow you to receive expert feedback on your training, spot mistakes early on and change training technique, tailor the training technique to you and your dog's needs and also to socialise with other owners and their dogs. There are plenty of classes on offer, for all ages and breeds, but this can make choosing the right one for your dog seem like a daunting task.
Here are some pointers on what to look out for when choosing...
Ethics Of Training
Does the trainer understand first and foremost that dog's welfare and wellbeing should be considered during training? Training methods should be humane, free from force and intimidation so that your dog enjoys engaging with you and training. Training should never damage the relationship you have with your dog, in fact the opposite is true - training is a fantastic way to build an even stronger bond and sense of teamwork with your dog.
Are They Accredited?
As there is no current government regulation of the training and behaviour industry, in the way that veterinary surgeons are regulated for example, then anyone is able to begin advertising for work as a trainer or behaviourist. Looking for a trainer whose skills and knowledge have been examined and accredited by an advisory training body is the best way of making sure your trainer is skilled and knowledgable. Within the UK, the main governing body is the ABTC (Animal Behaviour and Training Council). Other training organisations to look out for include (lots of acronyms!) the APDT, PACT, IMDT, Karen Pryor Academy and COAPE. When looking for a behaviourist, registers of accredited individuals can be found via (even more acronyms!) the ABTC, IAABC, ASAB and APBC.
Are They Open and Friendly?
You should be able to go and view a class before signing up if you'd like to, so that you can get a sense of the trainers skill and the class atmosphere. Trainers should be happy to answer questions on the methods they use, what the course will cover and if the course is suitable for you and your dog. A class visit also gives you the opportunity to talk to other dog owners who are already part of the class.
Does the trainer understand the basics of dog training and animal learning? Can they talk you through reinforcement, punishment and the learning process in simple terms that make sense to you? Can they offer multiple ways of teaching each exercise so that it works for every dog and owner? Are they able to successfully demonstrate training during classes?
Socialisation has become a bit of a buzzword around puppy classes in particular. If this is what you're looking for, make sure your trainer understands the socialisation window in puppies and is offering socialisation beyond simply allowing play sessions between puppies. There are plenty of things we need our dogs to be comfortable around, all of which should be included gently during the socialisation period. This may include meeting new people, children, people wearing unusual clothing, unusual noises, novel surfaces and handling practice ready for husbandry and veterinary care.
Class sizes should never exceed a ratio of one trainer per 8 dogs, but the higher the trainer to dog ratio the better the class experience. Progress is made in group classes through your trainer coaching you as you train your dog, so the more individual attention you get during the class, the more you and your dog will learn. Although it can be tempting to head to a large group class to socialise your dog, this is actually a common way for dogs to quickly develop problem behaviours. You should be given space to work your dog in during class - after all, you want their focus to be on you, rather than everyone else!