The following article is from our Ask The Trainer book.
Question: Our dog is pretty well-behaved, but we would like to work on a few things. What would be our best choice for training – a group class, private training or something else?
The Trainer Answers: There are plenty of training options available, but sometimes too many choices can make it difficult to determine the best route! There are group classes, private training, books, DVDs, or online courses. Trainers use a variety of methods, so among those choices, there are many different philosophies from which to choose. The best choice is a method that is instructive and kind to your dog. When we’re learning something new, we want someone kind and patient to show us how to do something in the most effective way. We should offer the same to our dogs. Methods should be focused on communicating clearly to our dogs and helping them understand what we want AND what’s in it for them. Reward-based or positive reinforcement based methods are best. However, you also need to find an instructor who will be kind and patient with both your dog and you. Their methods might be want you want, but if they don’t convey things clearly or perhaps have a bias or lack of experience with your breed of dog, they might not be a good choice for you.
Group classes are less expensive than private training, of course, and work best for learning the basics and for working through distractions of other people and other dogs. Dogs who are highly food motivated tend to do best in a group setting. Think of group classes as a time for YOU to learn. Group classes are really about training the people, more so than the dogs.
Private training is more expensive, but in the long right might be more valuable if your dog does not do well with other dogs or is highly stressed or fearful around people or other dogs. If you have very specific issues you want to address, private training might be more cost effective. If your dog has more serious behavior issues or issues specific to your home environment, private training is the way to go. If your dog tends to be very distracted in public settings, is not highly food motivated or has issues with other dogs or strangers, then private training is a better choice. One of your goals might be to get into a group class down the road, once you have some training under way. Dogs will almost always perform better with private training and fewer distractions.
Books, DVDs and online courses work best for those who are not able to attend in-person training for a variety of reasons, or simply want a less expensive option to get started. These formats work best for those who are self-starters and do not need the structure of a class or private trainer to help keep them motivated to keep working and progressing. These are also good options if you live in a rural area without a good reward-based trainer nearby to help you. Though, sometimes phone, email or video consults with a trainer might be a good supplement if you need further assistance.