Group training classes can be fun and a great learning experience. In fact, ideally, they should be fun for everyone. However, they can also be a great source of frustration for others.

Group classes are a great learning opportunity for some dogs and some people. But they are not the best learning environment for everyone. While group classes are obviously much more economical than private training, some of you will get more bang for your buck by starting with private training with the goal of moving back to group classes later.

I always try to remind my clients that the group class is – in some ways – more for the people than it is for the dogs. This is an opportunity for you to learn how to most effectively work with your dog. The bulk of the training really happens at home when you are working one-on-one with your dog.

Group classes are great for your dog learning how to work around other dogs, other people and other distractions away from home. However, in the early stages of learning, this can make training in a group setting very difficult. If your dog is not ready to focus on you with that many distractions, it can be a challenge.

My philosophy is for clients to focus on learning how to work with their dogs but not be overly concerned early on if their dogs do not seem to be “getting it” or seem too distracted during class. Set your expectations lower during class, keep them higher at home, and gradually raise your expectations in a class setting to the same expectations you have at home.

Think of class time as the chance for your dog to acclimate to all of the available distractions. Reinforce whatever behaviors you can, but keep things simpler if you need to do so. Don’t worry if you think every other dog is doing better than yours. The only dog you should be comparing yours to is your own. Does s/he calm down and focus better as you get going during class? Does s/he do a little better each week? We want to make sure we are seeing improvement.

If you are not seeing improvement as quickly as you would like, then we need to discuss what changes might need to be made. Do we need better treats? Do we need to try play and toys instead of food? Do we need to set lower expectations for the short-term?

In some cases, moving to private training for a while to get better training under way is really the right way to go. I’m not suggesting this to get more money out of you. I am making the suggestions I think will benefit you the most. And sometimes, I am thinking it, but hesitant to say it. Why? Because I don’t want to scare you off. Some people will interpret my recommendation as my saying I don’t want you in class or don’t think your dog can handle it. That’s not what I am saying or thinking. I want to help you and your dog to be successful and if you’re both frustrated, you’re not going to be as successful as you could be.

I wish every dog were attentive and minimally distracted during classes. Some of us are just not that lucky. I would like to say that Romeo was always very attentive during classes. But that would be a lie!

If you think your dog is not meeting his or her true potential in a group class, talk to me about whether some private training might be a better option for you.