Choosing the right training class is something that you should spend some time doing, as joining the wrong one can have disastrous effects on your dog and your relationship with him. Currently, there is absolutely NO regulation of dog trainers. Quite literally anyone can advertise themselves as a dog trainer, even if they have never trained, or even owned a dog in their lives. So it is in yours and your dog’s best interest to do your homework, as if you pick the wrong one, often by the time you realise it, the damage has already been done.
When looking at classes there are several things you can do to help you make the right choice.
There are two types of system that classes run. Some run a ‘set’ course, usually 6 – 9 weeks. Others charge a yearly membership and then a fixed sum every week that you attend. These have no ‘set’ number of weeks and you usually go for as many weeks or years as you want to.
Try to look at as many different clubs as you can before or soon after you get your puppy. This should mean that you can join before he becomes too much of a problem! Different trainers use different methods so look at as many as possible to see which suits you best.
Price is no indication of quality when it comes to obedience classes, so do not join the most expensive believing that you will therefore get the best. Look for a class that does not pack you in like sardines! Obviously if there are too many people and dogs in a hall this will inhibit the amount of individual help you can expect to receive. It will also place a lot more pressure on both you and your dog, as you will always be too close to the dog next to you. Also, try to find a class that teaches the type of things you need to learn. Lots of classes try to teach beginner dogs and handlers exercises that are geared towards competition obedience, and this may not be what you are looking for. Look at the way the instructor deals with the people that are already members. Look for members who are clearly having problems with their dog and watch how the instructor deals with them. If the instructor keeps going over to help them, great. But if you see the instructor ignoring that person or pretending they do not see them in distress, it should give you a fair idea what will happen to you should you hit problems.
Check for the instructor who simply ‘herds’ the members around the room telling them when to stop, go, turn etc, but giving no encouragement, correction or advice if they get a part of an exercise wrong, but just moves on to the next person. How much are their members likely to improve?
Try to find a class where there is a friendly atmosphere and where people are willing to offer you advice without you feeling uncomfortable about asking, and where the instructors seem genuinely interested in helping you. However, also bear in mind most instructors will probably have at least one member of the class who regardless of what they say or how they advise them, simply will not do as they are asked, or they never practice outside of the class. These people are usually easy for the instructor to spot in a class situation, and so in time some trainers may decide to stop wasting time with this person and devote that time to those who really want to improve.
Look for a class that teaches exercise that you feel are relevant to you and your dogs needs. Often exercises can be pitched to you as relevant, but when you look closely, you might change your mind. An example of this would be the exercise where you are required to weave your dog in and out of other dogs and owners. This is often called a socialisation exercise, but how can it be if the dogs are not allowed to interact? And when do you suppose you would ever need such an exercise? Outside of the class, you are unlikely to ever find yourself in a situation where you will need to weave your dog in and out of other dogs, and will be grateful that you spent time learning how to do this.
It is a good idea to leave the dog at home on the nights you go to look at classes as you will then not be distracted by the dog. Most classes will be happy for you to go along and watch. Remember, whichever class you join, you will only get out of your dog the amount of work that you put in. If you only practise once a week at club, you will never make a significant improvement. And trust your instincts, If something feels wrong to you, it probably is. And NO trainer should be allowed to hit, shake, or in ANY way physically manhandle your dog. If you see this happening, you are in the wrong class and should leave.