Updated: Jul 6, 2020
When should I take my canine companion to a class rather than private training? At times we will do a combination of both private training and classes so we can target the strengths of each. However, in some cases, one modality will benefit the canine companion most. Classes are more economical but we can often accomplish more in a private session than in a class because we are focussing on one family and their specific needs and dogs. We can target and individualize the training and not be confined to our class curriculum. If I had a new dog, I would still go to a class if that dog would be comfortable in that environment. Classes are beneficial for just more than learning the cues taught. Classes help dogs get used to being around other dogs, humans, and the novel stimuli we introduce. It is important to teach behaviors around distractions.
A study by KUTSUM compared several groups of dogs, ones who attended adult classes, others that attended puppy classes, and dogs that did not attend classes at all. "Participation in puppy and adult classes improved the obedience behavior of dogs, regardless of age. Positive response to strangers in the puppy class group was significantly higher than that in the adult class and no class groups, and tended to be higher than that in the puppy party group. Therefore, puppy class may help prevent canine behavioral problems such as disobedience or fear of strangers."
In a new study by Takuma Kurachi (Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology) and Mami Irimajiri (Hill’s Pet Nutrition Japan) published in the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour, "Dogs that had attended training were significantly less likely to be reported to show anxious behaviors in response to storms and fireworks."
In another study, by Dr. Ángela González-Martínez (Santiago de Compostela University) et al. "The results indicated that both puppies and juveniles that have attended classes had more favorable scores for family-dog aggression, trainability, nonsocial fear, and touch sensitivity."
Classes can be extremely beneficial, however, if a dog is too stressed in a class environment this may not be helpful, and may even be harmful. Being overly stressed is not conducive to learning. As stress can appear in many forms, it is important to be able to know when your dog is stressed. Many of the signs are found by vocalizations and reading your canine’s body language. The infographic below shows some of what to look for in body language. If classes are not an option, training in the home environment, without many distractions, is useful to get training started.
González-Martínez, A., Martínez, M. F., Rosado, B., Luño, I., Santamarina, G., Suárez, M. L., Carmino, F., de la Cruz, L.S., & Diéguez, F. J. (2019). Association between puppy classes and adulthood behavior of the dog. Journal of Veterinary Behavior 32: 36-41. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2019.04.011
KUTSUMI, A., NAGASAWA, M., OHTA, M., & OHTANI, N. (2013). Importance of Puppy Training for Future Behavior of the Dog Journal of Veterinary Medical Science, 75 (2), 141-149 https://doi.org/10.1292/jvms.12-0008
Kurachi, T., & Irimajiri, M. (2019). Preliminary study on the effects of attendance at dog training school on minimizing development of some anxiety disorders. Journal of Veterinary Behavior. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2019.06.011