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Guidelines for In-Person Puppy Classes

by Bailey Coldwell

As an online puppy school, we love that we are helping you become the trainer. We often get asked about our thoughts on in-person group classes in addition to our programs. 

The first step when considering an in person class is to do research about a trainer who follows a similar dog training philosophy as you. If you are interested in learning more about our training philosophy, check out our “orientation” program and then to “our philosophy & contact information:

There are many different ways to train dogs. It is important to find a trainer who will train in a similar fashion to how you want to train. Consistency is key. 

You are more than welcome to contact us and receive input about if a specific training center seems like the right fit for you. Keep in mind that no two trainers are going to be the exact same. We trainers at Baxter and Bella all have very similar ways of teaching, but they are not exactly the same. And I love that! As long as you agree with the overall philosophy, go into it with an open mind and be willing to learn. Chat with the trainer. Express to them your goals, plan for the class, and discuss your overall training thoughts. 

If you have a young puppy, you will want to determine the trainer’s rules on vaccine status with puppies. You will want to make sure that they are strict about making sure that the puppies are up to date on the vaccines they are old enough to have, to help prevent the spread of disease. You can also chat with your veterinarian about what level of socialization they feel is appropriate to help prevent sickness. 

You will want to consider what the general overview of the class will look like. I prefer classes that: 

  • Don’t allow on-leash greetings with other dogs. On-leash greetings tend to lead to more reactivity, more expectations that your dog gets to say hi to other dogs, and a more distracted class. I have been to classes where the last portion of the class is saved for off-leash controlled interactions, which has worked out well but is not necessary. It is okay to go to these classes and not allow for interactions. You can plan for occasional controlled off leash interactions with dogs that you know in different settings instead. 

  • Encourage breaks throughout class. Classes are typically an hour long. This is a long time for a puppy to be strictly working, especially in a super distracting environment. Feel free to chat with the trainers about this ahead of time as well. Breaks can be stepping outside for your puppy to sniff around, practicing some fun cues with your puppy, and even bringing a toy for your puppy to play with. “Jackpotting” is also an option. This is where you randomly give your puppy multiple treats in a row for a simple task. It helps to build confidence and motivate the puppy.  

  • Focus on rewarding good behaviors and be understandable if the dog isn’t getting 100% of the cues. These classes can be stressful. You will want healthy and helpful support if your puppy isn’t doing things perfectly. 

  • Try to avoid having too many dogs in a single class. The exact number that I recommend depends on the size of the space, the type of class, and the number of trainers. 

  • The facility has positive reviews. Chat with your friends and family. Maybe they will have recommendations on trainers they have had good luck with. A quick internet search can also help with this. 

When going to class, be gentle with yourself and your dog. Pups don’t generalize well. This means that even if they do something well in one situation, they often need reminders in more stimulating environments. I have seen plenty of dogs not be successful in group classes at first, even with the simplest of cues. This is okay! The main point of group classes is to simply get your dog used to behaving appropriately in public around other dogs and people.  

Before starting group classes, I would have had some exposure to the public in less stimulating ways (remember to keep those paws off the ground if they aren’t fully vaccinated). Some examples of this might include: 

  • Sitting in a vehicle with your puppy and observing the world, while rewarding your dog. 

  • Bring your puppy to dog-friendly stores for short and sweet field trips. 

  • Go to a human park or the outside of a dog park and reward your dog. 

  • Practice greetings with family members and friends. 

  • Bring your puppy to the facility beforehand and allow them to watch, hear, and simply get comfortable being there before the start date of class. This will help the environment not be as stimulating when class actually starts. 

Even as a dog trainer, I have participated in many group classes with my dogs. It can be stressful and intimidating. Here are some tips: 

  • Plan your schedule so that you can get there early. Allow your puppy to sniff around outside, do basic cues with you in the parking lot, watch the other dogs entering and exiting, and hear the other dogs bark. Do this all while rewarding your dog for good behavior. 

  • If your puppy starts to act up by barking, pulling, jumping, biting, or otherwise just not being able to focus on you, create space. Excuse yourself from class for a break. It will be helpful for your puppy and YOU to get some air and decompress. 

  • Prepare a puppy “trail mix.” Put a variety of treats in your treat pouch: low-value treats, medium-value treats, and high-value treats. The variety will help make situations more motivating, and we can easily access high-value treats for the more complicated tasks. 

  • Don’t worry about other owners and their opinions. It isn’t the end of the world if your dog offers unwanted behavior during class. It is all about making adjustments going forward to help set the puppy and yourself up for success. If your dog is struggling, remind yourself that they are not giving you a hard time… they are having a hard time. It is common to feel embarrassed and frustrated. But your dog will feel and be influenced by your emotions. These are the moments when your dog needs you the most to help support them. Remember, your dog is your pal. They are on your team. 

If you are looking to get your dog into group classes, I hope that this has helped. Reach out to our team of trainers if you would like more support with public socialization. 

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