One of the most common enquiries we get is from people wanting to socialise their dog, ranging from young puppies to older dots, in group classes.
People want this for dogs who might be timid around other dogs or people, dogs who just haven’t ever really seen many other people or dogs, to dogs who are reactive to people and dogs.
Unfortunately they are all told the same thing, that classes might not be the best thing for their dog.
Classes are great for progressing your and your dog’s learning. Generalising training in a new place, having controlled distractions and actually appropriately socialising. But that is the one people often don’t understand.
What needs to be happening to class as socialising?
What is sensitisation?
Sensitisation is learning about something in a negative way. And this is why we don’t recommend group classes for dogs who are struggling around other people and dogs.
Group work, if the dog isn’t ready for it, can actually make their behaviour worse.
If they spend the class “just about coping” or even worse inhibited and shut down which is misread as coping, or hiding away then they are not having a good time and they are not learning what you’d like them to learn.
If they are reactive and barking or lunging at other dogs or people not only are you likely making your dog feel worse (and therefore worsening your dog’s behaviour) but you will be negatively impacting the other dogs, and people, in class too.
Should you go for group classes?
There are loads of pro’s for group classes if your dog can cope being around other dogs and people at a short distance. But only if the classes are also appropriate.
Our group classes all have a maximum of four dogs per class, plenty of room inside and out, visual barriers for the dogs so they don’t have to look at each other, and no direct interactions with other people or dogs.
This allows your dog to learn what you actually want them to. To focus on you and see you as the best thing around despite all the other people and dogs!
You don’t want a class where your dog just runs around with other dogs and learns to ignore you any time a dog is around.
If classes aren’t a calm experience for all it might be best to look for another force-free trainer, or consider some individual training, especially if even small, calm classes are too much for your dog. You can always build up to being ready to join classes, but joining too soon will see you take steps backwards in your training journey.