Another Monday rolled around and of course that means therapy dog training class for me and Bern Bern. I rushed home on Monday evening, Bernie didn’t get his usual walk before class, so I knew in the back of my head Bernie would have a bit more energy. I didn’t expect Bernie to act like it was his first day!
Bernie and I immediately started working. I worked on redirecting his attention on me and Bernie worked on making the choice to follow my lead than go where the new people and dogs are in class. The thing about group classes versus individual sessions are the level and types of distractions present. Individual sessions provide the client/handler and the dog the time alone in working on getting the obedience cues down pat. By down pat, I mean a 90% success rate of asking for a sit and the dog sitting 9 times out of 10 on the first ask. This success rate also applies for all basic obedience commands. The usual space conducive for such consistent results is in the dog’s home enviroment, particularly inside the home. Ideally, dogs spend most of their time in the home, so the daily goings on and the coming and going and routine reduces the intensity of the distraction for the dog. Its like when a person lives near railroad tracks and overtime they don’t even hear the train when it passes by. Bernie came a long way in following directions, walking on a loose leash and coming when called. Its a whole other story when he’s presented with new sights and smells and he’s out of his normal environment.
The group dog training class is a great tool for deepening a dog’s obedience and for structured socialization. I believe a group class is complementary to the private sessions. The group class provides added challenges to the dog and handler. The main challenge being distractions. The distractions range from a wide number of unfamiliar people and dogs, dog treat smells, different sounds within the building or outside and working in a group setting rather than one on one. The challenges present are a great asset in strengthening the bond between the dog and handler. How you may ask, well the distractions will act to pull the dog’s attention away while the desire to look for the handler will push the dog in thinking about following the obedience cues rather than indulging in the newness of his surroundings. On the other hand, a group setting can be too much for some. In a group setting, I’ve seen (and personally experienced) dogs become overstimulated even to the point of being overwhelmed. These dogs will bark uncontrollably, will not redirect attention back to the owner and it will make working on obedience cues extremely difficult, if not impossible. On the other hand, dogs who are overwhelmed may show opposite signs of stress. Dogs may shut down and will not follow the handler or show the interest in working on any training during class. In these instances, its vital for the handler to reconsider alternative plans. The idea of continuing to put the dog into this much stress, to me isn’t worth it and its not helping the bond between the handler and the dog. Quite frankly, its also a waste of money.
Bernie is energized and alert in group training. He is continues to surprise me of how much he follows his commands. We still have a bit of trouble with the leave it cue when there is food on the ground, regardless, I’m happy with his progress. Bernie moved past his fear of men. He was able to happily go off into another room with one of the men in the class. He contined to show willingness to work and was delighted to do so.
All in all, group training classes are a great addition in working on obedience with your dog. Group classes aren’t for every dog. Its a matter of keeping an eye on how your dog is responding in a more stressful environment and responding to your dog’s needs. Ultimately, you are responsible for your dog’s well being and its important in ensuring your are looking out for his best interest.