i want to take my dog to an obedience class, but he's not good with other dogs. what are my options?

Posted by Nicole Larocco-Skeehan, CPDT-KA on Aug 12 2015
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Obedience classes can be a fun way for your dog to learn to work through common distractions like people and other dogs, brush up on good manners and maybe even make some new friends! But what do you do if your dog is not friendly with other dogs?

Here are some tips to help you figure out the best option for your dog:

  1. Find the right class! When looking for an obedience class, be sure to interview the trainer thoroughly to make sure that their methodology, style and personality jives with yours. Keep in mind that group classes should not be socialization outings. They should be a place where you and your dog can work on a standardized curriculum around the presence of people and other dogs while keeping a safe distance.

  2. Be upfront with the trainer and let them know that your dog has issues with certain triggers and how they are likely to react to these triggers. A good trainer should be able to point you in direction of a proper class for you and your dog. They will also be able to tell you if they think that a particular class may be too stressful on your dog and help you develop an alternative training plan.

  3. Be careful about using negative or aversive methods. Upwards of 80% of aggressive outbursts in dogs are rooted in anxiety. And putting your dog into a group class situation may already be stressful enough. With that said, stay far away from methods that are likely to produce more anxiety for your dog in an already stressful situation.

  4. Look for a trainer who is fluent in positive reinforcement methodology, which relies on rewards and motivation instead of intimidation. Some training relies on achieving dominance over your dog by correcting him for reacting. This method may shut your dog down or worse, make him react even more to what is stressing him out. Likewise, common training tools like electronic collars, pinch or prong collars, shake cans full of pennies or choke chains can be anxiety-producing at best and painful at worst! If a trainer suggests you use any of these tools, rethink taking your dog to this class.

  5. Try specialty classes. Trainers deal with a lot of dogs who have issues with other dogs. (Hey, if dogs were all perfect, us trainers wouldn’t have jobs, right?) So many trainers offer classes specifically for dogs who react to or do not like other dogs. Many times, these classes limit attendance to a very small number, have visual barriers so that dogs can concentrate on their owners more efficiently and tailor the exercises to teaching dogs how to cope with stressful situations.

  6. Take a private lesson with the trainer offering the class. If you are still anxious about enrolling your dog in a group class, it might be time for an evaluation by a trained professional. Find a trainer who teaches group classes and request a private evaluation with them to see if your dog is a good fit. Private consultations generally range between $50-$150/session depending on the area you live in and the experience of the trainer you are working with. And while it may be expensive, many clients find private sessions to be money well spent as a great trainer will help you customize the behavior modification plan to you and your dog’s needs! To find a certified trainer in your area, visit www.ccpdt.org.

When it’s not a good fit: While group class may be a great fit for most dogs, if your dog exhibits any of the following behaviors, I suggest you contact a trainer for private lessons before starting group class:

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  • Aggression toward people or dogs that has resulted in the dog injuring a person or another dog.
  • Reactivity (barking, growling, lunging) that cannot be redirected by changing directions or offering treats.
  • Extreme anxiety which causes your dog to shut down or try to flee when in the presence of people or another dog.

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