Group obedience classes are a phenomenon in our culture that started back in the 60's The format rooted itself in our minds as the way to train our rookie dogs. But, is a group class the best context for your dog to learn what you want them to know?
The template for group classes started as a way for breed and obedience clubs to practice together to prepare for obedience trials. Punishment based training was the order of the day. All dogs wore choke chains to administer corrections for emotional outbursts or inability to respond to cues. It was a bleak time for dog training.
Should young or untrained dogs be trained in groups and in unfamiliar environments?
For some dogs, this distracting format is a valuable opportunity to learn impulse control and for the owners to learn techniques to get and keep their dog's attention. A large percentage of dogs have good to acceptable amounts of success in group classes. There are trainers well versed in helping a classroom full of owners integrate what they have learned into their specific home environments.
But, what about dogs who are leash reactive, fearful, timid or aggressive? Dogs with these emotionally based issues do not belong in a group environment. They simply cannot learn when their brains are operating in a fight or flight mode.
Imagine your worst phobia, let's say, fear of spiders. You are put into a room with several dozen large and small spiders crawling about the space and towards you. A teacher enters the room and says, "Open your algebra books to page 17..." Can you honestly say you would be able to concentrate on anything but keeping the spiders away?
Some owners believe that the group class format will include corrections for the dog's "bad" behavior. What the human fails to recognize is that emotions drive behavior. Punishing reactivity, aggression, or fear will suppress, not, eliminate the problem. Tossing the dog into the "deep end of the pool" and then expecting them to swim will produce a few survivors and many drownings.
There are wonderful group class trainers for dogs with mild to no reactivity and fear. And there are equally good and more appropriate options in private training for dogs who need to start their education in a comfortable state of mind. Most owners choose private training because it fits into a busy schedule. Many owners would benefit from recognizing dogs who need a stress free environment to learn new behaviors and skills.