Why are dog obedience training classes important?

I love working with rescue dogs because they are often the most in need of direction, consistency and interaction.

For the next few Saturdays I get to hang out with a Doberman mix named Marvin. He and I will be attending the beginning obedience class at Red River North Dog Obedience Club here in Fargo.

Last Saturday was Marvin’s first class, and he was the best behaved dog out of the whole bunch! Like, way better!

It’s not that Marvin knew more commands than the other dogs, but Marvin was very calm and focused.

That’s pretty impressive considering all the other dogs are living in homes with their families, and Marvin does not even have a foster home. He is up for adoption in Fargo and currently lives at a boarding kennel while he waits for someone to foster or adopt him.

Marvin will be so much fun to work with over the next seven weeks. What a good boy he is!

What will my dog and I learn at dog obedience classes?

I’ve written about why you should take your puppy to obedience classes, but these classes are important for adult dogs, too.

1. Your dog will learn to be calm around new people and dogs.

The majority of the 12 or so dogs at class on Saturday were very stressed from being in a new environment. That is completely normal, and it just shows how important it is to get your dog out and about in new environments.

These classes help our dogs learn to be calm and focused around other dogs and people, too.

The beginning classes at Red River North can be a bit slow paced, especially on the first class. I know many of the owners get bored and want to be doing something immediately. So, they stop paying attention to the trainer and begin fidgeting or chatting.

Likewise, their dogs are unable to sit still and focus. They dart here and there, pace or whine. Some dogs become fixated on other dogs and strain on the leash, pant frantically or bark.

When the trainer is explaining a concept to the class, I use the opportunity to teach my dog to sit and wait calmly.

So whenever Marvin was sitting, I popped food into his mouth. “What a good boy!” If he started to stare at another dog, I whispered, “Marvin! Watch!” and held a treat in front of his nose, guiding his attention back to me.

Marvin knew to sit quietly, watching me in order to get treats. He also showed a normal amount of curiosity in his surroundings without being obnoxious or dominant.

I’m in love with Marvin.

2. You can work up to more advanced levels of training with your dog.

Many dog owners think they can train a dog on their own because they already know “everything” about how to train a dog. That may be true, but how many of them actually do train their dogs on their own? Not many.

Obedience classes are beneficial to almost any dog/owner pair, regardless of experience. I’ve had my dog Ace for more than five years and we still attend a class at least once a year.

We don’t go to training classes because my dog is not trained or because I don’t know how to train him. We go because Ace loves it! We are in a more advanced class these days, and most of the people in the class either show their dogs or teach training classes themselves.

Even professional dog trainers take their dogs to obedience classes.

The best trainers know there is always more to learn. They are always looking for ways to work with their dogs. (And if you are a dog owner, you should also consider yourself a dog trainer.)

3. You will learn how to control your dog.

Cute Doberman mix up for adoption 4 Luv of Dog Rescue Fargo

I’ve been though and taught enough obedience classes to know the first class is always chaotic. The dogs are scared and excited. The owners are overwhelmed, and many do not know how to control their dogs.

I notice most dog owners arrive at class gripping the very end of their leashes, giving the dogs all kinds of slack and opportunities to make mistakes. People need to be taught how to properly hold a leash.

I also notice when dogs growl or bark, the owners typically pet their dogs and say things like “Shhh. Honey, no. It’s OK. It’s OK.” Some of the owners of small dogs will pick up their dogs and hug them or hold them really close. “Shh. Honey, no. Shhh.”

Obviously the above behaviors are actually rewarding the dogs for barking or growling, even though that’s not what the owners intended. It’s not that these people are bad dog owners. It’s just that they don’t know any better. That’s why they are there – to learn.

The fact that every single beginning obedience class starts out this way – with anxious, excited dogs and clueless owners – tells me the general population of dog owners know very little about basic dog handling. Although beginning obedience classes may seem very basic to some of us, they are very important for teaching these much-needed handling skills.

And for people who “know everything” about handling a dog – these first classes are a great opportunity to work on controlling your dog with all kinds of distractions! The first week of class is the best time to work on teaching your dog to focus because there are so many new dogs around!

4. You will learn how to use the right dog training collars.

The majority of dog owners come to the first class without any type of training collar at all. They use nylon or leather buckle collars around the lower, stronger part of the dog’s neck.

A flat collar will work just fine for some dogs, but not for most. A trainer will help you pick the best tool for your individual dog whether that tool happens to be a choke collar, a prong collar or a martingale collar.

Some classes might encourage you to use a Gentle Leader or a Halti or an EasyWalk harness. That’s OK, too.

What’s not OK is when a “trainer” tells everyone they have to use a certain type of collar. I work with a variety of different dog owners and dogs, and there is no collar that will work well for everyone. A good trainer recognizes that.

On Saturday I used a prong collar with Marvin so I would have maximum control. Keep in mind, he and I met for the first time about 30 minute before the class started. I did not know what to expect! For next week’s class, I now know a martingale collar will work just fine for him.

Do you take your dog to obedience classes? Why or why not?

Look how cute Marvin is!

Edit: Marvin has been adopted!

Cute Doberman mix up for adoption 4 Luv of Dog Rescue Fargo

22 thoughts on “Why are dog obedience training classes important?”

  1. Marcia Bishoff

    I LOVED your blog. I teach/assist in CGC classes and even though most of the people coming to class have been through more basic classes we offer, most still don’t know how to control their dogs. I would love to have you in class as you sound like you always use the time for training, rather than getting bored. The students in class are great people, but many have a hard time paying attention to the instructor and their dog at the same time. Anyway, agreed with all you said. Thanks for blogging.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I hear ya! Do you notice that the best-behaved dogs are the dogs that have calm owners who are able to pay attention? 🙂

  2. Go Marvin!! We noticed the same thing in Tarski’s classes. One couple was barely paying attention (the guy was texting / playing games the whole time, while the girl was fiddling with her nails) — no wonder their dog was all over the place! I think though that the main thing is consistency. The other woman was there with a beagle that definitely knew lots of commands, but he has a problem with jumping up on people. Throughout the class she was very responsive and attentive to him, and always disciplined him for jumping, so I was surprised that she was having so many problems after a year of having him… But *after* the class, we walked by her as she was talking to some woman, and her dog was jumping up on her, and she was ignoring the behaviour! It’s annoying to interrupt your conversation in order to deal with a misbehaving dog, but if you’re consistent with that for a couple of weeks, pretty soon you won’t have to interrupt conversations *and* you’ll be able to enjoy them while your dog sits or lies quietly by your side. I don’t think people realize how much a little discipline *each and every* time the dog misbehaves goes a long way to making a dog calm and well-behaved.

  3. Marvin is sooo cute!!!! He kind of reminds me of my Belle!!

    I love your post!!! Belle and I have taken two classes so far and I’m looking into doing a Street Smarts class this summer. The class meets at different places around Anchorage for 4 to 6 weeks and you get to do obediance training in really new senarios! And distractions!!
    I also want to try some agility and nosework. Half the time Belle has her nose on the ground sniffing so I think that would really enhance her natural love. Cost and time seem to be my biggest factor. And with summer starting I’m going to be riding the horse more!

    My problem is consistancy. But I’m working on it. Slowly but surely!!!

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I’m lucky that the classes I go to are put on by a nonprofit training club. They are around $50 total for seven weeks which I think is very reasonable.

    2. Lindsay Stordahl

      I would like to take a fieldwork class with my dog Ace but I am not sure where one is offered in my area. I will have to look into it. I sometimes try to teach him more advanced retrieving skills on my own, but I am just not very experienced with that type of training.

      1. Lindsey you are soo lucky on that price!!! In Anchorage Alaska classes are $60-$100 dollars per six week session!!!! it’s $60 for the Street Smarts class. $90 for returning students or rescue dogs and either $95 or $100 if you are a new student with a new dog depending on which school you go to! If its a puppy and the whole litter goes to class then you get some sort of discount. Not sure!

        As for field work, I would suggest seeing if there’s an AKC field club. Sometimes they do classes or can put you in touch with trainers who can help. Be careful though because some trainers still force fetch. You can get Ace a limited registration and actually compete! I’ve thought about that for D.O.G and I but haven’t sat down and made the time to work on it.

        1. Lindsay Stordahl

          I had to look up what you meant by “force retrieve.” That type of training probably works, but I would never want to train my dog in that way. Thanks for your advice.

  4. Perfect timing on this post! I 100% agree with everything you wrote. In fact, I just started training classes with Buddy this week.

    My dogs are “home-schooled” (and park-schooled and road-schooled, etc.). Buddy already “knows” most of the commands and behaviors we’ll be practicing in this class, and the types of behaviors he most needs training for to improve the quality of his life cannot be easily resolved with a class.

    Nonethless, we joined the class primarily to give Buddy a chance to train around the distraction of other dogs. Being around other dogs is one of his biggest challenges for impulse control. Also, when Buddy gets a chance to be near a variety of dogs, he becomes desensitized to the presence of dogs and becomes less reactive on leash and to dogs that pass by our windows. If we do nothing but review stuff we already know how to do in the company of other dogs and owners who are being trained at the same time to be stable and focused and calm, then it will be worth it.

    Even more important, though, I’m interested in doing this because it allows me to learn from one of the top people in our area in the training methods most likely to work with Buddy’s temperament (which is not something I had used much with Scout or other dogs). I was very impressed with the trainer in all our interactions before the class started, which is more important to me than the references (though they were good too),and I know her philosophy is basically compatible with how I train my dogs.

    I also know from Scout’s agility classes that having homework from class motivates me to be more consistent and focused in how I train the dogs. Our first class was no dogs – for the exact reasons you mentioned – but I already have lots of homework.

    I’m not surprised with your experiences. I’ve noticed that even people who have been taking classes for years or with multiple dogs or have competed in various dog events seem to lack basic knowledge of dog training and behavior. It’s baffling, and it reflects poorly on the trainers that they are working with. Good dog training should be like teaching someone to fish, not handing them a caught and cooked dinner.

    One of the reasons my dogs are mostly home-schooled is that I dislike having to pay money, spend the time, and reorganize my schedule to go to a class only to find that I spent less than 10 minutes learning anything new or getting opportunities for my dog that I wouldn’t get on my own. At their worst, I’ve been to classes with trainers that were affirmatively harmful for my dogs or that spent the time so ineffectively that I could have trained my dog for 10 minutes in a yard and gotten more out of it. I suspect that the more you do with your dogs, the more likely this is to happen, because other people need so much more attention and information. Now, I tend to go in with a game plan for a class – what I’m trying to get out of it for me and my dogs, and how I can make that happen, even if we’re operating from a different place than others in the class.

    Last tip: visit the classes before you sign up, talk to the trainer – make it clear what your goals and expectations are, and watch how the people already enrolled behave *before* the class and *after* the class. It will tell you a lot about what’s being taught.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Yes. It is a very good idea to watch a class (probably without your dog along) before you decide if that particular trainer or training facility is the right match for you. If you know a new session is starting soon, it’s helpful to go watch the last class of the previous session to see how those dogs and handlers are acting.

  5. Great post. We’ve taken three dogs over the years to obedience classes, and they have for sure been the “best behaved” dogs we’ve had. The dog owners learn more than the dogs at classes, well at least the first time an owner attends anyway. I definitely think classes are worthwhile, but there always are road blocks like time, money, schedules, etc. I would say attending a class is really really helpful (bordering on essential) if you’ve never had a dog before.

    Have fun working with your next “pupil.” Love that name, Marvin.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      There are definitely roadblocks. Cost is probably the main one. Thankfully the classes are affordable here, but $50 is still out of the question for a lot of dog owners. Work schedules and family schedules also make it difficult to attend for a lot of people.

  6. The price here is $120. That’s why we wanted to skip the beginner and intermediate, do the training ourselves, and skip to the training that would be most bang for our buck.

  7. Pfew! I’m so glad I read this article. I found it after Googling “my dog had trouble paying attention in obedience class”. I was worried I was in the minority, but I guess it’s not that uncommon. A few weeks ago, we adopted Remmy… a 7 mo old golden/lab/bloodhound mix. Our first class was last night and our “batting average” wasn’t too high. He did better witht he commands when we practiced more at home later, but class was fairly stressful. Your article gave me a little enocuragement that the first class “overload” is normal and things may get easier the more we train.

    Sincerely,
    A first-time owner who is definitely paying attention in class but is not confident yet

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Hang in there. You will see lots of improvements! The classes are so beneficial to the dogs and the owners. Let me know how the next one goes.

  8. Gloria Reimer

    Just thought I’d come back in and give an update. He calmed down a lot in class. Actually, so much so that he was dubbed the ham of the class as whenever the instructors give a command to practice, quite often Remmy will down and try to get his belly scratched. But, I have to say, the classes have been incredibly helpful. Even though he might not practice things the entire session, the classes have taught me a ton. I understand better how dogs think and process things. It’s also made him so much more comfortable around other dogs. Now seeing other dogs is a common occurance as opposed to a huge stimulant because they’re so new/exciting. Plus it gave me confidence in our progress. I see that other dogs/owners still struggle with some of the same commands that Remmy and I are struggling with and throughout the weeks all of the dogs have slowly progressed so I feel better about the speed of our progression.

    Definitely worth the money/time!

  9. Hi, cheers alot for your articles, I really think it is genuinely thoughtful and truly, an eye opener, I truly love the concept that you bring into blogging, I have a pitbull puppy and I have being searching for products like this one. Cheers.

  10. We are living in San Diego and looking for affordable obedience classes to train our recently adopted 2 year-old Jack Russell Terrier mix. Do you have any recommendations for this?
    I would thank you forever =)

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      The San Diego Humane Society might be able to recommend someone. PetSmart and Petco offer obedience classes that might be a fairly reasonable price.

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