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.
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!
Thursday 7th of November 2013
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 =)
Friday 8th of November 2013
The San Diego Humane Society might be able to recommend someone. PetSmart and Petco offer obedience classes that might be a fairly reasonable price.
Tuesday 31st of July 2012
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.
Wednesday 16th of May 2012
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!
Tuesday 24th of April 2012
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
Tuesday 24th of April 2012
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.
Saturday 21st of April 2012
Sounds like you and Marvin hit it off right away! Have fun at obedience class today!
Saturday 21st of April 2012
Thanks, we will!