Should you choose private or group dog training?

I taught hundreds of dog training classes for two years before switching to all private sessions five years ago. I enjoyed teaching classes but enjoy the flexibility and autonomy of private sessions more. But, I still see value in group classes and often refer clients to other group classes in Chicago. Are you currently deciding between group and private classes and don't know which option to choose? Here are my thoughts on both options.

Socialization

Whether you choose private training or group classes for your puppy, it is critical that you spend much more time on socialization than what your puppy class or private session provides. You should concentrate on learning how to socialize your puppy and learn about dog body language, play styles, and how to break up fights if they occur. Puppy classes can be beneficial if you are training your puppy in the winter and might have difficulty finding groups of puppies to play with in inclement weather. Since my private clients live in Chicago near high concentrations of puppies, we have ample opportunities to meet puppies during sessions to ensure they understand how to continue the socialization process in between sessions.

Scheduling Flexibility

One of the benefits of private training is scheduling around your busy schedule. I take appointments from 9am - 7pm and most private trainers work flexible hours. You also do not have to schedule the same time each week. With classes, you are usually obligated to meet at the same time each week. Some classes offer "drop in" type schedules. If scheduling flexibilty is a priority for you, check with the trainer about flexible shedules and cancellation and makeup sessions as well. All training facilities have different rules about making up classes if you miss one.

Cost

Private classes are definitely more expensive, but there are other costs to factor in. With classes, you have to travel to the location. My clients enjoy the flexiblity of meeting me at their house without any travel time.

Theoretical vs. Real World Training

One of the biggest challenges for any student that takes a group class is to apply the strategies learned in class and apply them to real-world challenges at home. For instance, teaching guest manners such as no jumping, or no barking at the doorbell is a common question tackled in group classes. it is challenging to recreate the situation in class without the actual doorbell and door at your house. During my private training, I show my clients step-by-step instructions on how to desensitize their dog to the doorbell, and how to teach their dog not to jump near the door when guests arrive.

Territorial Aggression

If your dog exhibits territorial aggression in the home, you need private training. The triggers that cause territorial aggression can't be recreated in a group setting.

Dog-Dog Aggression

You can make progress in a good "growly" group class as long as you are working with a skilled positive reinforcement trainer (my recommendation is to ONLY use positive reinforcement). The challenge is finding a good trainer that really understands how to treat this issue and has enough assistants in class. The rule of thumb is that there should only be 4-6 dogs in each class and there should be one assistant for each dog in class. Dog-dog aggression is handled very well in a private setting with the right trainer. 40-50 percent of my cases involve dog-dog issues. I work with my clients in their neighborhoods where the issues occur on a daily basis. I also often bring one of my personal dogs to a session in order to help my clients learn their dogs tendencies while focusing on getting their dog comfortable with one dog for an extended period of time. This allows my clients to study their dogs anxiety signals in order to apply this knowledge when they encounter other dogs on walks.

Distractions

Some of my private clients tried group classes and stopped going out of frustration. They could not get their dog to pay attention in class around the other dogs. A good teacher can usually help redirect a dog and provide guidance on how to achieve focus. However, sometimes it is easier to start with private sessions to lay the foundation of training principles before attempting a high distraction group setting.

These are just some thoughts that hopefully will help you make your decision about group classes or private training. Either option can be beneficial and fun if you find the right trainer. Go watch the classes that you are considering, check references and talk to other clients of the trainer before making your decision.
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