Are Group Classes Ineffective?
I sit down with dozens of dog owners a month to discuss their dog, the problems that they’ve been having and their goals they wish to achieve through training with me and a stunning number of people state that they have tried training before. For most people, they’ve done a group class or two. This was the same as my wife and Rocky when I met them and to my knowledge, all Rocky took away from that was an understanding of how to sit. Considering he was one of the worst dogs I have ever seen on leash, I feel he could have taken some more stuff away from that class.
Over 50% of my clients have tried group classes before hiring me, which begs the question, are group classes effective anymore? It seems that group training classes are becoming synonymous with ineffectiveness, but I promise you this has much more to do with the material being taught than it does the format of the teaching.
I’ve had the pleasure of auditing a handful of group classes in my life and I quickly grew frustrated with the instructors much faster than the dogs or humans because they weren’t addressing or teaching about the issues that were being organically presented within the classroom setting. Like that one dog in the corner that is going nuts at every other being in the room with no disregard for how much his antics is harming the learning environment for everybody else there. There’s no way that dog would be doing that in my class! That’s a learning opportunity for everybody involved and as much as some group classes love their food, situations like that create a create organic teaching opportunity for the concept of interruptions and corrections.
Let’s take a look at just 3 trainers I’ve pulled who either run or have run very successful group classes.
Tony Ancheta/Bill Koehler – The Koehler Method of Dog Training (www.koehlerdogtraining.com)
Tony Ancheta has been referred to as “the keeper of the Koehler Method” and is now the person responsible for teaching the method since Bill and Dick Koehler have passed. The Koehler method lends itself to a primarily group training format. Laid out as a 10 Week program in the book, you take your dog from wherever he is now to off leash reliable within that time.
This method is known for being slightly controversial and there’s a lot of trainers who are outspoken against its style. I have only two things to say about that:
1. The day you have a dog who will not take food and is causing you a massive amount of headaches, you will be thankful the Koehler Method is in the back of your mind.
2. 99% of the people who are fast to criticize the KMODT have never seen its ambassadors apply the method to a dog IN PERSON. From a number of reports from trainers whose opinions I value, I know that watching these dogmen and women apply the method is significantly different from the mental images conjured by the text of the book.
Dick Russel – dickrusselldogtrainer.com
Unfortunately, I never got to meet Dick Russell before he died, but the ripple effect this man had on the dog world is still being seen. From creating one of my favorite obedience drills to introducing the world to the concept o Large Field Socialization, Dick left a stamp on the world of dog training that is not going to rub off any time soon.
Larry Benoit, the trainer that Dick brought on as a partner is still continuing Dick’s work down in Louisiana.
Chad Mackin – Pack To Basics (www.packtobasics.net)
Chad has been one of the most influential trainers on my career and for good reason. In a sea of information overload within the dog training industry Chad has a way of boiling down concepts so they hit the principle behind the techniques. It was his idea that “Everything is pressure and release” that eventually lead me to the understanding I now have about learning and stress within dogs.
Now, I’ve never attended Chad’s group classes, but I have had the pleasure of attending his workshops and though the two likely have vast differences, he is a trainer that produces results.
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Three trainers that I know off the top of my head that are helping people achieve high levels of reliability with their dog through the group class format of teaching.
So why is it that group classes are getting a bad name? My theory is that the people who are running the group classes are having the same struggle that many other dog trainers are in the world which will limit the results they get–they’re more concerned with teaching commands and behaviours than they are skill sets and principles.
I make sure that my clients understand underlying principles of dogmanship so they can move forward without me and have great dogs that they can trust. If all I did was show them how to teach their dog to sit, they’d have no idea how to use that skill anywhere outside of the realm of asking for a sit. However, if I teach them the principles interruption and informative corrections and I teach the dog the skill set of impulse control, eventually the sit will be rendered unnecessary because the behaviour will ideally go away!
Group classes will be around for a long time still, and I think they are important. If there’s anything that you can take away from this blog, let it be this:
Just because you didn’t see results in the group class you took with your dog, does not mean training doesn’t work on your dog. It means that class was not set up for your success. Just because one trainer fails on your dog, doesn’t mean your dog can’t be trained. It means the trainer did not have the ability to recognize the difference in your dog from the many other dogs they have likely successfully trained.
Your dog can be trained and there are thousands of qualified professionals that can help you with that! For a list of trainers in your area, visit www.canineprofessionals.com and use the “find a professional” feature on the side of the page.
Though I don’t run group classes where we start from scratch, I do offer group classes to my clients who have already graduated from my private training or BootCamp programs.