Do you have a new puppy or adopted an adult dog or you’ve tried a few dog trainers but getting nowhere with your dog’s behaviour? Cathy Beer, dog training student at the Delta Institute shares her essential tips for choosing a good dog training class to set your dog up for success (and have fun!)

Dog training is unregulated in Australia, anyone can call themselves a dog trainer and set up dog training classes. The dog training methods used have a profound effect on how the dog learns, their attitude to training and their relationship with you.  Canine science has evolved significantly in the last 10 – 15 years. And as a result, dog training has moved away from punishment methods that are now considered inhumane and out of date.

We would now define a ‘good’ trainer as someone who uses force free positive dog training methods.  A good dog training class will have a trainer who has a thorough knowledge of how dogs learn and assist dog owners in achieving their aim of a well-mannered canine companion.

Top tips for choosing a good dog training class

Find a class that uses positive force-free methods 

Positive force-free methods may include clicker training or at least use food rewards or toys that will motivate your dog.  The dog trainer should be able to explain the methods used in class and justify them in terms of current research into dog cognition, behaviour and training. Avoid dog trainers who insist that physical abuse of any kind, for example using a choke chain or other forms of punishment is necessary to train your dog.

Ask about the trainer’s qualifications and experience

As the industry is unregulated, those conducting training can call themselves experts and specialists so be sure to explore the experience of the instructor.  Experience in training security dogs or in the services does not necessarily qualify instructors to conduct companion dog classes. Look for a trainer with up to date qualifications in positive force-free training methods.  Your professional force-free dog trainer should maintain memberships only with select organisations that advocate humane, ethical training methods that are minimally aversive to animals.

What is the equipment being used in the dog training class? 

Ask the trainer what equipment the use in their classes. The trainer should explain the equipment and tools that will be required in the class such as leashes, flat collars, bite-sized treats etc. The Pet Professional Guild says a force-free professional trainer will recommend using equipment that has been designed with a dog’s safety in mind.  Avoid classes that use equipment designed to punish the dog including electronic collars, prong collars, choke collars and spray collars.

Is everyone having fun in the class?

Ask to observe a class (without your dog). The dogs and their human should look as if they are enjoying the class. Training should be fun for you and your dog!

How is puppy play managed in the dog training class?

A good dog training instructor will assess the individual puppies’ energy level and temperament before carefully managing the interaction between puppies – two dogs at a time.  Avoid classes that allow all the puppies off the lead to play at the same time. A negative experience between pups may cause future behavioural problems.

Look for small class size

It’s a no-brainer that the smaller the dog training class size, the more individual attention you will receive. The Delta Institute recommends four puppies in a baby puppy class (up to six if space permits and there are at least two instructors) and six older dogs (up to eight with two instructors).  However, it is worthwhile looking into your local dog club, which will likely to have large classes but may suit your budget. Just make sure the instructors use positive reinforcement methods.

Does the class venue have minimal distractions?

Ideally, there should be few or no distractions to maximise you and your dog’s learning experience. There should be adequate space between puppies/dogs to avoid physical contact when puppies walk to the end of their leads. Classes for older dogs are usually held in larger venues. Most adult dog classes in Australia are held outdoors but some may be in community halls or undercover areas.

Avoid trainers who say they ‘guarantee results’

The variables in dogs, owners and the environment mean that dog training outcomes cannot be guaranteed.

Find a good dog training class near you