One of the best things you can do for the canine in your life is to get them into training classes, ASAP. Training classes aren't just good for you, they're also great for your pup! Dogs are very smart animals, so a regular training regimen helps to exercise and improve their mind and their body. Most affordable dog training classes are held in a group setting with multiple dogs on leash with their owners as they learn commands like sit, stay, down, etc. They may even learn more advanced techniques.
We adopted our dog when she was 5 months old, and I knew immediately that we wanted to take her to training classes. I wanted her to be attentive and well-behaved as she matured into adulthood, so I signed us up for a package of 10 training classes at a local obedience school.
What I didn't sign up for was getting kicked out of class. Our dog only had a month of "puppy" age left in her, so when she reached 6 months old, we had to take her to the adult Obedience 1 classes. Ten minutes into her first class, we were kicked out, because our pup could not calm down with all the big dogs around. At first, I was furious, calling the manager of the school, demanding money back, etc. – the usual overreaction. However, what I learned was that it's not uncommon or embarrassing if your dog gets kicked out of training class, and in fact, it can be a huge learning opportunity for everyone involved. Here are some important tips from experts that I wish I had known that fateful day, because with a little work, your pup can get back in there, learning and enjoying group classes again.
Don't stop training or obedience.
Just because you can't be present in classes doesn't mean you can't train your dog. If you and your dog have learned any behaviors, then keep practicing those with your dog. If you haven't, we have plenty of great resources and training articles here at Cuteness. You can also sign your dog up for private lessons, which is what we ended up doing with our dog. She was able to learn tons of tricks and behaviors without the distraction of other dogs. Most obedience schools know how to help a reactive dog learn how to behave, so you can eventually reenter classes. At our school, our trainer used a stuffed dog and then her own dog as we worked to get our pup used to staying calm around bigger dogs. And it worked!
Training in general helps to boost your dog's confidence, which will make them better equipped for a positive obedience class experience, whenever you're able to return. Plus, in the meantime, your pup will be well ahead of your school, so your dog will hopefully advance more quickly.
Learn how to walk your dog properly.
If your dog was kicked out of training class, chances are that they react too strongly to the other dogs in the class. You can help work on this behavior when you go on walks by showing your dog that they can pass by other dogs without a reaction with some careful planning and treats. Start by keeping your distance from other dogs and reward your dog when they don't react. Don't approach dogs head-on, because for dogs, that's very aggressive and can make your dog feel stressed or afraid. Instead, pass other dogs on the side and never let the dogs "meet" until your dog can be calm doing so. These little interactions help to make your dog less reactive on leashes around other dogs, which can help in obedience classes, because they are often on leashes around other dogs.
Work to improve your dog's socialization outside of training class.
Socialization is all about how your dog deals with other dogs, other humans, and any other stimuli out in the world. The most critical point of time for socialization is before your puppy reaches 4 months of age. During those crucial early weeks, you want to expose your pup to everything you can think of, so your dog learns to be okay with the world around it. However, if you rescue an older dog, then you don't have that option.
Our dog was just past the age where we could properly socialize her, so she was a little behind. She found bigger dogs intimidating, so she tended to bark at them, which was the root of why we got kicked out of class. Introducing your dog to anything that they react to – other dogs, humans, bicycles, etc. – can slowly help reduce their reaction over time. Make sure you work on socialization away from home at first, so your dog doesn't feel overly protective. Also, go slowly and offer rewards. Try to have your dog perform an action like "sit" when you see an upsetting stimulus, and reward them for calm behavior.
With a little work, you'll soon be the proud pet parent of an obedient dog.
After a lot of work, some private training classes, and a little maturing, we were able to get our dog back into group classes. She was so far ahead on all of our tricks, so her training mostly involved teaching her to perform tricks she knows around other dogs. Succeeding at obedience class will make both you and your pup feel a huge sense of accomplishment, and you'll feel a lot better knowing that your dog can behave and learn around other dogs. We can't promise that there will be an adorable puppy-sized graduation cap at the end of your road, but we also can't promise there won't be! Either way, totally worth it!