Some pet parents might feel nervous or uncomfortable with the idea of taking their new dog or puppy to obedience classes, but the process will bring you closer together! Regardless of what your training goals are, from strengthening your relationship, to someday competing in agility competitions, obedience training is an important foundation.
Obedience training might sound boring, but it’s a lot of fun and a great way to learn about your dog and help the two of you bond. Some people (mistakenly) think that obedience training is just telling a dog what to do, but I like to think of obedience training as starting a conversation with our dogs, learning a new language, and sharing that language together.
Sign Up For Basic Obedience Classes
All puppies, and especially puppy parents, can benefit from taking at least one basic obedience or puppy kindergarten class together.
Even if you have had dogs before, you’ve never had this puppy, and starting to train together is a great way to start building your relationship, learn more about your puppy, improve your training and handling skills, and develop a shared language of communication.
Benefits Of Basic Obedience Classes
Puppy classes provide a great opportunity to start working with your puppy amid distractions from other people and dogs in a safe space. A good trainer will help teach you better skills to understand what your dog is trying to tell you—whether that’s anxiety, frustration, or something else—and support you by helping to perfect your timing when rewarding and improving your dog’s overall understanding.
What To Expect At Your First Obedience Class
It may feel daunting to go to your first obedience class not knowing what it will be like, but not to worry! Most classes are taught in a dog training facility, public park, or community center, and generally follow similar guidelines.
What Should I Bring?
Check with your training instructor before your first class in case they require something specific, but generally your dog should be wearing a comfortable harness and/or collar just like they would for any other walk, and should remain on leash (ideally six feet in length). Avoid retractable leashes for obedience classes.
Be sure to bring lots of treats or kibble that your dog loves, and a toy or two if your dog is toy-motivated.
When Happens When I Arrive?
When you get to class, your trainer will either assign you and your dog a seat or dedicated space, or will ask you to select one. Even if your puppy loves other dogs, use treats to keep their attention on you, and don’t allow your puppy to approach other dogs.
Obedience Class Is Training Time, Not Playtime
Obedience class is an opportunity to learn to work around distractions. Although some puppy kindergarten classes may have a supervised group play time at the end, unless otherwise instructed, you will want to keep your puppy by your side and away from other dogs.
Just like with any dog you and your puppy meet, you don’t know if they are uncomfortable or nervous around strangers, and your puppy’s focus should be only on YOU. They should learn that going to “school” is a time to learn and not to play.
What Is The Purpose Of Basic Obedience Training?
Obedience classes are the building blocks for developing a strong relationship with your dog or puppy that will last the rest of their life. Training is as much about you as it is your dog—it teaches you how to communicate and understand your dog’s natural instincts, desires, and wants. This goes a long way to decrease frustration and confusion between the two of you.
You will also learn how to effectively cue different behaviors, and to familiarize your dog with what those cues mean. In most basic obedience classes, you and your dog will work on cues like:
- Loose-leash walking
- Coming when called
- Leave it
“Sit,” “down,” and “watch” (focus on you) cues are great ways to get your puppy’s attention in distracting or busy areas. Similarly, loose-leash walking skills, coming when called at all times, and the “leave it” cue are essential for well-mannered walks and accidental sidewalk snacking.
What Obedience Training Is NOT
Regardless of whether your dog was bred to herd livestock, hunt, protect the home, or simply be a companion, they all benefit from foundational training. The skills they learn in basic obediences class are ones that they will carry with them and develop for life.
Dogs of all ages and sizes love learning new things and thrive on having the opportunity to do so. Obedience training isn’t rigid and boring militaristic behavior drills, and should never be about punishing your dog. Rather, it’s a fun and dynamic way to spend quality time with them.
Teaching your dog new skills and behaviors provides them with much-needed mental exercise, and ultimately improves their trust in and connection with you as their person.
How To Find The Right Trainer
The most important part of beginning basic obedience training with your dog or puppy is to make sure that you find the right trainer. Dog training in the United States is an unregulated industry; anyone, regardless of experience level, can call themselves a dog trainer.
There are a lot of different trainers with varying philosophies about life with dogs, various approaches to working with dogs, and different levels of experience. It’s always a good idea to shop around and interview different dog trainers to find the trainer and space that will be the right place for you and your dog.
Ask for trainer recommendations from other dog parents you know or meet, and look for trainers who focus on positive reinforcement approaches. Avoid trainers who use scientifically disproven language like “dominance” or “alpha,” or who tell you need to use painful tools or punishment to successfully train.
What Is Reward-Based Training?
It’s essential that the trainer you choose uses positive reinforcement or reward-based training approaches and methodologies. Positive reinforcement training utilizes rewards such as praise, play, and toys to reward your dog for learning or performing a desired cue or behavior.
Reward-based training has been scientifically proven to help dogs learn better and faster when compared with yelling, yanking on the leash, or otherwise punishing a dog for inevitable unwanted behavior as part of the training process.
Always Use Treats (Or Toys!)
Just as you won’t work for free, your dog shouldn’t either! Yes, obedience training is about building a stronger relationship with our dogs, and that relationship is rooted in mutual bonds, but that doesn’t mean our dogs have to learn that they should do what we say just because we said it.
Basic Obedience Is Just The Beginning
I like to think of obedience training as a conversation, a way of establishing building blocks that will last your dog’s lifetime regardless of what activities you pursue—from walking around the neighborhood, competing in dog sports, or just hanging out on a restaurant patio.
If you find that you and your puppy are having fun learning the basics, you can always take those skills to the next level. Competition obedience and high energy rally obedience are two obedience-based dog sports (open to purebred and mixed breed dogs) that build on and expand the foundational skills you and your puppy learn in your first obedience classes! Some titles and ribbons might be in your puppy’s future!
Sassafras Lowrey is a dog trainer turned trick instructor turned writer who seriously loves dogs! She got involved with dog training as a teenager, but it wasn’t until her and her partner adopted a former street dog in 2011 that she realized she could combine her passion for dogs with her passion for writing! After looking into ways she could enrich her dog Charlotte’s life, and seeing other pet parents do the same, Sassafras decided to write books to help both dogs and their humans. Check out the following activity from her new book, Chew This Journal!