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My husband and I are new puppy owners- this is our first dog together, and we're working through what it means to be puppy parents!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Tail of Two Obedience Classes

Alright- I need some help. I have two obedience classes, and I'm not happy with either. I'm going to describe the class/activities/teacher(s) and, please, tell me what you think. My husband and I were both frustrated last night after class. I'm not even going to delineate pros and cons- because maybe what I'm seeing as a con is a pro.... I don't know!

Class 1: PetSmart- We are in this class for the long haul. We paid for it, so we're going. This class has one other puppy- a very rambunctious black lab, that is exactly Kirby's age. This dog has a bad habit or two(notably barking) that by the end of class, Kirby was imitating. The class structure was as follows: We walked in, the trainer was 15 minutes late, she asked "What are some issues you're having?" We talked over issues, she gave us some practical advice. After we both went through that process, she asked for more issues. She then started suggesting issues that we might be having... that neither of us were having(for 10 minutes). She then demonstrated a watch me, with both dogs and gave us tips on successfully practicing watch me. (Kirby already knows watch me, which was apparent at the class) By this time the dogs are going crazy. We've been sitting the whole time, listening to her talk... I don't know why we even had dogs there. Suddenly class is over, she promises not to be late next time. She gives us tips on watch me (our assignment for the week) and house training. She scoots us out, so the next class isn't late. The door opens and at least 8 large dogs are waiting for us. Kirby is already riled up and ready to play, so he proceeds to ignore any puppy manners he previously had, and sniff, bark, and approach however he pleased. Luckily this was an advanced class waiting to come in, with lots of very well behaved dogs.

Class 2: Community Rec Center- We showed up, and paid our $12.50. This class is an ongoing class- they work on the needs of individuals and the group, and it changes depending on who shows up. There were 7 other puppies, all at least 6 weeks older than Kirby. We met a few of the dogs outside- on leash, then came inside and did introductions- and the trainer asked what issues everyone was having this week. She went through each pup and gave tips. Her tip for us was get a long leash, when Kirby goes after the cat, give a really sharp tug on the leash with the command leave it. The other tip was about Kirby nipping our fingers with the toy/treat when we give it to him. She said "well, he's a herding dog, he's going to nip."
After this, we all walked to a spot where our dog couldn't physically touch any other dog. We waited for Kirby to turn and look at us, so we could treat him for giving us his attention. It took Kirby a long time to look at us, but seeing how this was his first time around this many other dogs, that's fine. We gave our dogs commands from this position, practicing with all of the distractions.
We then started walking on leash, in circles around the room. They required us to have the dogs on our left (both Stan and I naturally prefer the right) Kirby is not accustomed to the leash- we have practiced in our yard/home, but we can't walk him outside until he gets his third set of vaccinations. The dogs were all trying to sniff, hang out, and meet one another. The trainers kept saying "Walk faster, your dog won't have time to sniff!" Let's move! So, we were jogging around this room,(WE were, there were several elderly people who couldn't do that) Kirby is still pulling hard(as hard as a puppy can pull) in all directions, and getting tangled up in our feet trying to see the other dogs. The trainer would ask us to halt, circle left, and start around in a new direction, with Kirby pulling and twisting between our legs. It was kind of like a cartoon.
We then practiced "Come" where the trainer stood on one end, holding our dog, and we called our dog from across the room. Kirby did really well with that. By that time, class was over. Still no off leash time.

So, those are the classes. I know I've only been to each one once. What do you think? This is my first time raising a dog, and I don't know what to expect, and I don't want a class to give my dog bad habits. I know he needs the socialization though. I'm really, really conflicted. Thanks in advance everyone. I don't want to be totally stressed about obedience class. It should be a fun time, right?


  1. I think it's just way too new for Kirby to immediately adjust to a class on the first day. Of course he's going to be riled up and want to play. Whatever you taught him in class isn't what sticks with him. It's more for you to learn how to train your dog, and then you go home and practice all week until it's time for the next class to learn something new. What is great about the classes is that they learn obedience in a distracting environment. So of course it will be distracting, but Kirby will get the hang of it.

    As far as the Petsmart trainer being late, that's ridiculous! Did you still get a full hour? I'd ask for my 15 minutes worth of money back. You paid for the trainer's time, and if you don't get all of your time, you should get something back. As far as leash training goes, I've always heard the dog is always on the left. It's just always been that way because most people are right handed. So your left hand holds the leash and your right hand is free to do other things, open gates/doors, carry objects, etc. It's a tradition that I've heard came from hunters would carry their weapon with the right hand and have a leash on the right hand.

    Reuben starts class on Saturday, and it will be my first time doing the classes too. I'm big into training my own dogs in the past. I'm huge on clicker training and Reuben knows everything that these puppy classes will teach him. I'm just looking for that distracting environment. I met with the trainer about 2 or 3 times before I ever signed up for a class at Petco. She was highly credited and gave me a ton of pointers way before I considered taking her class. We train for an hour and then it's off leash socializing puppy time after that. She believes the dogs have to work before they get play time.

    I think your Petsmart class will be fine. Just learn everything he/she has to say and practice at home. Next week, he can show off what he's learned back in that crazy class.

  2. Hi There. I am more than happy to give you my two cents. When Simba was a puppy we enrolled him at the Petsmart classes aswell. We did Puppy Kindergarten for a 8 week course, and then Intermediate for another 8 week course, and then stopped and I found another trainer that we work with on and off when I need it. I found that our trainer at Petsmart was great and we really enjoyed the classes. I understand that your class only has two dogs, but look at that as a good thing. Both our classes had atleast 11 dogs in each. Simba hardly got one on one time with the teacher (he still got trained, but still, one on one is much better). At one point not to long ago I worked at Petsmart actually printing out the homework sheets and such and I know that for each class the criteria is the same. And, in the first class, you talk about problems at home, housebreaking, and watch me. The first 2-3 classes go slow because most owners have already taught their dogs sit, down and watch me. But, I can say that by the end of the 8 weeks you will see a difference in Kirby *IF you work for it. For example, you spoke of the other dog starting to bark and Kirby copying. Use that as an oppurtunity to train Kirby! Its wonderful, it really is. As much as that dog is probably annoying and you want to scream by the end of class, you are going to teach Kirby exactly how to behave around dogs like that--which you will use alot in his 12+ year long life. When the other dog starts to bark, tell Kirby "Watch Me" and make him watch you for 10+ seconds, then reward him and BAM, you've just taught him to give you attention when the dog barks. Of course, if you can't hold his attention, use a better treat (puperroni is good as long as his tummy can handle it) and make sure he smells it and work up to 10 seconds. Use every chance in that class to train Kirby.
    As far as the big dogs coming into class thing goes, he'll get better at it. Pretend your in his shoes. He is tiny. Pretend you are smelling all kinds of things on the floor, your in a new place, you hear so many voices, you have your mom tugging on your leash telling you something but all the other voices block you out. Then, all the sudden the door opens and all these giant dogs start coming in and your frightened. You are so excited with everything that all you want to do is run in every direction but your mom is holding you back, saying something like "no" or "stop", but you don't know what that means you just think she is barking at you just like you bark!
    See what I mean? Poor thing is going through alot at ones. Try to use watch me in every situation possible. That is Simbas main command, other than sit. Every where we go, I have a pile of treats, and I make sure that he sits, and watches me before he does anything. If you do that, and take every moment to train him in that class, you'll walk out of there happy you took the class.
    Im sorry the teacher was late, hopefully it doesn't happen again!

  3. Now, the second class, I wouldn't do again. Not sure how you feel about training, but I would certainly never want to yank my dog away from the cat and yell leave it. That'll just excite Kirby more and make him want to chase it because all he hears is "Go Kirby Go!". LOL, Sounds funny, but its true! I've trained Simba, and he is living proof that you don't gotta hurt or yank a dog to train them, you gotta THINK like a dog to train them. I think the leave it command is week 4 or 5 in petsmarts class. You'll enjoy it, we had fun when we taught Simba that for the first time. Now, you can use the leash to hold him back, but that little Kirby isn't much to yank around and I would hate for him to hate his leash more than he already does! Plus, that class does not sound like a good enviroment. Your little guy sounds very confused!!

    I hope this helped some. Im not a trainer, but like I said before, I trained Simba started with zero knowledge, and now I know and have based all of his training off of thinking like a dog. It works, and I want you to have a trainer that uses treats and that thinks like a dog! Give petsmart a chance. If you have any money left after paying for the other two classes, go here: http://www.akc.org/events/cgc/cgc_bystate.cfm pick where you live, then find your city and email a few of the trainers listed. Warning, some of them aren't Positive Reinforcement Trainers so be sure to ask. Believe me-- a friend emailed one from there that used harmful methods. But, for the most part, they're good trainers that are always looking for clients!

    Contact me any time. I am always more than happy to help with anything! :-)


  4. Sorry about the two comments- too many characters. PS- On the first paragraph when I said that all classes are the same, I meant that all the puppy kindergartens/beginners in all of petsmarts in america are the same meaning that they have the same stuff they go over on each week. Sorry! hehe!

  5. I hope I can help here with some issues first.

    The nipping. Everytime he nips at you, your fingers, your ankles, scream OUCH and leave him IMMEDIATELy. DO NOT LOOK AT HIM OR PLAY WITH HIM. He'll get the message after some time. Eva is a herding dog too and she used to nip at us but now she knows she shouldn't do it.

    Walking on the left - it's called heeling. When a dog heels, it is ALWAYS on the left. Since young, we've trained Eva to always go on the left, even though we all feel more comfortable on the right.

    Honestly, I think your second class had way too many dogs in it. In Eva's OB, there was only one other goldie and they did very well together. You can read all about Eva's OB classes here: http://sheltiebeauties.blogspot.com/search/label/training
    The posts with Eva's OB#... are here obedience classes.

    Going offleash, honestly is unadvisable. I know it's fun to see your dog run free but it's dangerous in two ways:
    1) your dog may not have a reliable enough recall and won't come back to you. worst case, he runs out.
    2) other dogs are not as nice as they seem. In eva's class, there are at least 5 nasty dogs. If Kirby gets near them and they snap, you are in trouble.

    First class trainer talks way too much. It's all talk and no work lol. I know you want Kirby to socialize, but i think it'd be better to do that in a dog park.

  6. I gotta say that we are blessed with several very good dog training companies that have their own facilities, trainers, and do more than puppy training and obedience. They do nutrition classes, agility training, show dog classes, fly-ball, city dog manners, etc. They are very experienced and I was very impressed. Go figure Alaska would have such great options.
    I would complete the Pet Smart class and then see what other options are out there for you. Ask around, ask other folks at the pet store when your shopping for him. Do an online search in your area.
    Ryker was the barking wild one in class at first but made great strides. I was not until he reached a year old that he developed a truly reliable recall and really started paying attention.