A common question is whether reactive dogs should be taken to group training classes.
The answer is … it depends.
Under the right circumstances a group class can be a great counterconditioning opportunity:
- It is a regular and consistent training setting
- It provides predictable access to people and dogs
- The dogs are going to be under (leash-)control
- The people are going to understand how to appropriately behave around dogs
- Training classes are usually held in places with no surprises (fitting our description of good situations from the Setting Up Situations lesson)
Before saying yes to taking your dog to a group training class however, make sure that you can guarantee the following requirements:
- Managing your dog’s reactivity always has priority. If your dog is doing great, then you can work on obedience, manners, tricks, recall, agility … if your dog is struggling, you need to stop trying to work on those skills and focus solely on changing his CER.
- You need to communicate this to your instructor beforehand and make sure they are ok with it.
- You need to have the opportunity to move away in the case that your dog crosses his threshold. This usually works great at outdoor classes or spacious indoor classes. If your class is indoors in a small space, it probably won’t be possible.
- You need to get your instructor’s permission to move your dog away, leave the training space for a short time or leave the class before it is finished in case your dog is too triggered.
I always invite my reactive dog clients to join my outdoor classes from a distance. I don’t expect them to stay for the entire time (in case I often encourage them to leave early, while the dog is still in a good state of mind!).
Whether your instructor thinks this is possible or not for the class that you are taking might differ. It is really important to be upfront about your plan and your dog’s needs.
If you get yourself into a group class situation in which you are in a cramped space, cannot leave early, cannot bring the distance your dog needs between him and his triggers, group classes can make you go back many steps in your training.
Before committing to a group class make sure that the circumstances will allow you and your dog to be successful!