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Classes or Private Training?

Both Hanson and Fisher say it's important for a new dog owner to have a relationship with an experienced trainer who uses a positive reinforcement approach to training. Then you can work with the trainer -- either one-on-one or in a class -- to learn the things you need to know to train your dog.

Fisher points out that the relationship with a professional trainer doesn't have to be a long-term commitment. "After 4 to 6 months of classes," she says, "you'll know enough to get you through the 12 or so years the dog is with you."

Classes have certain benefits compared to private sessions:

  • They are generally less expensive.
  • You're around other people with dogs that are doing the same thing, which means there's a built-in support system.
  • You have a chance, especially with a puppy, to start socializing your dog with other people and other dogs.

Socialization, which helps a dog learn how to act around other dogs and people, should start early. "Socialization," Fisher says is the process by which a dog learns to accept things that are new."

Is Your Dog Socialized?

"The first question I ask when talking to a new client about the kind of training environment they should have is 'How is your dog around other dogs and other people?'" says Cathy Bruce, owner of Canine Country Academy dog training in Dacula, Ga.

"If the dog has not socialized well or has some type of reaction behavior around other dogs and people, its stress level is going to be too high to learn from training in a class setting," Bruce says. In that case, she recommends private home training.

This is typically an issue with older dogs, dogs whose training has been delayed, or rescue dogs that were not socialized well. "If it's a puppy," Bruce says, "I usually recommend we start out in a class."

"We really like to see people start in a class with their puppy at 8 weeks of age," Hanson says. That's because you'll be working with a clean slate, he says, and it will be a lot easier to shape and mold behavior.