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The agility class got me thinking about class structure in general. This is for folks who have taken a group class before, everything from a beginner level class in Petco to a highly specialized or high level sports class.

I appreciate, and will continue to pursue, taking group classes from as many instructors who train with ethics I am comfortable applying to my dogs. I enjoy the class experience, and I also learn a lot about how other trainers structure their lessons.

I'm curious what your experiences have been (positive and negative). I also would love to hear what aspects of certain classes you really appreciated and what aspects of classes you dislike the most. What do you look for when searching for a class/instructor?

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My experiences...
I have taken an agility class a decade ago with Soro, a freestyle class by Joan Tennille, observed a Nose Games, (tricks-type), and basic manners class by Pat Miller, and taken a nosework and agility class by my local competition instructor. I enjoyed my first instructor for her straight-forwardness. But if I knew what I know today I probably wouldn't have taken a class from her since she was the person who put a prong collar in my hand (which was ineffective for Soro at the time and enabled angry/abusive training on my part) because Soro was whining out of excitement in class; she also showed me and had me practice pinning him by stepping on the leash and pulling (also ineffective given Soro's size/strength relative to mine, and I was a teenager at the time).

So obviously, ethics matter to me.

I really enjoy training under people who have a broad and applied base of knowledge, with a good balance of pride and humility. I take classes to do fun things with my dogs, to expose them to group class settings with the goal of having my dogs be calm demo dogs in my own classes, and to observe how other trainers structure their classes and interact with students.

I've found that the setting of a class is not as important to me. I've trained in dirt horse arenas, tiny indoor spaces, large indoor spaces, grassy outdoor spaces... I see the space as a challenge for me to use it in the best way possible. I guess if I had to choose, I prefer larger spaces. One thing in my class that seems to be very different compared to other classes I've taken, is we shift a lot between inside and outside. I can see the advantages as being able to work on a specific skill in a more predictable setting, then taking it into a more distracting setting. But I don't think classes that take place in one space are lacking, comparatively, in any way.

My least favorite thing about group classes (and this is likely completely due to my personality), is when there is a lot of talking and turn taking. I am not an auditory learner, so when an instructor talks for a long period of time it is really hard for me to focus. Thankfully, I can multitask by doing something passive with my dog. But I think it's partly the reason why my dogs are so busy in classes when I stop doing things with them. I'm antsy, so they're antsy. This is much less pronounced in Brae since I've been challenging myself to shape settling behaviors during lecture portions of class, and doing so without looking at him or giving him my full attention. Soro acts like he's in a 1 hour shaping session. If I stop with him, he will nose me, change positions, growl at me, etc...


I am a kinesthetic learner first, then visual, auditory last. I think that affects how I participate in classes and how I teach my own classes. I definitely stack the time in favor of doing a lot, demoing a little, and talking even less. Within reason, of course... Step by step instruction is provided and I love answering questions. But I don't feel the need to provide countless stories of my own experiences with my dogs. It baffles me when I walk away from a class and realize we only worked on two or three things. I am not annoyed by it. If anything, I think it is a great subconscious marketing strategy... If I could talk more and do less, I could spread out the content more and sell more classes. But the balance between instruction, stories, taking breaks (which to me, happen during lecture), and actually doing things, is something I am always thinking about.
 

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A couple of things I've disliked about classes:

1. When several people are allowed to participate in the class for the same dog (like when the whole family of 4 or 5 are all there doing the training together). I find it takes up a lot of space, they use more instructor time, and the dog is not getting consistent signals from each person. Personally I think the classes should be limited to 1 or 2 people per dog.

2. When an instructor can't read the dog's signals or chooses to ignore them. For example, a dog is barking/lunging at every other dog who gets close. I don't think it's wise to pair that dog with another dog who's doing the same. It seems like simple logic, but I've seen it.

3. I don't like it when there are too many people/dogs in a small area. It's just harder to work with your dog in those conditions.

4. I don't like when an instructor spends most of their time with one dog because they're having trouble. Other people don't get time to ask their questions then and it's not really fair.


What I do like about classes I have taken:

1. I like a combination of indoor/outdoor training. It's good to train the dog in various circumstances/settings.

2. I like when an instructor will take one of the dogs in class and use them as an example. It shows that yes, your dog CAN do this using this method. It also proves that the trainer knows what they're talking about because they can take any dog and do the trick, not just always using their own perfectly trained dog :)

3. Personally I like structure. So I like to know what we're going to be working on and to stick with some kind of program. I took a class where it was so unorganized, we never knew what we were going to be learning that day and then it was so chaotic it seemed like we never really got through any of the things we were supposed to be learning.
 

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I've taken a bunch of basic obedience classes with all 3 of my dogs, with one instructor. I've also taken a puppy obedience class with Mesa with another instructor. Mesa is currently in a nosework class, but it's hard to call that a group class because the dogs work individually.

What I like about the instructor that I know best:
1. She's pretty organized about the class schedule but is flexible if a few of the students are struggling with one aspect.
2. She has a great feel for each dog and genuinely likes each dog.
3. She won't put up with crap. If one dog is being a pill, that dog gets time out in a different location. They don't get to monopolize our time.
4. If one dog is having an issue she will take time after class to work it out.
5. She feels that no punishment is the best policy but recognizes that sometimes a correction is necessary. But she keeps it to the least amount that is still effective.

What I don't like:
She can talk a lot.

The other trainer was also good with a lot of the same things. My main complaint about that class is that there were about 12 dogs in the puppy class. Sometimes we were all doing stuff at the same time, which was fine. The times when only one dog could work at a time made for very long wait times for a puppy.


What I like about group classes in general:
1. You can see how the other dogs work and get an idea about different ways to work with your dog.
2. Seeing other dogs (and their people) struggling makes me feel like less of a dog doofus. (Bad me)
3. I think it's good for my dog to be able to be around but not interact with other dogs. It's part of her education

What I don't like:
1. The instructor may not get to know how your dog works if his/her attention is split between many dogs.
2. Sometimes not getting the individual attention I want/need.
 

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I have taken at least a dozen different classes, in various places, with various instructors. I used to be a lot less picky about my instructors/classes, but after a couple of classes that I recognized in hindsight as being not very good for Ida in classes, I realized I was putting too much stock in the title of Instructor - just because they are teaching a class doesn't mean they are more knowledgeable than I am (not that I'm particularly knowledgeable, just that there are some really bad trainers/instructors in my area).

Things that make for a good class

- Instructors that try to make it fun. E.g., games, vs. drills.
- Instructors that are organized, that have a curriculum/plan for what they are going to teach and why.
- That the space is suitably sized for the number of dogs, especially in classes where multiple dogs are out and working at once. (Less of an issue for classes where dogs work one at a time and are otherwise crated).
- Handouts! I like having notes about what we worked on in class.
- Homework! Homework assignments make me way more likely to work on something at home. I find them motivating.

Things that made for terrible classes
- Instructors that don't know what they're doing (I think this is a given, but if the instructor can't read the dog, or doesn't have a solid understanding of learning theory, how can they possibly make appropriate suggestions).
- Instructors that only focus on the weakest students. I am there to learn too! Just because I'm at a different place than other people in the class doesn't mean I don't need help. :( I think this goes hand in hand with the quality of the instructor - at least one instructor that I've had had no help to offer because she was newer to dog training than I was.
- Lack of organization/planning is also a big one. I don't need to know before we get there, but the instructor needs to know at the start of class what she's going to teach, and how she's going to teach it.
 

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I've bounced around between the different training businesses here in town, mainly taking private lessons with Chisum. But I have been privy to a couple of group classes.

I took a class with Chisum that I really enjoyed. He's very reactive, so we had to be separated from everyone else, but that wasn't a problem - not only was she set up for that, but she was very supportive of his limits and complementary of what he could manage to do. The class wasn't well-priced, the instructor was knowledgeable, and the entire environment was very supportive. I am now taking the same class with my other dog, Sophie.

In regards to Sophie, I recently signed up for a group class that I ultimately pulled her out of in favor of the one I knew. I had originally been interested in going to this school because they offered agility classes (which I thought we could do for fun) and they were fairly inexpensive as well. I can only speak to about 20 minutes of the class before we ditched. For one thing, the class was HUGE. Easily 20 participants there. One dog was reactive and the owner was 1) being yelled at and 2) being encouraged to use harsher corrections to control the reactivity. They had us do an exercise where we heeled our dog in a big circle, following each other, and then we had the dog sit when we stopped and give us eye contact for FIFTEEN SECONDS. No workup, just make the dog look at you for that long, without looking anywhere else in this super-distracting environment. Sophie struggled. I was told when she stood up at like second 10/15 that I needed to "encourage" her to remain sitting by popping the leash and/or her rear end whenever she tried to stand. Yeah, no. We left right after that.
 

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I've taken a number of various types of classes, and my favorite format was less talk, less turn taking [while others wait], and more activity [except when dogs are doing Stays, and even those were 'active' as we watched for and learned to anticipate breaks]. In one class, we warmed up outside with 15 - 30 min. of marching in heel. We were told never to heel that long on our own, but during class, we had lots of distractions, movement, changes in directions, and at least 25 other dogs in a large field. In the heel training, each dog progressed at its own speed, from close control, to loose leash, to no voice cues, to off leash ... all mixed with other dogs of varying levels of training and temperaments. Other behaviors, including CGC behaviors, and beginning agility were also trained. After class, dogs were allowed to play, if desired, and 'bullies' were quickly isolated in plain view of playing dogs - good motivation to play nicely. The good thing about this very predictable class is that everyone that practiced, could easily earn a CD and CDX title, and learn UD skills. Distractions and distance training were a natural part of every class.

This was 20 years ago, and I didn't like some of the harsh corrective methods used, but I wasn't required to correct, if my dog learned the behaviors. For example, when I was training for a long distance Stay, when my dog broke, I would run up to him to stop him, but I did not jerk his leash.

When I led the training for 3 years, I didn't teach harsh correction methods, but I didn't stop owners who used correction, unless their dog was shutting down or throwing too many calming signals. Blatant abuse or yelling was not allowed.

I stopped going to this training, when the owners brought in some new, experienced trainers who required choke or pinch collars, discouraged off leash training, and stopped play time ... I think quality degraded quickly .... otherwise, I would still be training with them 20 years later!
 

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I've taken a number of classes, from Petsmart's basic classes, to classes focusing on CGC, tricks, and agility (which is what most of my classes are now). I've taken classes with about 6 different instructors.

I'll start off with what it is that I want out of a good agility instructor, something I once wrote up for a blog I wrote for: https://teamunrulyblog.wordpress.com/2012/10/22/what-makes-a-good-agility-instructor. This pretty much defines what I want from my agility classes. Best case scenario of course.

In group obedience type classes...Some of the same of course!

-Organization is key for me. I've taken classes before where the teacher knew her stuff but was COMPLETELY unorganized and it made it hard to figure out what we were supposed to get out of it. I had one who would send all these things afterward that she clearly meant to cover...but never did. Very confusing!
-Positive methods. I once took a class at a place I was thinking about doing agility. They made me take an intermediate obedience class even though my dog had her Canine Good Citizen certificate. Every dog was on a prong or a choke chain, more than one dog was reactive and kept lunging at my dog if they got close (which was hard to avoid when she had us do heeling in a circle and different dogs walk at different speeds). And then she wanted me to use flooding to deal with my dog's fears. I walked out of the second class.
-When it comes to structure for these classes, I like having a large room where the dogs have tons of space between them and we can all be out working on something at the same time. Which means that there aren't many dogs in the class (5-6 or so at most). Right now I'm taking a class that's in a tiny room, dogs are all crated, and only 2-3 can manage to be out at a time (and there are something like 9 dogs in the class). Sometimes only one can be (e.g. when you're working on recall). It means you sit a lot and wait a lot. This is fine in agility when your dog needs a break, you need to catch your breath, and you can learn a lot from watching other people's handling. But not so much in a basic class. This one focuses on CGC stuff and I know a lot about it. I'm mostly in the class to work on Ben's being able to do it without treats and with other dogs around. So I tend to tune out because it's just not active enough.
 
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