One -On- One or Group Training
Which is Best for Your Client's Dog?
By Laura Pakis
How often have you heard dog owners say, “My dog flunked obedience class.” With so many different methods, settings, and styles of dog training, obedience problems can inevitably result — depending on what they choose and the temperament and personality of the dog.
Similar to humans, dogs learn in a variety of ways. And just like humans, some dogs take longer to grasp a concept than others. One theory for an average dog learning a task is as follows:
24 hours: If not repeated; the memory is absent.
1 to 5 Days: repeated daily; the task is in short term memory.
1 to 30 Days: repeated daily; the task in long term memory.
Improvement in a dog’s performance continues when training is effective. Of course environmental factors (trainer effectiveness, task complexity, lesson style, etc.) influence the time frame, as do the dog’s genetic factors.
Another statement of expected learning curve is more profound. An average student with an average dog needs about 3 months for a task to be 85% reliable. A good student with a good dog decreases the number of weeks to 10 for 85% reliability. And a poor student with an average dog increases the amount of time for 85% reliability to about 4 months (most likely due to inconsistencies and poor timing).
So what type of setting is best to train a dog?
There are several factors to consider before deciding whether a group class or private lessons fit a client’s situation and personality. Time, money, what their goals and needs are, as well as knowing what environment works best for the dog’s personality and temperament are all factors.
The benefit of a group obedience class is, economically, it’s more affordable. Many opt toward the group because of this, but once they enter the group, they find that the other benefits are the camaraderie; the friendships they gain, or the commiserating of their dog’s problems to one another. Classes can also offer a competitive edge that pushes members to improve and “keep up” and a great energy is created with a group of people working hard and feeding off that energy. Human nature is such that we enjoy doing things in a group; however group classes are not designed to be effective with all dog owners or puppies.
If someone is looking for training that will be safe, relationship-based, and 100% focused on them, then private one-on-one dog training is the best bet. Some argue that private training yields the best results because the trainer is going to gear every session towards their client’s goals using training methods appropriate for their dog’s personality and temperament. Private lessons provide much more detail to training. This is a disadvantage of group classes where the trainer’s focus is divided among several individuals and a variety of dog personalities.
Group classes can be set up to be more successful by reducing the number of participants to around 6 or less, or arranging it so the dogs are of similar personality and temperament. Offering aggressive dog classes or fearful dog classes can be beneficial since many of these dog owners already have the stigma that they have a “problem dog”. Working with other owners of similar dogs in small groups can also provide the catalyst to build confidence in the owners.
Another possibility that works well is to use both environments to your advantage. Start off the dog’s training using private lessons. Then once the dog has a solid foundation of obedience, continue training using group classes to improve command reliability or develop a specialty such Therapy Dog or Agility.
It is difficult to say that one environment is better than the other. Both types of training environments have their advantages and disadvantages. One thing they have in common is they help dog owners stay focused on their goals for a well-mannered dog. The benefits of either type of training are accountability and scheduling. For many people, making an appointment with a trainer helps them stay true to their commitment to training their dog.
No matter which training environment your client chooses, it is important to remember that training never ends. Just like any good relationship, you have to keep working at it. A six or eight week course is not a lifetime guarantee of good behavior, nor is a series of private lessons. Training is an investment in gaining the tools to maintain a dog’s good behavior. Obedience is a way of life and one every dog owner should participate in.