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Group dog training classes are an economical and effective way to learn dog training skills and expose your dog to new people and other dogs. Marin Humane’s dog training classes were temporarily suspended during the most stringent stay-home restrictions, but have opened up for outdoor classes in the past month.
As an instructor for Marin Humane, I recently taught my first two post-SIP group classes, which were quite a bit of fun. There were also some noticeable differences from pre-pandemic classes.
First, classes are much smaller. For those who appreciate the concierge level of service, these classes make the cut. The smaller classes are more intimate and the instructor-to-student ratio is quite favorable. And since people are grateful to have classes available, the vibe is decidedly upbeat. This isn’t to say that classes weren’t fun and positive before, rather there is a new level of appreciation for opportunities we may have once taken for granted. People are more relaxed and flexible, if only for the hour they are transported to “Communications 101” with their beloved pet. And we all know our dogs think their humans should always work from home and have no discernible social life.
There are some dogs for which group classes aren’t the way to go. Dogs that bark and lunge at other dogs when they are out and about are considered to be reactive. This behavior often occurs when on-leash, but can also apply to off-leash dogs. While these dogs aren’t necessarily aggressive to other dogs, they need special training techniques to modify this behavior. Until they have learned some coping skills, a group class is too stimulating and stressful for reactive dogs. These dogs should meet with an instructor for private lessons specific to this issue before considering a group situation. No worries, Marin Humane has this covered as well.
Contrary to expectations, dog adoptions stayed stable over the past few months. Initially, we were worried pets would be surrendered to the shelter due to the unstable social and economic situation, but happily, this didn’t prove to be the case. However, there has been considerable angst from new puppy guardians because people weren’t sure how to socialize them while social distancing.
Many people take socialization to mean socialize with other puppies or other dogs. While dog-to-dog socialization is important, the concept is much larger. Rather than encouraging a puppy to “say hi” to every dog one encounters, we should be looking for “socially appropriate” behavior with other dogs (and people, too, for that matter).
Socially appropriate is situational. Most often it should mean they can be in the presence of other dogs without experiencing stress, fear or reactivity. Putting undue social pressure on a puppy to “say hi” can be counterproductive or even damaging.
As a puppy guardian myself, I actually found the stay-home order to be a fabulous time to socialize my puppy. Not only did I have more time to explore new areas, but everyone was out and about. We must have gone on a thousand leash walks on walking paths packed with walkers, dogs, geese, runners, rollerbladers, bicyclists, skateboarders, children, folks in wheelchairs and babies in strollers. Socialization encompasses all of this.
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
View a list of classes at Marin Humane at marinhumane.org/oh-behave.
Dawn Kovell is the director of behavior and training at Marin Humane, which contributes Tails of Marin articles and welcomes animal-related questions and stories about the people and animals in our community. Go to marinhumane.org, Twitter.com/marinhumane, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.