Dog Training Class for Beginners“I just want my dog to…”

It is the phrase heard over and over at group dog training classes when the owners are asked what they’d like to get out of the class.

Beginner training classes usually have descriptions about what behaviors the dogs will learn. Sit, down, come, loose leash walking, stay, are just some of the common behaviors.

All in all, we just want a well behaved dog, right?

As an instructor, I see much more when I’m teaching owners. Although I want to help fix behavior problems by teaching good things, I am always looking for ways to help build that bond between owner and dog.

If you’ve taken a beginner group class, read the benefits below. Did you experience these in your class? If you’re thinking about taking a class, look over these before you go so you are able to get the most out of the class.


One of the best things that can come out of beginner group classes is confidence (and I’m not just talking about from the dog). Since most owners attend a beginner training class to fix something about their dog, sometimes there is added baggage as to what they think their dog can learn. By rewarding good behavior and consistently giving positive feedback, confidence grows and behaviors are learned quickly.

The greatest reward for an instructor is to show an owner that their “problem” dog can do it. When the owner has confidence in their dog and themselves, it opens the door to endless possibilities.  This expands to trust, better communication, and a stronger bond all around.

Impulse Control

The best route to a well behaved dog is through impulse control. Sit and down are great, but if they’re just done to get a cookie, the value stops there. Impulse control is something we, as humans, experience on a daily basis.

What stops you from going to the ice cream shop everyday?

Or what makes you get up every morning and not play hooky?

Impulse control.

We withhold the desire to do something in order to get a greater result. Or that’s the theory, right?

When teaching basic behaviors, how can you implement them into everyday events? 

Here are some examples:

  • Ask for a sit while waiting at a door. The dog should stay in the sit while the door is open until they are given a release word.
  • Ask for a down and a “leave it” while putting the food bowl on the floor. The dog should stay in position until released toward the food.
  • Ask for a sit while sitting on the couch and then give the dog permission to jump up next to you.

A Thinking Dog

When you work on impulse control and create a positive environment for the dog to learn, you end up with a thinking dog. Thinking dogs are able to solve puzzles and figure out problems without the fear of being punished for doing something wrong. This can be really beneficial when teaching a new trick, but also when you’re working on every day interactions. A thinking dog creates just that, a dog that will think before they do something. So, when you drop that hot dog on the ground, will your dog snatch it up quickly or wait and look at you because they think it might be a training game like you have played in the past?


The only way to get the behaviors that we teach in beginner training classes is through focus. If focus isn’t there, dogs usually won’t respond to cues (or commands). It is one of the biggest components of success when it comes to learning, yet it is sometimes overlooked while teaching behaviors.

Here are somethings to think about if your dog isn’t responding to you:

  • If your dog isn’t responding, what is causing it?
  • Do you have focus? How do you work on focus with your dog?
  • Do you have default behaviors, if you’re not getting focus (hand touches, eye contact, etc)?
  • Are you asking too much? (Is the environment too distracting?)

Focus is important and can be achieved by always setting your dog up for success.

Try out a group class and have fun! Always strive to get the most out of a class and ask questions. You are your dog’s best advocate. Always search for the class that will bring out the best in both of you.  (And don’t forget those benefits!)

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michelle mcclellandMichelle McClelland

Michelle is a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner.  She competed in the Extreme Mutt Makeover in 2012 (Texas) and made a video, “The Cone Project” for the Canis Film Festival showing that you can train just about anything with a clicker, taking 3rd place in both competitons.  She is a member of Dog Scouts of America and the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and has a BA in Psychology.  When she’s not busy helping dog owners, she can be found at her blog,

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