Dog Training 101: Dog Training Classes vs Home Training a Dog

Published: 12/18/2020
You may wonder if it’s better to train your dog at home or enroll your pup in dog training courses. This is a great question and a tough one. Ideally, you could take your pup to a few classes, and they come home a perfect dog. The truth is even if you enroll your woofer in a course, you’ll still need to continue the training at home. 

So is it worth investing in a training course? And how much time will it take for successful at-home dog training? Can you really be successful at DIYing your dog’s obedience training? These are all VALID questions, and we’ll cover all of these topics below. 

What are my dog training options?

There are tons of ways you can go about training a dog in and out of the home. Here are just a few that we'll touch on:

  • Individualized training courses

  • Group classes

  • At-home training

  • Obedience classes

  • Scentwork classes

  • Rehabilitation classes

Types of dog training classes

There are dozens of training courses that you can enroll your dog in, but not all of them may be available in your area. Behavioral therapy courses, for instance, can be trickier to find. We’ll discuss some of the most common class types and who are the best candidates for them below.

Group classes

Group classes are exactly what they sound like: a group of dogs learning together in a structured setting. These are typically hands-on courses that the owner attends with their pet.

Dogs that benefit from group classes:

  • Puppies

  • Competitive dogs

  • Shy dogs

  • Social dogs

  • Friendly dogs

  • Dogs with a grasp on obedience basics

  • Dogs with an interest in scent or service work

Obedience classes

Obedience classes are often recommended for all puppies. Obedience classes cover basic commands like come, stay, leave it, and loose leash walking. This is typically the most economical option for training classes. 

Dogs that benefit from obedience classes:

  • Puppies

  • Stubborn dogs

  • Rescues and fosters

  • Dogs with a history of neglect

Individual classes and behavioral therapy

Individual classes are an excellent tool for dogs with social issues. One-on-one lessons can target problems like aggression or anxiety without the stress of a group class. The downside to individual courses and behavioral therapy is that it’s costly — even double or triple the price of group classes. Individual sessions often use relationship-based training and exposure therapy to help condition your dog into giving more appropriate responses.

Dogs that benefit from individual classes and behavioral therapy:

  • Dogs with aggression
  • Anxious dogs 
  • Hyperactive dogs
  • Dogs prone to distraction
  • Dogs with health conditions
  • Relationship-based training
  • Dogs with an interest in service or scent work. 
  • Antisocial dogs
  • Rescues and fosters
  • Dogs with a history of abuse or neglect

Time and cost of training courses

Unfortunately, time and cost play a significant role in whether your dog is a candidate for training classes. Not everyone can afford to dedicate 4 hours a week or $400 for a month-long training course, which is why at-home training is the only option for many pet parents. 

Training classes can range from $30 to over $100 an hour, depending on how intensive the course is. Some of the most costly classes or “boot camps” involve your pup going away for a few weeks to learn obedience. However, boot camps aren’t as effective as you might think.

Having the pet parent take part in the training process is crucial for the training to stick. In essence, training is about asserting yourself as the dominant person, and your pup respecting your authority and obeying it. Once you have your pup’s attention and respect, commands are just a matter of repetition.

What you’ll need to enroll your dog in training courses:
  • Proof of vaccination

  • ID tags

  • Treats

  • Buckle collar

  • Certificate of health*

  • Proof of spay or neuter*

*Some classes require this but not all. 

Efficacy of training classes

Research shows that it takes 3 months of consistent training for a dog to consistently respond to learned cues. Most classes don’t last that long, so it’s up to the pet parent to reinforce the training at home. Consistency is crucial when training a dog. With that being said, training classes are an invaluable tool if used correctly with follow-up training at home.

Training a dog at home

All dog training begins in the home, from learning to come when called to elaborate tricks and scent work.

Time and cost of training a dog at home

Training a dog at home takes a lot of time and patience, but the cost is near pennies compared to training courses. You’ll only need to buy a few things, some of which you may already have from other pets. You’ll need a crate, a clicker, a leash, and some treats. Depending on the size and type of your crate, this averages out to between $40 and $100 total. 

What you’ll need for at-home training:
  • Crate

  • Clicker

  • High-value treats

  • Standard leash

  • Buckle collar

Introducing commands and rewards

Start with straightforward tasks, like getting your dog’s attention. Say their name, and when they look at you, give them a high-value treat. High-value treats can be any type of food your dog adores, from tiny morsels of chopped chicken to dog biscuits.

The main thing when picking a high-value treat is that your dog likes it and it’s small enough to consume quickly (and not make them fill up fast). As long as your dog wants to eat, you can keep their attention. This is why many professional trainers suggest scheduling training times between meals or when it’s nearly time for your dog to eat.

At-home training schedule

The next commands to teach are to come when called and to sit. From there, you can go to heelinglaying down, and loose leash walking. Teaching a dog to walk on a leash can be tricky if your pup isn’t a natural. Teaching your dog to potty outside is another can of worms, but something you should be working on from the time you get your dog.

The key to home training a dog is to start young and be consistent. We know “be consistent” is probably starting to sound like a broken record, but it really is key. It’s easy to start training and then fall out of practice when the dog obeys the command a few times. Though unintentional, abruptly stopping training exercises may cause your dog to forget the commands or just no longer regard them.

Efficacy of home training a dog

Home training a dog can be just as effective as training classes, sometimes more so, as long as you keep up with it. Practice makes perfect, and if you stick with it, your dog will get it eventually. Don’t give up. There’s no shame in reaching out to external sources to help you train your dog, but at the end of the day, the real work starts and ends at home. 

At-home dog training tips
  • Don’t make training a bore — use a high-pitched tone, smile, and cheer your pup on while doing your exercises.

  • Switch up rewards. If you typically use treats, try letting them play with a special toy they only get when they do a command correctly.

  • Praise Fido enthusiastically — give lots of pets and use an encouraging and happy voice.

  • Use a clicker to mark desired behaviors — you can learn more about clicker training here

  • Have your dog walker or sitter keep up with Fido’s training while you’re away. 

  • Don’t attempt to train a sleepy dog. Only train when your pup is well-rested and energized. 

  • Set ground rules and actually stick to them. 

  • Discourage undesirable behaviors early on. 

  • Make the crate a safe place and never use it for punishment.

  • Don’t punish your dog for doing a trick incorrectly; this will only make them resent training and likely you too. 

  • Having your pet spayed or neutered can make them more receptive to training.

  • Pick a setting with minimal distractions when training. When your dog has a few commands under their belt, you can move to practicing commands with distractions

Don’t let dog training stress you out. You and your pet will both be happier when you have some structure and ground rules in place. Don’t be afraid to call in reinforcements, whether that means an animal behaviorist or a dog trainer. Sometimes, a second opinion is all you need to get your dog on track. Most of all, practice regularly and have fun!