My dog got "Kicked Out" of obedience school!

"The trainer didn't like me!".... "The trainer didn't like my dog!"...."The trainer is afraid of big dogs."......"The trainer doesn't like small dogs."...."The trainer doesn't like my breed of dog!"....."The trainer won't work with dogs with issues!"......

 Rarely are those statements true... in fact.... it is generally the exact opposite. We are not judging you or your dog,  nor do we have a prejudice against a certain size, breed, or temperament of dog. Good dog trainers want to get to know you, understand your dog's personal learning needs, and work hard to be sure we are setting both of you up for success. If we are suggesting that a standard foundation group class is not the right choice for you, we have a pretty good reason for it and are hoping you will understand and agree based on our years of experience, practical knowledge, education, and history of client success stories. 

Approximately ninety to ninety five percent of client dogs will find great success with group classes, but unfortunately, for a few it will not be a suitable setting. . That is not something that I say lightly - I am the head trainer of an obedience school that trains dogs in  group classes 6 days a week, and has been doing so for nearly 30 years. Group classes help dogs learn and focus around distractions, offer a social outing for the dogs, supply emotional support and valuable advice to owners, and allows participants to share successes, challenges and experiences  Sadly, clients that are displeased with an unexpected change of plans often make statements like the ones above on social media and during conversations using an inaccurate explanation for why their dog was removed from the class setting. I want owner's to understand that if we are recommending a different training path for them, we are doing so in the best interest of both ends of the leash.  

Why are some dogs not a good match for group classes, at least initially?

1) Your dog is Fearful of strangers or other dogs: A group foundation training class usually consists of exuberant adolescent dogs, recently rehomed dogs, and families with children. If your dog's fears are strong, placing him in close proximity with uncontrolled stimuli may be a very bad idea. He needs to feel safe and comfortable, and needs to learn that his handler can maintain the environment for him with compassion and guidance. In our school, we might suggest moving a dog to another foundation class with a quieter group of  known dogs, doing private training first, or enrolling in a fearful dog class that specializes in helping your dog gain confidence and build trust. 

2) Your dog is Reactive to other dogs: For dogs to learn, their brains must be in a responsive state. If your dog is highly aroused by the presence other dogs, frustrated when access to other dogs is restricted, or becomes unable to settle or respond to you, food, or your trainer, then we may not be able to keep him in class. The environment needs to be conducive for learning, and it is important that we maintain a workable environment for everyone taking the class. We have lots of tools to help a dog settle in class including utilizing gates, buffers, increased distance training spaces, thundershirts, and calming massage, and may try for a few weeks to improve your dog's response to the classroom. We need to recognize that dogs arrive at class with a lot of previous experiences influencing their behavior, and sometimes we need to address those first before including them in a group setting.

3) Your dog is Aggressive to other dogs or people: If your dog has a history of causing damage to another dog or person, he can not be included in a foundation level class. We are not saying we can't help him and that training shouldn't occur, but it is my personal policy not to put clients or their dogs at risk in a class with a dog who has already demonstrated his propensity to bite. Your dog needs private training - he may be able to join a controlled group class in the future once the details of his aggression have been correctly diagnosed and modified. This will include dogs who redirect (or bite) their owners when they are highly aroused or frustrated. These dogs need one on one customized, private lessons in an initially quiet environment before we can expect them to cope with a more stimulating one. 

4) You or your dog require different educational methods:   If you or your dog has a disability or a processing issue that makes the group class more challenging and unncecessarily difficult for either of you we will often suggest some additional support. In some cases, we might bring an assistant into the classroom to offer one on one help during the class.  Sometimes we will suggest having some private lessons as an adjunct to your class work, or we may recommend switching from the classroom to solely privates to gain your foundation skills with plans to come back to a fun group a later time. 

5) Trainer A kicked me out, so I went to Trainer B and they "fixed" my dog in 1 class! If you walked into another class and they placed a choke collar, a prong collar, or an electronic training collar on your dog in the first 20 minutes you were there, successfully used the aversive tool to suppress your dog's undesirable behaviors, and you are comfortable with potentially sacrificing your relationship with your dog by punishing him instead of training him, then we are glad you found a trainer willing to do that for you. Your dog;s outward behavior is information, and it takes skill and understanding to recognize why he is behaving a certain way and to figure out how to help him alter his response. Aversives don't teach, they simply punish, and we would prefer to build a relationship based on trust rather than fear. We need you to understand that we are making decisions that are in your dog's best interest which includes his behavioral , physical, and emotional long term health

6) But I made it through multiple weeks of class or finished a class and THEN we got kicked out! Your dog's behavior is always changing. He will be influenced by hormones, household changes, experiences at the dog park or the groomer, medical concerns, and numerous other life events. We may have kept him in class for a few weeks to see if he would settle in, but it didn't work. He may have been relaxed the first few weeks of class, then his behavior changed and concerned us. Maybe he finished a puppy class, but as he entered adolescence  we began to see some issues that we thought would be better addressed privately. Please remember again that we are ALWAYS considering what we think is best for you and your dog and are making suggestions to help, not to anger or upset you. 

In my career as a group class trainer, I have only "kicked out" ONE student, and that was due to physical abuse to a dog that I witnessed during class. If we remove you from class we ALWAYS suggest other training options and will never leave you with no choices. That might include a different specialized class, private lessons here at the training center, or a  referral to a colleague trainer who is an expert in specific behaviors of benefit to you. We are not being critical of you or your dog - we are trying to help you be successful on your training journey and are hoping with additional guidance and support that we can get you and your dog successfully and happily back into a group class environment in the future. 

Melissa Kielbasa, CPDT-KA is a certified professional trainer, owner of Sandy Meadow Farm Obedience School, and is director/head trainer for K9's for Kids, Inc pediatric therapy dog unit and the Westfield Woofers K9 dance team. She has been training dogs professionally since 1998 competing in a variety of dog sports and events.