1) Puppies - if your vet has not cleared your puppy for puppy classes, it can be helpful for an initial, in-home private session to help you and your puppy learn some basic skills and start off on the right foot. Private lessons can also address issues that specifically relate to behavior in the home such as housetraining, play biting and chewing. If you are a first-time puppy owner, an in-home meeting with a trainer before your puppy comes home can help get your home set up for the arrival of the puppy. However, by far, one of the most important things you can do is enroll your puppy in a puppy class to help your puppy socialize with new people and other dogs in a setting other than your home.
2) Rescues - if you just adopted an adult dog, and your dog just needs basic training, group classes are probably the most economical means of training your dog. With rescues, you may want to wait a week or two before attending a group class so your dog has a chance to settle into his/her new home. If your dog is confident and settles in quickly, then a group class can help you get your new dog off to a good start. If, after this time, your dog is still very fearful, you may have to delay the start of group class and opt for private training to help build your dog's confidence. If you find that your dog is having specific behavioral problems, then private lessons are often advisable (see below).
3) Behavioral issues - some behavioral problems are better addressed in private sessions. For example, some behaviors, such as separation anxiety, urine marking or housetraining are specific to the home environment and are best dealt with in a private training session. Other behaviors such as aggression towards humans or other animals are also better addressed in private training. Many people believe that your basic group class will help leash aggression/reactivity but this is not necessarily the case. Addressing reactive behavior often involves a different set of exercises and skills that are not covered in a basic obedience class (see my blog about reactive dogs). If you have a reactive dog, your best options are private lessons or enrolling your dog in a class that specifically addresses this type of behavior (often referred to as growly dog classes, reactive dog classes or feisty fido classes).
4) Lifestyle - some people's lifestyles cannot easily accomodate group classes. If you have a variable or busy schedule, private training may be a better way go but realize that you will still need to set aside time between sessions to train your dog and you will need to spend the time to train your dog in settings outside your home that are more distracting. Some people also have physical limitations that make attending a group class more difficult and in such cases private lessons may be a better option.
5) Your dog just needs the basics - if your dog does not have any behavioral issues and you just want to teach your dog to come when called, walking nicely on a leash and other basic skills, group classes are the most economical way to go. If you prefer smaller classes with fewer people, make sure you ask how big the classes can get. If you like more individualized attention or feel you could use more coaching on your own dog handling skills, then private lessons may be preferable for you.
Finally, the trainer you interview will be able to advise you as to what is the best option for you based on your particular goals, your dog and the issues you would like to address.
So, if you are ready to start training and bond with your dog, here are a few good places to start searching for a qualified trainer in your area:
- The Association for Pet Dog Trainers (http://www.apdt.com/ )
- Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (http://www.ccpdt.org/)
- Truly Dog Friendly Trainers (http://www.trulydogfriendly.com/ )