When I got my first dog, I didn’t even know that private training sessions were a thing. I just assumed everyone went to group classes and that was it. I have since realized that I was very lucky to have a friendly dog who didn’t need much instruction beyond the basics. Now, as a multi-dog pet parent and dog trainer, I know that there are other options out there besides group classes. But how do you decide which one is best for your dog? There are pros and cons to both options. Ask yourself these questions:
1. Is your dog shy? Or outgoing?
Whether your dog is shy or outgoing, a group class is a great way for them to be around other people and dogs in a safe space. Unless you are going to a puppy socialization class, the dogs don’t generally interact with each other much. This gives a shy dog the chance to be around other people and dogs without worrying that they will approach, and the outgoing dog can practice being around other people and dogs without interacting (aka learning self control).
That being said, if your dog is so shy that he cowers behind you, won’t take treats, or hides under your chair, even after a couple weeks, private training might be a better option at first.
2. How much do you want to spend?
Group training is always going to be more cost effective. Because there are usually anywhere from six to eight people-dog pairs in a class, the cost lowers as it is spread out across all of the participants. At bigger stores, for example, you may pay $100 to $120 for a six-week class, which works out to about $17 to $20 per class. Meanwhile, a private session can range from $50 to $100+ per session.
3. Do you have a flexible schedule?
Group classes are set for predetermined days and times, based on the trainer’s availability. If it fits your schedule, great! If not, private sessions provide more flexibility to work around your schedule.
4. What are your priorities?
If you want to work on the basics or even agility skills, group classes are a good option. But maybe you have had a dog before and know how to train some the basics, and are just having a tough time with loose-leash walking. Or maybe you want to work on recall so you can take your dog hiking. Group classes have a set curriculum and set of skills that are taught, while private sessions can be customized.
5. Does your dog have any special issues?
Anything beyond the scope of the group training class (separation anxiety, aggression, resource guarding, etc.) should be worked on in a private session. The trainer just doesn’t have the time to help you with a more advanced issue in the group class.
6. What about semi-private sessions?
Semi-private sessions are smaller than group classes, generally around three to four people/dogs. These are great options to transition a shy/nervous/overly excitable dog to group classes, but in a smaller, more controlled way. There are even some classes that are designed to be smaller, but work on more complex training issues, such as reactivity.
Regardless of what option you choose, it’s always a good idea to talk with your trainer about what might be best for your dog and you. Your trainer will take all needs into consideration and make a recommendation.