When it comes to training your dog, there’s no one-size fits all approach. Every family has unique training goals and lifestyles, and every dog is an individual with their own personalities and quirks. Shopping for a dog trainer can be overwhelming due to how many options are available. Understanding the differences between private lessons, board and train programs, and group classes is crucial in selecting the most effective training program for you and your pup. In this blog post, we’ll explore the nuances of each option to help you make an informed decision.
First up, let’s look at private dog training. Private lessons involve one-on-one sessions between a professional dog trainer, you (the dog owner), and your dog. Even among private training, there may be some differences in services depending on who you hire. Some trainers teach private lessons out of a training facility, while others offer in-home training where the trainer travels to your home. Sometimes trainers will even meet you out in public for lessons so that you can learn and practice in settings where you’d like to be able to take your dog on outings.
While private lessons have many benefits, it’s important to understand that the dog trainer’s job in a private lesson is to teach you (the dog owner) how to train, work with, and live with your dog. This means that while a good trainer will work directly with your dog during the session, their goal is to teach you how to teach your dog. You'll then have to practice what you learned in the lesson in order for your dog’s behavior to change or their obedience to get stronger. In private lessons, a good amount of your dog’s training will be done by you. For dog owners who want to learn how to better understand and work with their dogs, this is a huge benefit. However, if you have an incredibly busy schedule that doesn’t allow you time to work with your dog regularly or if you don’t want to be an active member of your dog’s progress, private lessons may not be the ideal choice for you.
When shopping for private lessons, you’ll find a wide range in pricing available. There are several things that factor into the price of a private lesson, and it’s important to consider these factors before committing to the cheapest option you find. Here’s what to consider when price shopping:
Board and train programs involve sending your dog to stay with a professional dog trainer for an extended period of time. Among board and trains, there are two different options that are important to decide between - board and trains where your dog would stay at a training facility, or board and trains where your dog would stay in a trainer’s personal home and live with them as one of their own dogs. Board and train options range in duration, but usually entail your dog staying for anywhere from 1-4 weeks depending on how in-depth the training program is. Although most board and trains require your dog to be gone for the duration of their stay, programs that allow your dog to come home on weekends are becoming more popular.
Board and trains are usually used for intensive training programs. Dogs in board and train programs receive more one-on-one attention from their trainer than in any other training option. This allows your dog to learn faster and make a significant amount of progress in a shorter period of time since they are being taught entirely by a professional dog trainer. Board and trains are often used for more complex training goals, whether that be advanced levels of obedience or tackling serious behavior problems.
Usually board and trains are the most expensive type of training program, and rightfully so. Your trainer will be your dog’s primary caregiver, sole companion, and playmate on top of being their trainer. They’ll need to spend a significant amount of time with your dog, not just training them but also taking them out to potty, exercising them, and feeding them. This limits the time they can spend with other dogs or human clients. It’s a 24/7 job, they aren’t able to just leave at 5pm and ignore your dog until business hours the next day.
A good board and train program will include private lessons after sending your dog home. These private lessons will teach you how to transfer your dog’s skills from the trainer’s house to your household, and will teach you how to maintain those new habits and behaviors. Without private lessons, it’s likely that your dog will go back to their old ways as soon as they come home, so make sure any board and train you consider includes private lessons in your program.
Day Training is a lesser known option that is beginning to become more popular. Day Training provides your dog with a more comprehensive training program than private lessons alone without needing to send them away for a board and train.
Every trainer’s day-training options may differ slightly, but day training typically consists of your dog getting one-on-one time with a trainer while you’re at work, running errands, or doing whatever it is that you need to do. There's quite a range of different options when it comes to day training, and it’s impossible to sum up all the variations in a blog post, so instead I’ll give you the example of how I run my day-train options here at Cape Canine Academy.
Within my service area (which I’m lucky enough to have be beautiful Cape Cod, MA) I offer in-home day-training, or a homeschool option as we often call it. I travel to my clients homes once a day, three to four days a week, and work with their dog on whatever skills are needed to reach their goals. Then at the end of the week I meet with the owners to do a private lesson so that I can teach the owners how to do everything their dog learned throughout the week. I also start everyone off with an initial private lesson before the day-training begins, and another a week after it ends to make sure everything is going smoothly. We may do two or three weeks of day-trains depending on how in depth your goals are. This allows me to make a significant amount of progress with the dog in a shorter amount of time, because I can focus solely on training the dog while I’m there instead of dividing my attention between training the dog and teaching the owners. This way when we’re doing a private lesson, your dog already knows the skills and you get to do much less work yourself. This schedule also allows us trainers to get to know your dog much better than private lessons alone, which helps us give even better personalized advice.
Group classes involve multiple dogs (and their owners) attending training classes together. There are many types of classes that exist, from basic obedience and puppy classes to more specialized classes like agility, nosework or rally.
Having spent years offering group classes as well as private lessons and board and trains, I find that many people benefit from group classes the most after having already taken private lessons, particularly if they are new to training their dog or if the dog is easily distracted by dogs, people or smells. Private lessons (or a board and train, since privates should be included) will provide you with the skills necessary to help your dog navigate the distractions present in a group class and be able to focus. Once your dog can focus and be successful, then group classes provide the opportunity to strengthen their obedience farther by allowing them to practice in a more difficult environment.
As you navigate the world of dog training, it’s essential to recognize that there’s no perfect solution that fits everyone’s goals and needs. Whether you opt for the personalized attention of private lessons, the intensive training of a board and train program, or the socialization benefits of group classes, the most crucial aspect is choosing a program that aligns with your dog’s needs and your lifestyle. By understanding the differences between these training options and considering factors such as your dog’s temperament, behavior issues, and your schedule, you can make an educated decision that sets you both up for success. Ultimately, the goal of any training program is to support your dog in learning the skills and behaviors necessary to live happily and cohesively with you in your day to day life.