How to Create Your Own Dog Training Group Class Curriculum

How to Create Your Own Dog Training Group Class Curriculum

dog training group class curriculum creationCreating a great group dog training class curriculum involves a lot more than what behavior’s you’re teaching the dogs. You’ll need to consider the people you’ll be teaching as well so you can set everyone up for success! Below you’ll find the many aspects that should go into your group class curriculum planning.

Set Expectations For Your Dog Training Clients

Arguably, the most important part of establishing a group class curriculum is to set expectations for the clients (and yourself). Be sure to include the following information in your class handouts so that they know how to prepare, what to expect, and what they’ll be working towards. It is also a good idea to review this in class before training begins to make sure the students have all heard the material at least once. Attendance – Describe where classes will be held. Include whether they’ll be indoors, outdoors, or if you’ll hold classes in different locations depending on the week. Explain what your cancellation or no-show policy is, but include steps your client can take if they have an emergency or change in schedule. Explain when they should or should not bring their dog. Include your policy about bringing family members or friends. Location – Clearly identify where the group classes will be held and include specific navigation tips if the location is difficult to find, in a large park, or if parking is restricted to certain areas. The last thing you want to clients to experience is getting lost trying to find the class or coming back to a parking ticket on their car. Materials – You’ll want to be clear about what tools and materials students should bring to class (and what they shouldn’t bring). Be specific! Don’t just say “treats.” Explain that they need 100 or more m&m sized treats in a quart sized plastic bag. Explain that they need a 6ft non-extendible leash with a harness or buckle collar on their dogs. You can get even more detailed by including information on what kind of footwear they should wear, whether they should bring a jacket, a chair, a mat, or a bowl for water for their dog. Entering & Exiting Class – The most hectic time of a group class is the time students enter and exit the class. Consider establishing a policy or formal process for how to do this. Which door should they enter or exit through? Who will exit first? What should students do while they wait for class to start? Think ahead to common scenarios your students may experience to help them navigate this situation more easily. You may even want to explain how to get out of the car so the dog stays focused right off the bat. (Check out Leslie McDevitts’ reorienting default behavior in her book Control Unleashed: The Puppy Program.*) Behaviors – You’ll want to include a list of behaviors you’ll be teaching in the class. You can use images to demonstrate what these behaviors are or describe them in detail. Will you be training a sphinxed down or a relaxed down? What does “loose leash walking” look like? What does “leave it” look like? First-time dog owners may not understand what some common dog training terms mean so put yourself in their shoes get a better understanding for what they’ll experience. Goals – Why should people attend your group class anyways? What is the point of all this training? Speak to the client’s needs and personal goals such as to train your dog to be a great community member and companion, to have a dog you love to show off to your friends, to have a dog that’s a pleasure to walk with every day. Your clients are looking into training because they are experiencing a certain issue. Whether it is hyperactivity, pulling on the leash, or jumping on guests, make sure your group class curriculum highlights the point of all the work they’re about to put into training their dogs. Think along the lines of “how will this group class improve their lives?”

Provide Dog Training Instructions (In More Than One Format)

Before you dive into teaching classes, take some time to think about how you’ll teach the behaviors you’re aiming for. Consider whether your clients will be more effective with luring or shaping and whether you’ll use verbal marker training or if you’ll add a clicker to the mix. Once you have a list of behaviors you’ll be working towards, describe them in detail and note the progression you’ll expect from the dogs as they work towards the final goal behaviors. Break down each behavior into several steps, jot down some ideas for how you’ll change things up if a dog isn’t progressing how you’d like, and include details about how you’ll proof the behaviors as the weeks go on. (While you may not go into this level of detail in student handouts, it is important to think through these scenarios before class so you’re prepared.) Take into consideration how people learn differently. Some people learn better by watching videos, others by hearing instructions, and some by trial and error. Your students may not remember exactly what you said in class so, in addition to written instructions, you may want to create some instructional or demonstration videos to help your students practice at home in between classes.

Prepare Dog Training Exercises For Students

Think about what kind of exercises you can have clients do to practice their new behaviors. Will you set up cones for students to walk around? Will you line them up and have one student walk by with their dog? Will you have one person work on recall while others practice stay? Think about ways you can increase the challenge a little bit to help them work through day-to-day real-life situations they may encounter. This is a great time to review the goals of the class and create some scenarios that can help them work towards their end goals.

Implement Group Class Games For Proofing Behaviors

One way to make training fun and keep people engaged in class is by incorporating group class games. Once the dogs (and their people) are past their basics, you can begin to include games in each class. Check out Terry Ryan’s book, “Gamify Your Dog Training” for game ideas or create some of your own!*

Offer Next Steps For Group Class Graduates

Students that have a blast in your dog training class will want to continue training. Once they realize that training can be fun, that it can improve their dog’s behavior, and that it can be a great reason to get off the couch and enjoy some time outside, they’ll appreciate having a next step to take with their dog. Think about how you can encourage them to come back for more training. Will they be able to “level up” to a new class? Will you introduce them to dog sports? Will you host group community walks? What activities, group classes, or events can you organize to keep them coming back? Don’t forget to sign up for our monthly newsletter below to see more dog training business tips and resources! * This is an affiliate link. These links help support the blog so that I can continue to create helpful materials for you!

7 Important Parts of a Successful Dog Training Group Class

7 Important Parts of a Successful Dog Training Group Class

Group dog training classes are one of the most popular ways that dog trainers interact with their clients. Group classes allow past clients to come back to refresh their skills, new clients to get started in basic dog training, and for private lesson clients to grow their skills and their dog’s skills around more distractions.

There are a variety of group classes you could hold. Some dog trainers start with basic puppy and obedience classes then progress to group tricks classes or nosework classes. More experienced dog trainers hold reactive dog classes or confidence building classes for overly-shy dogs and their clients.

Why Teach Group Dog Training Classes?

Group classes help owners receive dog training help at a reduced cost since group classes are typically less expensive than private, one-to-one lessons. Classes also allow your clients to meet others in their situation which is great when they are struggling and need some encouragement. As a dog trainer holding group classes, you have the power to reach many more people and you can work to create a real, connected community to help you build a successful, sustainable dog training business.

When you’re first starting out, some important pieces of a great group class may elude you. Unless you’ve observed a mentor or taken a group class yourself (and perhaps even if you have), you may not be aware of some of the critical aspects of a successful dog training group class. Here are some recommendations to help you make it the best experience possible for your students.

1. Initial Written Expectations

Start by thinking about what your clients want to get out of the class. What do they want to be able to do with their dogs? Put clear expectations about what will be expected of them to achieve this result. In a welcome email, you can include information about where the class will be held, when you’ll meet, what they should bring, and you could even go into specifics such as how they should enter or exit the room to avoid dog-dog confrontations. The more detailed and specific you are, the more organized you’ll appear and the more prepared your clients will be.

(Related Article: How to Prevent Overwhelm and Increase Compliance in New Dog Training Clients)

You’ll want to send out expectations via email a couple of times before the class begins. I would never expect someone to read an email I send out less than 48hours before a class. You can also request a reply to your email to confirm all the students have received it and it didn’t end up in their spam folder. If you request a reply and don’t receive one, follow up with a phone call to make sure they read the instructions and are aware that you’ll be sending communication via email.

Well thought out expectations and communication is key to a successful group class.

2. Space

Find a space for your group dog training classes that will help dogs and their owners feel safe and comfortable. Think about ways you can improve the level of comfort in the class. Should you offer chairs? Should you ask students to bring a non-slip mat for their dogs? Should you bring visual barriers to help dogs keep calm?

Control the space your students are occupying by placing markers or barriers between them to make sure everyone stays at a safe distance from each other.

3. Curriculum

When deciding on your curriculum, consider your student’s experience. Will students in your class know the mechanical skills required to train their dogs already? Do they know what positive reinforcement is and how it works? If not, you’ll want to have a sort of orientation to get your students acquainted with how dogs learn, dog body language, what is and isn’t realistic when it comes to their behavior, and more. Once your students understand the way they’ll be training, then you can coach them on how to utilize this information to train their own dogs.

There are hundreds of choices when it comes to group class curriculum. You can create your own from scratch or collaborate with other trainers that are willing to share what they have.

A fairly common curriculum I’ve seen is Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels Program. The first few levels are a great starting point for basic obedience and dog sports.

For reactive dog classes, I’d strongly recommend reading Emma Parson’s book, “Teaching the Reactive Dog Class: Leading the Journey from Reactivity to Reliability.

You can hold classes with a specific start and end date or you could host open enrollment classes that allow you to continuously accept new students in your class.

4. Confidence

Make sure you are confident enough to speak in front of a few other people and lead them through the steps of the curriculum.

Project your voice. Have the confidence to let your voice be heard. You know more about dogs and dog training than anyone else in the room. Your students have already invested their time and money to listen to you speak so speak with confidence and project your voice so that everyone can clearly hear what you have to say.

Step in when a student is struggling. A group class should always have a few minutes of one-to-one attention so that each student can be successful. Step in when you see a student getting frustrated or annoyed at their dog before things escalate too much.

Ask students to listen. If you have any chatty-Cathys in your class or children that are being disruptive, do not be afraid to redirect their attention for the sake of the whole class. Other students appreciate it when the teach asks for order – they’ve all paid to listen to you teach, not listen to anyone else. If you can’t control the class, your students will have an unpleasant experience and may not return.

Let people know when they should be listening and when they should be practicing with a signal. You can even use a visual (red light/green light card) or an audible bell to let people know when to begin otherwise some may get distracted or start practicing before you’re done instructing. This signal only improves communication and expectations.

5. Games

If your students are starting to master the material, have a few games up your sleeve to increase the difficulty and level of fun. There’s a book with many different games you can play in your group dog training classes called “Gamify Your Dog Training” by Terry Ryan.

6. Community

In a group classes, unlike with private instruction, you can great a really fun sense of community. I would even argue that this benefit of group classes is underutilized by most dog trainers, but it can be critical for building long-lasting relationships with your clients that keep them coming back for more. Get people talking to each other and make real connections with your students so that they feel supported and want to come back.

7. Next Steps For Students

Part of creating a great experience for your students is having a clear next-step to take with their dog so that they aren’t left without direction. Take the lead and introduce some possible next steps for your group class graduates. Will you offer a Level 2? A class with more games or even a beginner dog sport class to keep people motivated and practicing? Will you offer an ongoing meetup they can attend with their newly well-behaved dog? Will you offer additional private lessons to help them overcome specific scenarios they’re struggling with? What next steps should your students take to continue working with you?

Offering ongoing services either in group form or private lesson form is important to maintain your income as a dog trainer. Many people, including me when I first started out, rarely work with clients again after their initial goals have been met. How can you position your services to help your clients maintain their dog’s training while you continue to generate income over time for your business?

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