Friday, May 31, 2013

First Six Weeks of Petco Obedience Classes: A Review

Today is going to be Margot’s six-week graduation from her obedience training classes at Petco, and I’m perhaps a bit too excited about the fact that Claire, the trainer, is going to have graduation caps for all the dogs.  Hehe!  Can you say, “photo op?”  Margot’s not actually finished with her obedience training, though.  She still has another six weeks to go.  They just “graduate” every six weeks because that’s how the course is broken up, and not everyone pays for the full 12 weeks. 

Anyway, since we have hit the midway point, I thought I’d give a review of what I think of Petco’s obedience training classes so far because, as I’m sure you could probably guess, there are some definite pros and cons.  One of the biggest cons is the fact that there is not a separate training area in the store for classes.  The classes at the Barboursville Petco are taught in a small area right as soon as you walk into the store, and the area is sectioned off by a 3-foot tall divider.  The space is sufficient enough for practicing basic commands, but whenever it comes to practicing “come” or anything that has to do with walking on a leash, each owner has to take turns walking their dog up and down the aisles of Petco around shopping customers, who sometimes have their own dogs in the store.  It’s not a bad thing to train our dogs around so many distractions, but I just don’t feel like it’s a realistic situation for training certain things, especially leash walking, which is our main issue with Margot right now.  When she’s inside the store, she is much more obedient to mine and Justin’s commands because she’s nervous about being in an unfamiliar place.  However, if we take her outside for a walk in our neighborhood, Margot immediately goes into “leader and protector” mode and doesn’t listen to a word Justin or I say.  In other words, she is a completely different dog outside of Petco when it comes to walking on a leash.  So, I asked Claire last week if we would be doing any training exercises outdoors at some point, and she regretfully said that Petco will not allow her to train outdoors for “insurance purposes.”

The upside to all of this, for anyone who may be considering signing up for obedience classes at this particular Petco in the future, is that they are building a much bigger store, complete with a designated training area, which is supposed to be open around Thanksgiving of this year.  I have already suggested to some friends of ours that it might be worth it to wait until the new store is opened in November before signing their dog up for classes.

As for the classes themselves, it is very important to understand that they are not intended for training the dogs.  The purpose is actually to train the dog owners so that you can go home and practice the exercises with your dog until he/she performs them perfectly.  We usually learn two to three commands per class, but we never actually practice them very much there at the store.  We also only go over those commands briefly during the following week’s class before moving on to learning something new.  So, again, you’re not actually paying $200 to have your dog professionally trained.  You’re paying $200 to learn how to train your dog yourself, which I think is smart.  It’s like that old saying, “…Teach a man how to fish, and he eats for life.”  If you don’t take what you learn in class and practice at home with your dog regularly, then you really can’t complain about the classes being a waste of money if your dog still isn’t trained after he/she graduates.

With that said, I do feel like a little more time could be spent practicing each new training exercise with our dogs while we are at Petco because it feels like a lot of our time gets wasted during each class.  For example, it feels like Claire spends anywhere from 10-20 minutes at the end of every class just trying to kill time before her next class shows up.  She does this by handing out worksheets that summarize what we learned in class that day and asking us if we have any questions, but if no one speaks up, she tends to just ramble on about various things until the hour is up.  She also gives the dogs a “play break” and a “pee break” during class, both of which I think are important, but I also think that those time periods could be a little shorter. 

The reason why I personally wish that we could spend more time actually practicing the training exercises with our dogs while in class is because it is next to impossible for Justin and I to practice some of the exercises at home with Margot.  The best example I have is with the loose leash walking.  Claire told us to practice the techniques and exercises that we had just learned in the store that day with our dogs at home, but she told us to walk them around inside our homes several times before attempting to walk them outside.  This is a problem for us because of Sam and Luke.  For one, as soon as Luke and Sam get a whiff of the treats I’m using to train Margot, they swarm me, and then it becomes a competition between the three of them to get a treat.  However, if we try to separate the dogs by putting Luke and Sam upstairs or outside, Margot spends the whole time wondering where her siblings are instead of focusing on the exercise.  So, unfortunately, I really don’t feel like we’ve made much progress, if any, with the leash walking because we never get to practice it with Margot at home, which is why I feel that the more time we can spend practicing with her at Petco, the better. 

On the positive side, there are some areas in which I have seen some very good results.  For example, Margot used to ignore me and Justin completely whenever we’d call her name at the dog park, but now she actually turns her head to look at us and even comes to us (sometimes) whenever we call her, which is a huge improvement.  She has also gotten very good at performing “sit,” “down,” and “stand,” both with verbal commands and with silent hand gestures, which I think is pretty awesome.  In fact, she performs these commands regularly for us at the dog park, and we throw her a tennis ball as her reward for performing them correctly.

So, would I recommend Petco’s first six-week beginner’s dog training course to others?  That’s actually kind of difficult for me to answer because everyone’s situation and reason for wanting to enroll their dog in obedience training is different.  If you are an extremely busy person and you don’t have time to work with your dog at home, then no, you should not waste your time or money (you also probably shouldn’t own a dog if you don’t even have time to train the poor thing, but I digress.).  I do think that I would recommend this first six-week training course to new puppy owners, especially if they’ve never raised a puppy before, because it’s a good bonding experience and it also helps set the foundation for good behavior from your dog as they get older. 

I guess the better question is whether or not I personally feel like these first six weeks of classes have benefited us and Margot, and the answer to that is yes, but not as much as I had hoped.  While I have seen some improvements in behavior and she has learned how to perform some basic commands very well, our main issue continues to be with walking Margot on a leash, and, so far, I do not feel like that problem is being solved by going to these classes.  With that said, I’m not really sure what’s in store for us for the next six weeks of classes, so I am going to stay hopeful. 

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