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Animal Behavior

Does My Dog Need Behavior Training or a Private Session?

How to socialize your puppy and to give them safe play opportunities.

Blue Bird/Pexels
Source: Blue Bird/Pexels

For new dog owners, dog training can be a confusing business. One of the choices you have is whether to sign up for a training class or if private sessions would work better for your dog. Here are some tips.

Puppy Class

Getting a new puppy is exciting and there is a lot to do—and puppy class needs to be high on your list. Puppies have what’s called a sensitive period for socialization from three weeks until approximately 12-14 weeks of age. If they have a wide range of positive experiences during this time, it means they’re more likely to grow up to be friendly, sociable, and confident adult dogs. Puppy class is a great way to meet some of those socialization needs in a safe environment. It’s also a great opportunity for them to play with other puppies of a similar age who have had their first vaccinations and first worming.

Your pup will learn some cues like “sit” in puppy class, but the socialization is the most important part. Plus you will learn useful skills like how to train your puppy.

Obedience Classes

Obedience classes can follow puppy classes, or you can take your adult dog at any time. Dogs can always benefit from training.

Of course, you can train your dog at home if you’d like. The advantage of going to class is that you get tuition from the trainer to improve your training technique. You’ll also benefit from seeing other people training and from the questions that are asked in class. Your dog gets the chance to meet and socialize with the other dogs, and to practice behaviours in a situation where there are small distractions from other people and dogs. Class is a friendly, safe environment in which to work on important behaviours like coming when called and sitting. Also, some classes include things like teaching your dog to be handled (for grooming, at the vet, and so on) which are important life skills.

Private Dog Training

If you have a dog with a behaviour problem such as fear, reactivity, or aggression, then private dog training is needed. This kind of dog will struggle in a class situation and you need advice specific to them. In a private consultation, the trainer will work directly with you and your dog so you will make better progress. As well the trainer can check how your home is set up and make suggestions for management that will make life easier (such as using pet gates).

For private sessions, the trainer will often come to your home, but sometimes you go to their facility, and some trainers offer online sessions.

Tricks, Agility, Rally, and More

Some people really get the training bug and want to do more, while other people just want to find a fun enrichment activity for their dog. Either way, there are lots of classes and activities to choose from.

Most people are familiar with agility, where dogs jump, run through tunnels, weave between poles, and move over a seesaw. But there are lots of other activities to choose from too. In scent work, your dog learns to seek out a scent, just like some working dogs do. Trick classes have you teach your dog adorably cute tricks. Triebball (aka urban herding) lets your dog develop their herding skills on big, inflatable balls. Canicross involves running with your dog and is great for more active people and pets. If you loved obedience class, you might enjoy working more on these behaviours for Rally. See which classes are available in your local area that you think your dog (and you) would enjoy.

Online Dog Training

Many trainers offer online sessions including classes and private sessions. These can be a great option for many situations. For example, if you have a dog with a behaviour issue and need private consultations, but you don’t have a local dog trainer with the right expertise or approach (see below), you can instead find a trainer who does online consults.

Online classes for tricks and other activities can be a great choice for a fearful or reactive dog who would not enjoy going to class, or for a person who is short of time and would rather take part in their own home than drive to a class.

The online option is less useful if you want your pet to have social experiences with other puppies or dogs. Online puppy classes do exist (and they were incredibly helpful during the pandemic when in-person classes weren’t an option), but you would need to find ways to make up the socialization part. Most people don’t know a lot of people with puppies of the same age that they know have had their first vaccinations, so puppy class is the best way to get that socialization.

Choose the Right Dog Trainer

Whether you’re looking for a class or private sessions, one thing to bear in mind is that dog training is not regulated. It’s essential to pick a trainer who will use kind, humane methods. That’s because reward-based methods that rely on giving rewards (like a treat) for good behaviour work very well and are the safest approach. Aversive methods, like prong collars, shock collars, and leash jerks, have risks for your dog (see for example, Ziv 2017; Todd 2020 for a summary). Those risks include increased fear, anxiety, stress, and aggression.

Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to tell a dog trainer’s methods from their website; if you’re not sure, ask. And if you accidentally hire someone who turns out to use aversive methods, ask for your money back and find another trainer.

If you’re not sure whether you need a private consult or would do better to attend a class, talk to the trainer and they will guide you to the best option for your dog. If there’s ever a sudden change in your dog’s behaviour, see your veterinarian in case of a medical issue.


Todd, Z. (2020) Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy. Greystone Books.

Ziv, G. (2017) The effects of using aversive training methods in dogs – a review. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 19:50-60.

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