Most people in the UK who hear the words "dog school" for the first time have no clue what you are talking about. "You mean a puppy school...?" This is not surprising, in light of the fact that proper dog schools are hard to find around here. In fact, I have never even encountered a "dog park" - a safe enclosure dedicated solely for dogs.
The problem with traditional puppy classes
Dog training in the UK usually begins with a puppy class held in the local village hall.
It is a type of training I have personally found a rather odd experience, as far as dog training is concerned. In my opinion, puppy classes held in community halls over a six week period are the most unnatural way to start introducing a puppy to obedience training: weird smells, harsh sounds, slippery floor, neon lights, a confined environment. And the strangest of all: the owners march around, or sit on chairs, and puppies must be strictly kept on the lead "to avoid any incidents".
If you ask me, this all goes against everything what I believe puppy training should be about. You don’t have to be a hotshot animal behaviourist to know that the meat and potatoes of any puppy training must be the action called socialization – when we not only allow, but indeed encourage the puppies to mingle, and play with both dogs and people. If we isolate them because of some weird "insurance issues", we practically teach them to be wary of the world. The more we keep them on a tight lead, the less chance we have to create a friendly dog, and there begins a vicious cycle that is hard to turn around at a later stage.
The number of "antisocial" dogs we meet in our streets and public parks that don't know how to play nice with other dogs, or bully the hell out of both dogs and people are evidence that there is something clearly wrong with the good old "church hall training".
In fact, I did a little survey on this, and out of 36 people who had taken their dogs to a six-week puppy class, 25 said they found it completely useless, and several of them had to leave the class, because they were told by the trainer that their puppy was "too much", too boisterous for the other dogs.
There is also a common misconception out there, that dog training can only be effective until a dog reaches adulthood, but after that it is "too late" – an idea that, it goes without saying, is complete bollocks. In fact, real obedience training can begin after a puppy is old enough to hold its focus for more than five minutes.
The problem with group classes held in parks
One fellow dog trainer, having heard my reasoning, told me bluntly: "Why complicate things with a dog school? I can simply go to a park, and have a group class there."
Personally, I have never fancied the idea of a dog class in the park, or on the beach, or any public area. Here is why: when someone brings his dog to my session, I am fully responsible for anything that happens there, including how that dog behaves or interacts with other dogs or people. I can only do that when I am in total control of the situation. In a public place, things can go wrong - and they do! Strange dogs can suddenly show up, people walk nearby, etc. Use your imagination.
I met this lady at the Ryde Castle Hotel who told me that one day she was walking with her eight year old daughter in the woods near Newport, when they suddenly found themselves in the middle of some kind of "puppy chaos" group class held right there. One of the dogs, a bulldog type mutt suddenly jumped up on her daughter, who got frightened, fell backwards, and burst into a panic-stricken cry. This is exactly what I am talking about! Let alone a possible injury, chances are that girl will be afraid of dogs for the next twenty years.
This could have never happened if that class had been held within the borders of a proper dog school. A trainer cannot take full responsibility for his class when he do not have total control over the environment, as simple as that. Especially if he wants to train dogs off-the-lead, as it is the ideal way to go with pet dogs. Off-lead training can only be safely done in a fenced, secured area, where the owner does not have to worry that his dog runs out of the world.
The problem with private sessions in your home
Most dog trainers will go to the customer's house to try to fix the "dog problem", on a one-to-one basis. Although this practice might be very comfortable for the customer, there is something trainers will never be too keen to reveal: the most common behavioural issues in dogs simply cannot be genuinely addressed in the kitchen, or the garden, no matter how much money the customer is willing to fork out. When faced with issues such as lack of socialization, domination, anxiety, nervousness, weak or non-existent recall, pulling on the lead, or bullying other dogs, just to name a few, we need to do training in a neutral place, and more importantly, employ the help of both people and, especially. dogs. Any valid dog trainer would agree: a dog can teach ten times more to another dog in ten minutes than a man can teach the same dog in ten hours. Simply because they are of the same species. But we can't really walk up to someone in the Seaclose Park, and say "Excuse me, Sir, could we borrow your dog for a few minutes, we are doing a training session here..." can we.
And then, of course, there is the question of the finances. Dog training is a business, which must generate income. But, as we all know too well, a lot of people don't want to pay for anything, either because they don't have any money, or because they have too much. A private session can cost anything from £25-£50 (I charge £75 in London), and there are dog behaviourists who demand a £50 deposit just to "secure an appointment". But if you come to a dog school, attending a group class can cost you as little as £5, as the trainer can work with several dogs at the same time.
So at the end of the day, there can be no argument that an established, permanent outdoor dog school benefits everyone: the dog is in a safe environment, the owner gets good value for her hard earn money, and the trainer does not have to spend half of his day to drive around to meet customers.
So what is a dog school, anyway?
A dog school in Europe or North America refers to an open-air, grassy field, a fenced around dog enclosure or paddock, equipped with various facilities and structures for training and exercising dogs , with a big sign on the gate that says: This is a Dog School. All welcome!
A dog school is THE place to go for free advice, where dog owners can just pop in and have a chat with someone who knows a thing or two about dogs, where both man and dog will always receive a warm welcome from the friendly instructors. It is open all year around, and it provides EDUCATION through promoting various classes, such as Basic Obedience and Socialization. It certainly has a “nursery school” for puppies. We also have a class specially for children (age 6-12), who are proud owners of a dog, and want to learn the basics.
But above all, the primary purpose of a dog school is to provide a safe a place to bring our dogs for play and exercise.
Play and exercise must have significant roles in a dog's daily life. And where can you take your dog to meet and mingle with other dogs in a safe environment?
To the city park? To the woods? To the beach?
Let's call a spade a spade in today's world, no matter where you live, in a busy city or in the countryside, taking your dog out for a walk ALWAYS carries a risk of an incident. As a fellow dog owner, I am taken aback by the number of unreliable, treacherous dogs we encounter on our walks. I am sure you could recite a number of bad encounters yourself with people who just seemed to be unable to control their dogs. I have two small dogs, and must constantly be on alert mode, and keep an eye on the horizon to spot any dogs on the loose.
(We had a number of attacks too, my dogs ending up at the vet. In fact, I had my wonderful, hyper-friendly, 4-year-old terrier killed by the neighbour's German Sheppard. I can assure you, dogs that are on-the-loose, and out-of-control is no small issue for me.)
We must also remember that when dogs run free in the woods or in the park, there is always a chance that they run out of sight, and get lost - as shown by the "Have you seen this dog?" ads on social media on a weekly basis.
A dog school is also an important "community outreach program", where dog owners come to ‘socialise’ , have a Sunday barbecue, or gather around the campfire for the Ultimate Dog Quiz on a warm summer evening. It is a great COMMUNITY BUILDING opportunity - a dog school may be the only place where dog people (many of whom live alone) have a chance to meet and greet others.
Furthermore, because dogs that are properly trained are less likely to cause disturbance and end up in the news, a dog school has a definite part in creating a SAFE ENVIRONMENT for our citizens, and for our children.
And before I forget: a dog school also plays a vital role in preserving MENTAL HEALTH.
We are all aware of the rapid decline in mental health all over the world. Research has proven that friendly and cheerful dogs enhance the mental and physical condition of people in their vicinity. Thus it is not an overstatement that more well-behaved dogs has a positive effect of the mental condition of people in their vicinity. It is especially true with children diagnosed (labeled, that is) with one of those strange ‘deficiency’ issues, and syndromes.
So what do we really have here? We have Education, we have Community, Environment and Healthcare. Hey, somebody could build a campaign on this slogan, and run for office.
Well, my friends, I could go on for a lot longer about why a dog school IS THE BEST THING that can happen to a (dog)community, but this post is already too long, and nobody is going to read it. In fact, I cannot believe that you are reading this right now. You must have been here for over ten minutes... Let me praise you, because it certainly means that you DO CARE.
You are awesome!
Please help us to spread the news about our new venture, now that you have a better understanding of what a dog school really is.
Thank you for your care.
The team of DogTraining4Humans