Instructors often talk to students about how good management of their dog prevents and solves many dog problems. We know that good management, along with good training, is what keeps dogs in their homes for life.
Good management of your obedience training class is just as important if you want to help your students to the best of your ability, and also keep your business running smoothly. Efficient class management will allow the excellent instructor to shine, and will aid the less experienced instructor by reducing the numbers of things that can go wrong, thus giving the new teacher a sense of confidence. Of course, it goes without saying that anytime beginner dogs and handlers are in the same place together, your first consideration should be safety, and good class management will go a long way to ensure this.
Keep in mind that these suggestions are very general. Many factors can alter how you manage your class, from the methods, techniques, and equipment you choose to use, to who you teach, to your actual class location, to your experience, how much help you have, and many other considerations.
1. Pre-register the class. Registering students ahead of time has many advantages to you, the instructor. If you like to be prepared, you will definitely want to know who and what is coming before that first class session. If you have a good business and run full classes, requiring that classes be pre-registered and pre-paid will increase your bottom line. There’s just something about paying that makes most of us show up for a class! Some instructors find it very useful to know what breeds will be in the class, and many use advance registration to screen potential problems, direct owners with problem dogs to the appropriate class (or a private session), and learn more about each dog/handler team that is coming. Of course, that initial phone conversation with the potential student can give you much information, but can be time consuming, and in some instances you may not be the one who actually talks to the student. A good registration form which asks the right questions is an efficient way to gather facts ahead of time. And of course, nowadays there are many ways to pre-register, from mailing in forms to running an orientation session, or even through your web site.
2. Limit the class size if you are uncomfortable running large classes, or if the method you are using works best with a smaller group. Your class site may dictate how many to put in each class. You may or may not have assistants, and this can make a big difference in how big your class should be. In any event, pre-registering your classes will enable you to teach the size class you want.
3. Create a list of rules or class policies, send it out with your pre-registration paperwork, and read over it at the first class. Some instructors even ask their students to read the rules, and then sign a document to that effect. It is important to remember that you are in charge at your class, and whatever rules you believe to be important to your training program should be followed by all your students. Students should understand, up front, that your concerns are for their safety and success. If you don’t want students to wear flip-flops or train with a retractable leash, then put it in the rules and follow up on them across the board. Of course, you can be flexible and make an effort to accommodate people’s wishes. For example, although you may prohibit socializing among dogs in class, students can be encouraged to come early or stay late to make “doggy friends” if that is one of their goals. Even with such a compromise, you are still responsible, so you may have to hang around to monitor them.
4. Take the temperaments or sizes of the dogs into account when planning how you set up your training area or room. Dogs that aren’t well socialized to other dogs or dogs that are shy or fearful will do much better, sometimes, if they can arrive early and watch the others come in later. The toys (and their owners) may be better placed away from the bigger working dogs, at least for the first few sessions. Likewise, younger pups may be grouped together. These “sub-classes” allow you, the instructor, to address them as a group when needed, or even move them around as a group. If you have all large dogs, you may not have a problem doing group heeling, but if you have very small dogs as well, you may want to move the dogs individually for safety’s sake.
5. Be in charge of your class. Never forget that you are the ultimate authority for that entire class hour, in fact you are in charge everywhere in your training site. Your leadership will help your students become successful leaders with their own dogs. Obviously if someone doesn’t wish to take your advice about which collar to use, (even though they have paid you for your expertise) you may not feel comfortable in forcing the issue. But if you feel like giving in to them would make the class as a whole less safe and less successful, don’t hesitate to insist. If a student is that opposed to your training methods, you would be better off (and they would be better served) if you sent them on to another instructor.
6. Be in charge of people (and dogs) who are not training. If your rule is that only one person train the dog, then other family members must sit out of the training area. Children should have a non-training adult there to monitor them. You cannot teach your class and babysit at the same time, and neither can your student. A pet peeve of mine is “modern” young families who feel compelled to bring their infants and small children everywhere they go. I even had one recently who referred to my class as a “family outing” for their 3 and 8 year olds. Of course, if your classes are family oriented, your rules would be different, and designed to help your class run at its best. But you are still the one who determines the rules.
Classes which are run without the benefit of good management are less likely to have successful students. They are much more likely to allow accidents to happen, and they sure as heck don’t make you or your programs look professional. So give good class management some thought before your class starts, and don’t be afraid to implement the kind of structure which makes a good class, and a good instructor, even better.