It seems like nowadays most obedience training classes are held in indoor locations, and the advantages are probably pretty obvious. But sometimes you, as the instructor, may have no choice but to hold your classes outdoors, or you may choose to run at least a few in your schedule outside. Classes held in the great outdoors have the advantages of lots of room, a good training surface like grass, real world exposure for the dogs, and lots of exposure of your business to future clients.
Let’s assume that you have decided to run your basic class outdoors. Your first consideration should be the possible availability of an indoor “back-up” location. Having an indoor place to go to in the event of rain or extreme weather will enable you to stick to your schedule and get all your classes in. Postponing, re-scheduling, or even canceling classes or an entire course will cause you to lose students, create unhappy trainers, and just isn’t professional. A back-up site can be as simple as a covered pavilion, overhang, or porch in mild climates, or you may need to book an indoor room that is heated or air-conditioned. Instruct your students in your procedure for going to the back-up site. I simply put an announcement on my business phone number as soon as I make the decision that we need to move indoors, and students call to check that information. It saves calling everyone in the class (and risking missing someone). Obviously, if you live in an area in which the chances of getting a couple of months of consistent good weather are high, you may be able to skip over this concern.
The next thing to do is to choose your outdoor site. Sometimes where you train will dictate the time of day that you hold your class. For example, here in Texas you’d best have a location with lots of shade if you are training April through October, or have your class at 7 in the morning! If you have your class in the evening, shade will be essential here, as summertime temperatures may sometimes be over 100 degrees even at 7 pm. In some areas, wind will be a consideration, and a windbreak becomes more important than shade. It is not fun to chase papers and lawn chairs all over the park! Are restrooms available? How close is the parking? Can you get a site at no charge, or will you need to sign an agreement to pay for your location? Most public areas now charge user fees, so don’t get caught in the park without a prior agreement! If you are on private property, make sure that your business insurance covers you wherever you go. And if you have a choice, try to pick a location where you will be seen by the public. It’s good for business and good for obedience training.
Pre-registering your outdoor class will help you off to a smooth start. Nothing is more inconvenient and annoying than trying to pass out papers, find pens and a writing surface, and keep things from blowing away in the park. Consolidate your class handouts or curriculum into one packet and give it out at the first meeting. The fewer papers you have to haul to class and keep up with the better. The same is true for any equipment you would typically have on hand in your class setting. Sell your collars and leashes (if you do that) the first couple of weeks only, so you don’t have to lug a heavy tack bag around. Or get one of those luggage carriers on wheels.
Inventory the things you have to have at your class, and keep it simple. You will need a watch or a little clock (preferably with a second hand for timing stays), a clipboard with your class roster and lesson plan for that day (rubber band the papers to the clipboard in case it is windy), and a bottle of water for you to drink. Bring your bag with all your spare leashes and long-lines, extra prong collar links, bait, and a first aid kit. If you are in a parking lot, you may want to mark off your area with traffic cones; you’d be surprised how many people will simply drive right through your spot! Students can bring their own dog water if they need to, but remember that you may have to give a potty break to the dogs if you do that. Lawn chairs are handy for the students to sit in while the dogs do down stays at their sides, as well as for spectators to sit in …you do not want spectators milling about in your training area.
You may or may not want to use a portable sound system at your outdoor class. Battery powered bullhorns are available, and if you want to spend more you can get an outdoor PA system. If your class is small and your voice is in good shape, you probably won’t need it, and remember you may need a permit if you do use such a system. But outdoor classes can be noisy! Invariably the neighbors will choose your class time to mow and blow their yards, fire up the power paint sprayer, and edge their curbs with the gas engine edger. You may have cars (and police and fire trucks) using the nearby streets, and will probably have the soccer or baseball game to deal with as well. I tell my students that they get the real-world experience for free! Be sure to bring your cell phone. You never know when you may have to call for a wrecker, a locksmith, or a parent who forgot to pick up their child. And program the phone number of local animal control into your phone for those times when “non-paying” dogs choose to visit your class. Usually you can tether strays to a tree or tie-out while you complete your class, but sometimes safety dictates that the intruding dog or dogs be removed as quickly as possible.
One of the best reasons to run at least some of your classes outside is that you are readily seen by dog owners and other members of your community. Post an easy to read sign near your class telling passersby who you are, what is going on, and how to reach you. Invite visitors to stop and watch, and to stay after to chat. It is great advertising for you, and good promotion of obedience training and well-mannered dogs. And above all, have fun! My outdoor classes are always laid back and social. Sometimes I will bring a cooler of drinks to share afterwards, and students often will bring food for their hungry classmates. Just plan ahead for your outdoor class and it may be your favorite one!