In any dog training situation — whether in a formal dog class or on a walk in your neighbourhood — it is essential to assess your dog’s emotional state. Is your dog finding the experience pleasant, and is your dog under threshold? If not, your dog will begin to show more “unwanted behaviours” and your dog will find it difficult to learn.
Many (I would argue most) unwanted behaviours are a product of stress —distress and/or eustress (e.g. happy excitement). If your responses to your dog’s behaviours add to his/her stress, it’s unlikely that your dog’s behaviours will improve and they are likely to become worse.
Emotions drive behaviours. If you suppress the behaviours, the emotions still need to go somewhere (often resulting in worsening of behaviours or new unwanted behaviours). Avoid using training methods that are designed to suppress behaviours; instead address the underlying causes of the unwanted behaviours (e.g. distress or extreme eustress).
This often involves controlling your dog’s access to the environment, rather than trying to control your dog. Don’t force your dog to “get over his/her fears” but instead use gentle exposures; don’t let your dog move into a new area or closer to the “object of interest” unless your dog’s arousal levels are below threshold.
To effectively read your dog’s emotional state, you must become fluent in canine body language, especially the signals your dog prefers to use. If you can become aware of the very subtle signals your dog uses when stress levels are relatively low, you can help your dog before he/she begins to show the unwanted behaviours.
What is a “lifestyle” dog or puppy class? I define it as a class that teaches dog owners how to help their dogs learn to be relaxed, comfortable, and under control while participating in activities with their human. What is your lifestyle and how do you want your dog to participate in it with you? Are you looking for a relaxed dog walk both you and your enjoy? Group dog walks with other dog owners in park settings? For an active lifestyle, my clients can try some Search Fun games outdoors, get a little taste of dog parkour, and teach their dog to safely ride a Stand Up Paddleboard so the dog can come along on the board. Think of lifestyle dog and puppy classes as dog training for real life.
The lifestyle dog and puppy classes that I offer always start with ensuring that the dog is comfortable and relaxed. Emotions drive a lot of behaviours. In fact, I would argue that emotions are the primary driver. I show dog owners how to recognize their dog’s signals and the possible underlying reasons for fear, frustration, anxiety, etc. The primary goals are that the dogs are having fun and they are not over-stimulated. Once those two goals are met, the manners and skills training some so much more easily.
Lifestyle training can (and should, in my opinion) start when a puppy is young (taking safety precautions into account). Build a solid foundation of confidence, impulse control, and self-regulation.
Think of lifestyle classes as ways to train and bond with your dog for life.