Training Dogs to Have Real Life Skills? That’s C.L.A.S.S.

Canine Life and Social Skills teaches things that help dogs move better in the community.


Editor’s note: To celebrate National Train Your Dog Month, we got together with the Association of Pet Dog Trainers to run a series of posts through January. Read others in the series: “Dog Training Is Important,” “5 Time-Saving Tips for Training Your Dog,” “How to Find the Perfect Dog Trainer,” “Train Your Dog in Nose Work,” “I Got a Puppy I Didn’t Want — But Training Her Helped Me Grieve the Dog I’d Lost,” “What to Expect from Your Dog’s Training,” “How to Introduce a New Dog to Your Resident Cat (or Vice Versa),” and “How to Introduce Your New Dog to Your Resident Dog.”

Last week my dog Kaylee received her Ph.D. Her doctoral thesis wasn’t on “Modern Deconstruction and Mangling Hard Objects in the Home.” Nor was it “A Comparative Analysis of Plush Versus Rubber Modes of Play Articles.”

Her degree is from the Canine Life and Social Skills program, a series of assessments created by the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. Canine Life and Social Skills, or C.L.A.S.S. for short, was developed to promote positive training and acquiring “real life skills” to get dogs out and about in the community more. The assessment has three levels, which we named after academic degrees in order to emulate the idea of the progression of learning. Thus, the levels are the B.A. (first level), M.A. (second level), and Ph.D. (third level).

C.L.A.S.S. focuses on the sort of behaviors that dogs need to navigate daily life, whether in the home, in the community, or at the veterinarian. Each level assesses various self-control skills, such as stay, leave it, and settling either on a blanket or crate. As dogs progress through the program, they’re assessed on their ability to accept handling from the owner and a stranger, which can become very handy during stressful veterinary and grooming visits.

Dogs also learn other useful skills, such as hand targeting the owner and a stranger, and tricks. Tricks are a great way to develop a fun attitude toward training and a healthier relationship between dogs and their owners.

Other skills in the program are typical behaviors that all dogs should know, particularly in terms of safety. Some of these include coming when called, navigating a series of objects and barriers while walking with their owners, and waiting at doors and in the car.

When creating the program, the volunteers and staff discussed what sort of things everyday dog owners would want for their dogs, as well as what non-dog owners might want to see in dogs in the community. We also discussed with shelter staff the sort of behaviors that would help dogs to stay in the home, such as crate training and developing impulse control.

It was particularly fitting for me for Kaylee to achieve the highest level of the program in January, which the APDT declared National Train Your Dog Month. Working with her through the program was not only enjoyable, but it definitely improved her focus on me and has made going out with her an enjoyable experience.

Because of the skills she’s learned, she regularly goes to pet stores, hardware stores, dog-friendly cafes and restaurants, and friends’ workplaces; she’s even been to the Grand Canyon and Los Angeles.

All of my dogs have traveled with me in the past and have been all over the country, but I found going through C.L.A.S.S. made learning travel behaviors that much easier. And it’s pushed me to do more with my dog, such as agility classes.

If you’d like to learn more about the program, visit the website at C.L.A.S.S.: Canine Life and Social Skills. The site has helpful tips on how to do more with your dog, as well as a list of resources. Whether you take your dog through the C.L.A.S.S. program, or engage in other dog sports and classes, the APDT urges you to get out and do more with your dog!

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