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  CANINE & COMPANION TRAINING SERVICES

C . L . A . S . S .

What is C.L.A.S.S.?


C.L.A.S.S., or Canine Life and Social Skills, is an educational program to promote training focused on the use of positive reinforcement and to strengthen relationships between humans and their canine companions. C.L.A.S.S. is a three-level evaluation for dog owners to demonstrate the real-life skills of their dogs, as well as a knowledge assessment of the owners’ understanding of basic dog handling and care.

Developed by the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT) based on input from both dog owners and non-dog owners, shelter workers, and professional dog trainers, C.L.A.S.S. benefits pet owners, dogs, and everyone in the community!

Developed by the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT) based on input from both dog owners and non-dog owners, shelter workers, and professional dog trainers, C.L.A.S.S. benefits pet owners, dogs, and everyone in the community!

The three levels of the program are named after human university degree programs: the B.A. for Dogs™ (Bachelor’s level), the M.A. for Dogs™ (Master’s level), and the Ph.D. for Dogs™ (Doctorate level). The skills in each level vary in the level of difficulty and distractions. For example, at the B.A. level, we allow the use of treats as rewards after the completion of an exercise, and some of the “real life” skills that are assessed are waiting at the door, drop it, and settle. In the M.A. level, dogs are asked to walk past several dogs of different sizes, breeds and genders, to wait in the car before exiting, and to allow the student to handle various parts of their body. And in the Ph.D. level, students must carry everyday objects such as a cardboard box or paper sack while walking their dogs on a loose leash, ask their dogs to back up, and have their dog demonstrate table manners during a simulated dinner session. Each level also allows for two “bonus rounds” that students may elect to try or not with their dog.


Objectives of C.L.A.S.S.

Canine Life and Social Skills (C.L.A.S.S.) has the following objectives.

Promote Positive Training

C.L.A.S.S., through its evaluation, curriculum, and training resources, advocates the use of reward-based training. Positive, reward-based training minimizes the use of punishment and is fun for you and your dog! C.L.A.S.S. promotes relationship-based training, training in which the communication is two-way and the mutual trust is strong. It is training that is instructive, telling the dog, without anger or force, what we would like the dog to do.

The human tendency is to notice and react when a dog (or person!) is doing something we don’t like. Yet we would have much better relationships if we rewarded a dog (or person!) for doing things we do like. Help set your dog up for success by giving feedback and rewards for behavior you like, and by arranging the learning environment so that the behavior you want is easily produced.

Positive, reward-based training does not mean that your training is indulgent or without restraint. Clear boundaries and rules still need to be set for our canine companions. For one, dogs feel more secure with clear boundaries, because they know what is expected of them. Two, boundaries are necessary to maintain harmony in the human household. With positive, reward-based training methods, those rules and boundaries can be established without creating a confrontational atmosphere.

Strengthen Dog/Owner Relationships

A positive approach develops and safeguards harmonious relationships by maintaining a mutual trust between dog and student. By encouraging positive, rewards-based training, the C.L.A.S.S. program strengthens relationships through effective communication, understanding, and quality time spent together.

Effective communication is essential to any relationship. Training helps a dog learn what we want him to do without forcing him to do it. Dogs and humans are born speaking different languages. When a dog is brought into a human household, it is up to the human to communicate in a way the dog understands. Similarly, dogs have an expressive and well-developed system of body language to communicate. If we expect the dog to listen to us, we should learn to listen to what the dog is telling us.

The dog/student relationship is also strengthened through shared activity. With positive, rewards-based training we spend quality time with the dog, resulting in the dog learning so that he has the social skills to spend more time with people. Dogs are living, emotional beings who thrive on social interaction; they require human attention to be well-adjusted, not to mention to learn appropriate social behavior. A dog left out alone in the yard is not only deprived of required human attention and a sense of belonging but the skills needed to live with humans, as dogs will do whatever works for them if left to their own devices.

Encourage Ongoing Training

Dogs are continually learning with every behavior, so why not use training to be proactive in what your dog learns? With its emphasis on maintaining training skills, as well as advancing to higher levels of training, the C.L.A.S.S. program supports continual training.

There are so many reasons to continue training with your dog:

  • Training redirects your dog’s natural behaviors to acceptable outlets
  • Training builds your dog's behavioral repertoire
  • The more acceptable behaviors a dog learns, the less room there is for undesirable behaviors
  • Training is fun for you and your dog
  • Training increases the odds that a dog will stay in the family for his lifetime rather than be given up due to behavior issues
  • Having a well-trained dog makes it possible to engage in many more activities such as:
    • Earning C.L.A.S.S. B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. Certificates
    • Ongoing training classes
    • Dog sports and games
    • Animal-assisted therapy work
    • Outings and travel with your dog

Value Real-Life Skills

C.L.A.S.S. is about teaching and appreciating real-life, practical skills, such as walking nicely on a leash, settling down, meeting strangers, table manners, attention, and coming when called, just to name a few. C.L.A.S.S. provides dog/student teams the opportunity to have their skills evaluated by a professional dog trainer. Passing a C.L.A.S.S. Evaluation is a testimony to the life skills that a student and their dog have developed together. Moreover, by using those skills in everyday situations, a dog can become a well-behaved member of your household and a welcome part of society.

Educate about Dog Behavior

A large component of C.L.A.S.S. is to educate pet owners about dog behavior. Dogs are not furry little people, and problems can arise when humans apply human characteristics to explain dog behavior. Dog behavior is often misunderstood, and countless myths have been perpetuated regarding their behavior. Dogs should be studied and understood as a distinct species.

The more we understand dogs, the better relationships we can have with them. In order to minimize confusion and strife, it is important to know the facts based on scientific research. For instance, most dogs aren't behaving “badly” in a dog sense; they are just using normal dog behaviors to get their needs met or to resolve conflict. They use those behaviors because it’s what they know, and from a dog’s point of view, they usually work. Dogs do not feel guilty in the human sense of the word since dogs do not think in terms of right and wrong, but in terms of what works and what does not work for them. Dog behavior is driven by doggy needs, not human emotion or morals.

Canine Life and Social Skills is not just about training our dogs; it is about training people, too! Through the C.L.A.S.S. program, students can find resources for learning about dog behavior, including locating training professionals dedicated to advocating dog-friendly techniques.

Promote the Value of Dog Trainers and Dog Training

The C.L.A.S.S. program is also designed to assist the Association of Professional Dog Trainers in our mission to promote the dog training profession and the importance of training for the behavioral health of dogs. Through C.L.A.S.S. ™, the APDT provides trainers with a program to help pet owners, shelters, and others who work with dogs to gain valuable “real life” skills that can increase a dog’s access to public areas, as well as increase adoptions. C.L.A.S.S. ™ is also designed to assist trainers build better relationships and networks with local veterinarians, shelters, local officials, and many others to increase their educational efforts to promote training.


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About Canine Life and Social Skills