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June 15, 2009

On Friday, Mary over at Cowgirl by Proxy wondered about the dog training classes we take. I wrote a long, detailed response in the comments, which promptly got eaten by my blog software. I’ll do my best to recreate those thoughts here. For several years now, we have trained exclusively with Gigi Moss in Boulder, CO, who is the ONLY dog trainer who did not give up on us because of Lilly’s fears. We are very loyal clients and would be completely lost without her support, wisdom, and patience.

She calls the class we take level two. She also offers puppy kindergarten, level one classes, special Feisty Fido classes, and special small-dog classes, as well as loads of private consults each week. She is very busy.

I typically refer to the class we take as an Advanced Pet Dog Training Class to distinguish it in others’ minds from competitive obedience classes. The vast majority of our dogs friends are active in training do agility, herding, and other competitive dog sports. Lilly and I are like the little sisters who cannot keep up.

I didn’t used to get caught up in the semantics of calling it “obedience” training or referring to “commands,” but lately I purposefully choose not to use those words. They lean too much in the wrong direction (aka sound dominance-based).

So, just to be clear: I do not train Lilly to be obedient. I train her so that she can cope better in the world. I do not give her commands. I ask for behaviors or cue them. There are no corrections, only reinforcement for the behaviors we seek.

Class Format
Gigi offers the one-hour classes we take twice a week in a variety of public locations. Sometimes, we’re at parks, with or without dog parks. Sometimes, we’re in more open-space parks with hiking trails. Sometimes, we’re in outdoor malls or shopping districts, where many stores allow dogs inside.

It’s a drop-in class, so we can go anytime our schedule opens up.

Class Content
Because dogs go so many places in Boulder and because the parks and trail systems often allow specially licensed dogs off leash, we typically work on good manners in a variety of challenging situations:

  • Concrete trails with runners, bikers, skateboarders, and strollers
  • Single track or wildland trails with loads of hikers, mountain bikers, loose dogs, and wildlife
  • More urban-like areas with car and pedestrian traffic, stairs, music, etc.

Lilly already knows things we train in class really well — loose leash walking (not quite heel, but not going wild either), leave it, whoa/wait, off trail, sits, downs, stays, etc. These classes simply give her practice doing it in tougher locations, including working around other dogs, noisy places and such.

When we first started taking these classes, Gigi’s intern referred to Lilly as “The Ringer” because she knew everything already.

Class Cost
We pay $90 for 7 classes, then simply keep track of how many we’ve used so that we can pay Gigi for another set of classes when it’s time. It’s actually $90 for 6 classes, with one free, but it’s all the same to me. About $12.85 per class.

We used to take one class per week, but our behaviorist asked me to skip class while we were doing serious behavior modification work last summer and fall. We had being going just once a month for a while, but then I got super busy with work and family obligations. I’d like to get back into a routine, where we go a couple times a month.

Class Benefits
I only wish we’d found Gigi when Lilly first came home. I think our lives would be pretty different, if she’d done her puppy work and initial training with Gigi. Maybe I’m kidding myself. The genetic and other predisposition factors (sickly & deprived puppyhood) were already in place when we adopted Lilly at six months old.

Still, we train with some families whose dogs have been with Gigi since they were tiny, and these dogs are spectacular. That’s why we enjoy training with them so much. They don’t scare Lilly because they are predictable and can usually be turned on a dime, if necessary to keep Lilly from flipping out.

There is a core group of longtime students who continue to train their adult dogs regularly with Gigi. Those two big dogs from Friday’s photos are some of them. It’s really nice to know exactly what the other dogs in class can and cannot do. It’s easier for me to manage Lilly’s fears that way.

There is also a constantly changing cast of characters as some families finish level one classes and join the level two class. A few of these families come regularly for a while, then disappear. Typically, these dogs are in the prime of big puppyhood or adolescence, so they can be wildcards. We usually stay a bit farther away from them until they learn better self control.

I was going to mention and link to other dog bloggers we know through Gigi, but I’ll let them speak up, if they’d like. Suffice it to say that the core group, as a whole, is made up of great people with amazing dogs.

Travel Distance and Time
For us, picking a dog trainer isn’t like finding the nearest dry cleaner. All are NOT created equal, and we’ve found that trainers who are good at marketing themselves are often quite bad at the work itself. After some early mistakes with not-good trainers, we found Gigi. So, even though it’s usually an hour’s drive each way to class — a three-hour minimum commitment — it’s worth it to us to work with a trainer and classmates we like and trust.

About the Author Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related.

I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

  1. Talking to a trainer about creating a similar class is a good idea. Thanks. And I’ll keep the houses for sale in mind…

  2. I agree with KB. When we first worked with Gigi, Lilly’s fear issues showed up in very different ways than they do now. It’s been nice having someone to observe, comment, and help who has the background of how things have changed.

    Thanks too for the insight into how the other classes are structured.

  3. Well, there are a bunch of houses for sale around here. :o)

    I wonder of those of you in other areas could find a like-minded trainer, pool a bunch of interested people and ASK the trainer to create classes like the ones we take.

  4. Rox, thanks for the explanation. The one class I took Java to was a community education class and there were two very aggressive sibling German Shepherds in there that took up most of the trainers time. Java was only 6 months old so she still learned quite a bit but there were so many questions I had that didn’t get answered. I think the trainer was good, but like you said, you have to fit in with the other class attendees too. I’m not sure what to try next. Move to Colorado?

  5. I’ve taken two dogs from tiny puppyhood through adolescence and adulthood with Gigi.

    Actually, the puppy classes are cheaper than the advanced class ($10 per class), and they’re drop-in. Since I’m a total believer in puppy socialization, I took each of my puppies to puppy class twice per week.

    Level 1 class is a bit more expensive – 6 weeks at $20 per week – and it’s not drop-in. Gigi has a set curriculum and homework so you don’t want to miss a week.

    Now, I have a 1.5 yr old and 5.5 yr old in Gigi’s advanced class. Each attends about every other week. It’s a perfect class for an adult dog who you want to keep sharp and keep well-socialized. Also, Gigi is an incredible resource for all the random little behavior issues that arise throughout a dog’s life.

    The other thing that I’ve found with my 5 yr old is that she just keeps on changing in terms of her behavior. It’s great to have a drop-in class where I can get a great trainer’s views on her new fears and new courageousness about various things.

  6. I don’t know if the cost for her lower level classes is the same or not. Maybe others who’ve taken the puppy and level one classes can comment.

    But, yes, it’s *very* affordable for us … even when we were going once a week.

  7. Wow, that’s a great price for lessons. If I’d known that I would have taken Strummer to her classes rather than the Humane Society. She’s actually cheaper than the H.S.! We took Lola to her classes when Lo was a pup but I was trying to save money at the H.S. with Strummer.

  8. I agree; Gigi is among the best around here! I took my dogs to her (and she came for home visits) and eventually, we solved some of our more difficult problems. We also went on and off for years, as there are never quick fixes. I agree that the word “obedience” is wrong for this type of training.

  9. We want Gigi, we want Gigi! She sounds like a wonderful trainer and I wish we had something like her classes here. We have one trainer in town; she uses choke chains and I really dislike that method. She is abrupt and I won’t take any of our little ones to her classes anymore. So, here we are with no training; but, our little ones do pretty well. I’d like to tone down the barking; but, I haven’t found anyone or any way to do that, yet. ‘Clicker’ noises really upset them; so, that’s not an option. I have to watch their weight, so constantly ‘treating’ them is also not a good option. I’m lost, but hope to be found one day. Thanks for sharing your experiences…what a delight!

  10. That set up sounds awesome.

    We only have on Obedience Club here on Staten Island. There are several trainers who do classes, but they’re usually at the very low levels. Thankfully most everyone I’ve met practices positive methods, and those who do things differently won’t push their ideas onto their students.

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