in a Traditional Class
If you don't have the opportunity to take a clicker class, you sometimes have to make due.
First, discuss your plans with the instructor, and make sure it's okay to bring your clicker. Since you'll be "doing your own thing," so you want to be certain you don't abuse the privilege.
Second, to lessen the stress on you and your puppy, try to work a week ahead of everyone else. You want your dog to "know" the behaviors before he comes to class, so you won't feel pressured to force him into compliance for a behavior he doesn't know. Call the instructor and ask what behaviors will be practiced in the first class.
There are certain behaviors you probably ought to have pretty solid before going in: attention, sit, and loose-leash walking.
Attention is the single most important thing. Truly. If your dog doesn't learn how to focus in strange environments BEFORE going to class, you won't be able to get his attention, even with treats.
I would take him out to a new place (fairly boring -- like the far end of the PetSmart parking lot) every night for a week before class. Put him on a six foot leash. Get out of the car and... wait. Don't call him. Don't wave food around. Just wait. As soon as he glances at you, click and treat. Keep doing that until he's focused on you, then you can practice some behaviors he knows (or work on sit or loose-leash walking).
Loose-leash walking and a sit-at-heel is something I would practice only because traditional classes seem to dwell on this exercise from the very beginning. Lots of boring heeling drills. I promise -- the better your puppy is at this, the happier you will be.
The secret is maintaining a high rate of reinforcement while the puppy is in the correct position. Don't be afraid to feed treats pretty rapidly or pretty constantly. Use small, soft, gooey treats that don't have to be chewed, and (though I may get lambasted for mentioning this) I wouldn't use the clicker. Just shovel treats. Practice lots of starts and stops, with just 1-5 steps in between, having him sit every time you stop.
I tried taking my dog to a traditional class. I admit, I wasn't successful. I found myself frustrated with my puppy and with myself after every class. I felt pressured to perform to an artificial standard -- because the other students were modeling their dogs and correcting them, they "appeared" to be performing better than my puppy.
Your puppy is the only thing that matters. Do only what makes you feel good about him. Don't risk your relationship for the sake of that class.
List and Site Owner: Melissa Alexander, mca @ clickersolutions.com