Choosing a Dog Trainer
Too many dogs are given up after their normal, easily modifiable behaviors are allowed to become problems. But it doesn't have to be this way. To prevent your dog from becoming a sad statistic, take your dog—and your family—to a professional dog training class. A good training class is a fun, social activity that helps your dog become a well-behaved, safe, and valued family member. This information will help you find the dog trainer and class environment that best fits your budget and needs.
Why is training my dog a necessity?
As a dog owner, one of the first questions you may ask is, does my new companion need training? Yes, and so do you! Whether you are intentionally teaching him or not, your canine friend is always learning—and this is true not just for puppies but also for older, adult dogs. If you do not teach your pet your rules, he will invent his own. Training allows caregivers to safely and humanely control their dog's behavior. Positive training enhances the bond between dog and owner, and helps ensure that your dog will respond happily to your instructions.
What should I look for in a trainer?
It's essential that the dog trainer you select uses humane training techniques that encourage appropriate behavior through such positive reinforcement as food, attention, play, or praise. Look for a trainer who ignores or provides a consequence for undesirable responses and withholds rewards until the dog behaves appropriately. Training techniques should never involve yelling, choking, shaking the scruff, alpha rolling (forcing the dog onto his back), or other actions that frighten or inflict pain.
Where can I find a trainer?
A recommendation from a friend, neighbor, veterinarian, humane society, boarding kennel, or groomer is a good place to start. You can also check the Yellow Pages under "Pet Training." Don't assume that a trainer's membership in a dog trainer association or his accreditation from a training school qualifies him as a suitable instructor: Not all associations' membership criteria will meet your expectations. Also, because no government agency regulates or licenses trainers, basically just about anyone can represent themselves as a “dog trainer.” This is why it is very important to use good consumer sense and thoroughly investigate a school or a trainer’s qualifications before enrolling in a class or engaging in private training. It is always important to ask the school or trainer how much experience the trainer or staff actually has training and showing dogs and how much breadth of experience they have with different breeds or groups of dogs. Additionally, find out how many years of experience the instructor or the trainer has, how he was initially educated, and whether or not he seeks out continuing education in the form of books, videos and seminars that are specifically related to dog behavior and training. Furthermore, be sure to ask the trainer or the school what their training philosophy is and what specific training methods are used to alter problem behaviors such as pulling on leash, coming when called and jumping up. Lastly, ask prospective trainers and schools for several references from clients who completed training or classes.
Which class format is best?
In group classes, dogs learn to exhibit self control in the presence of other dogs, accept handling by other people, and respond to their owners despite distractions. Owners learn by observing other people interacting with their dogs and benefit from the camaraderie. Self-help training, private lessons, and “board and train” lessons that exclude the owner do not provide these important advantages. Another disadvantage of “board and train” lessons is that the dog may respond well for the trainer but may not transfer what it has learned to you and your family.
When possible, all family members should participate in the dog's training. By learning to communicate humanely and effectively with their canine friend, they will develop a bond and rapport that will form the basis of the entire relationship.
What should I seek in a group class?
Make sure the school will allow you to observe a class in session before signing up. Watch for the following:
Is class size limited to allow for individual attention? What is the Staff to student ratio?
The area provided for class should allow the instructor to effectively communicate to the class. In addition, if the class is large, there should be additional staff present to provide support for the students and instructor.
What topics are covered in the class?
For example, does the class introduce topics concerning basic dog behavior, and proper ways to provide leadership and develop rapport? In addition, what skills are introduced in the classes?
Are there separate classes for puppies and adult dogs?
Because of difference in size and maturity it is important that separate classes are made available for puppies and adolescent or adult dogs.
Are there different class levels (for example, beginner, intermediate, and advanced)?
Many times schools offer on-going education for their students in the form of intermediate and advanced classes. Even though new information and technique may be introduced, basic theory and concept should remain intact throughout all classes.
Are training equipment and methods humane?
There are many types of training equipment which, when used properly, can aid in training. A school or trainer should be able to individualize use of training equipment and determine what equipment best suits each dog and handler.
Does the trainer use a variety of methods to meet dogs' individual needs?
Not all dogs respond to exactly the same method of teaching. Therefore, it is important the trainer or instructor is able to tailor methods in order to meet the needs of all individual dogs.
Is proof of vaccination required?
State law requires all dogs be vaccinated on a regular basis for the rabies virus. Vaccines for other communicable viruses and diseases are also routinely given. Check with the school to see what their specific requirements are.
Are the students, both human and canine, enjoying themselves?
It has been proven that learning is enhanced when students are enjoying themselves. A class should combine information, hands on skills, and humor to provide an environment where optimum learning can take place.
Are dogs and owners actively encouraged?
Instructors and trainers should provide a motivating atmosphere that is encouraging and motivating to both the students and their dogs. Steer clear of instructors that berate or continually criticize students.
Is praise given frequently?
Dogs learn what behaviors are acceptable by how the handler reacts when the dog responds to a command or cue. All efforts on the dog’s part to respond in a willing and correct manner should be praised and rewarded. If training is done in this manner, a capacity for learning will be developed.
Are voice commands given in upbeat tones?
Be wary of classes or trainers that deliver commands or corrections in a manner that makes a dog feel defensive and worried. Neither people nor dogs can learn effectively under such pressure.
Are lesson handouts available?
In order for students to work with their dogs effectively between classes, it is of utmost importance they receive written material regarding information on skills, techniques and concepts introduced during class.
Is information available on how dogs learn, basic grooming, problem solving, and related topics?
There is much more to developing a relationship and training a dog than just teaching a dog to “sit.” A good class or trainer will provide the student with an abundance of information on behavior, training theory and how to apply specific training techniques that are effective for their particular dog. In addition, information regarding the general care of their dogs should be available to students.
How much does training cost?
Training costs vary, depending on where you live and the type of instruction you want. Some facilities offer Private training while others offer weekly classes. Remember to be a good consumer. You often get what you pay for. That doesn’t mean that inexpensive classes may not be adequate nor does it mean the most expensive training is the best. Thoroughly research any facility or trainer you are considering.
What's the best age for training?
Although "puppy hood" is the best time to train and socialize dogs, old dogs can be taught new tricks! In fact, dogs of all ages can benefit from training. Dogs between 10 weeks and 6 months of age should be enrolled in puppy classes. Regular classes are appropriate for dogs six months or older. The best time to begin training is as soon as you get your dog. But if you did not start right away, you can begin any time and still reap the benefits derived from working with and training your dog.
I have selected a training program, now what?
It is important to have your dog examined by your veterinarian to ensure your pet is healthy, free from parasites, and up-to-date on vaccinations. Contact the facility or trainer of your choice and get started! By enrolling and actively participating in a dog training class, you will help your dog become a well-behaved member of your family, a great companion. Both your family and your community will benefit from you owning an obedience trained dog.
For more information on choosing a dog trainer, consult the resources listed below:
Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT)
P.O. Box 385
Davis, CA 95617
National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors (NADOI)
729 Grapevine Hwy.
Hurst, TX 76054