Adding a new dog to the family is an exciting time. One of the most important steps you can take to make that transition as smooth as possible is to pursue training for your new canine companion. Whether it’s an 8- or 9-week-old puppy or an adult rescue dog, training can be a tremendous benefit to everyone in the household.
A well-trained dog feels more secure knowing his boundaries and what is expected of him. A well-trained dog also gets along with humans and other dogs. Training can eliminate unwanted behaviors such as leash pulling, jumping up on people, and house soiling. New dog owners can benefit from training as well—trainers who are knowledgeable in dog behavior and communication can help you lay a solid behavior foundation for your dog and correct any of your own unconscious behaviors that may lead to problems for you and your dog down the road.
Finding a good and reputable dog trainer in your area can be tricky. Depending on where you live, there might only be a couple trainers, or there might be so many choices it can make your head spin. Read on for some helpful pointers in how to choose a dog trainer for your family.
Types of Training—Basic Obedience or Specialty Training?
There are many different types and styles of dog training. For puppies, a group basic obedience class is helpful for socialization, overcoming distractions, and basic skills like sit, stay, and recall (come when called). Some very excitable or social dogs may benefit more from smaller or even private lessons to improve their focus. Older adopted dogs can also benefit from group obedience classes, but they may also have more specific training needs (like separation anxiety, fearfulness, or leash aggression) that are better solved through private instruction that can be tailored to the specific issue.
Location can also be a factor. Most group classes take place in some sort of training facility or designated spot in a business like a pet store. Some group classes are held in parks. Private trainers generally offer one-on-one training in the home as well. If your dog doesn’t have a strong recall command and you’re concerned about her taking off after a squirrel or bird, an indoor or private lesson may be the way to go.
There are also boarding-style training facilities. These are generally for more specialized training such as service or hunting dogs, and more severe behavior problems like aggression. In this situation, you’d send your dog to the trainer, either at a facility designed for boarding and training, or to the trainer’s home, and they would work with your dog for an agreed amount of time before returning the dog to you. It can be very beneficial for a trainer to have your dog 24 hours a day to work on unwanted behaviors like fear, anxiety, and aggression. They can often overcome issues that a weekly training session could not. They can also send your dog back home ready to hunt, and if you’re looking for a finished hunting dog but don’t have the time to train them yourself, that may be a big benefit for you.
Trainers Teach Humans, Too
It’s important to remember that dog trainers aren’t just training the dog. Even if you send your dog away to be trained, you will still need to have some lessons on the commands and style of training your dog just went through. In that vein, having a trainer can be more beneficial than just reading a book and training your dog on your own—they can help point out things you might be doing unconsciously that could be derailing your efforts, and they can often come up with a more specific approach to solving behavior problems.
Consistency is Key
No matter the style of training, having the entire family on the same page and consistently setting clear boundaries and expectations is critical to maintaining your dog’s training. If the expectation is that your dog will not be allowed to jump up on people, or lay on the furniture, but one person in the family allows those things the dog will become confused, and this can lead to frustrations and bigger problems down the road.
Training with the whole family can also be helpful with smaller children because this can help the dog to understand that the children are authority figures too, and to help the children understand how to properly wield such authority. So, finding a trainer that will work with your whole family, and finding a training setup that works with your family’s schedule is imperative.
Hot, Cold, or Both?
You’ll also want to take into account the style of training and discipline that you want to follow. Some dogs thrive with positive only reinforcement, and some dogs do better with the clarity of both positive and negative reinforcement.
Remember the Hot and Cold game from childhood? One person tries to find a predetermined place or object while the other people tell them they’re getting hotter or colder depending on how close or far they are from the thing they’re supposed to find. This game is extremely difficult to play using negative only reinforcement—only being told you’re getting colder. Positive only reinforcement (you’re getting warmer) definitely makes it easier. But a combination of the two (being told when you’re cold and warm) leads to the greatest success. Dog training can be the same way; your dog wants the structure of knowing what he’s not supposed to do and the praise when he’s doing something good. Positive and negative reinforcement can look different depending on the trainer, the dog, and your family. Depending on your personal preference and your dog’s personality, some trainers may come across as too harsh or too soft. Finding a trainer that has a style you agree with is something to consider.
Some trainers work with clickers and other training tools—and some dog owners find once they get into clicker training that they can’t stand the clicker noise. You need to sit down with your family and discuss what style of training you think will work best for your dog and your family.
Good trainers should have references, and be willing to talk with you first to explain their training style and philosophy. If you’re looking for help correcting specific behaviors, they should be able to tell you how they plan to approach the problem, or if they feel that’s outside their scope they may have another trainer to refer you to. It’s ok to ask them questions, and even ask if you can observe a training class to see how they work.
Aside from basic obedience and behavior correction, does the trainer help you to understand dog behavior and communication? A lot of people find it helpful to understand why their dog behaves and reacts the way he does. When you understand the reasons behind your dog’s behavior, and how your dog is taking nonverbal cues from you, then you’ll be better equipped to address behaviors in the future.
Dog training is an unregulated industry. Anyone can print up business cards and start training dogs. This makes asking questions even more important to ensure you’re getting value for your money. A reputable trainer will be happy to discuss their own training and education, and how they came to be a trainer. There are groups such as the Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers and the Association of Professional Dog Trainers that your trainer might be a member of. These groups can also assist you in finding a good trainer in your area.
Once you’ve decided on a trainer, they should give you instructions on what to do with your dog before class starts. You’ll most likely be required to prove your dog is healthy and current on vaccines. They may ask you questions to determine your dog’s style of learning. Is she motivated by food or toys? They might ask you to bring your dog’s favorite toy to use as a reward, or they may have recommendations for training treats. You may need to bring your dog to obedience class on an empty stomach, especially if she’s very food motivated. If you have a high energy dog, the trainer may recommend that you take your dog for a walk or run before training class, as a dog who is really amped up and hasn’t had that physical outlet of exercise can be easily distracted, making it more difficult to learn.
Canine Good Citizen Certificate
If you have visions of participating in activities like obedience competitions, agility, or freestyle with your dog, it’s important to master basic obedience first. Some people view the Canine Good Citizen test requirements to be a great foundation to any well-behaved dog. According to the AKC, the requirements to earn the Canine Good Citizen certificate are:
-Accepting a friendly stranger
-Sitting politely for petting
-Appearance and grooming
-Walking on a loose leash
-Walking through a crowd
-Sit and stay or down and stay command
-Coming when called
-Reaction to another dog
These skills are often required for your dog to go to places like hospitals and nursing homes as a therapy and comfort dog. They are also a great foundation to build upon for more advanced activities like agililty, hunting, and tracking.
No matter what your training goals are for you and your dog, it’s vital to keep in mind that training is a team effort. Finding a trainer you and your family can work with is important. It’s also essential for you and every member of your family to be consistent, and to keep an open mind and be coachable. It’ll be a waste of money if you or a member of your family refuses to take any of the trainer’s feedback. And money spent on helping your dog become a well-behaved member of your family is a great investment that will pay off in years of companionship!