Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Should you send your dog out to a trainer?

When should you train your dog yourself, and when should you send him out to a trainer? Before throwing in the towel and spending the big bucks, consider the alternatives. I hope I can help you decide.

The vital ingredient: YOU

No dog is miraculously born trained, and no dog stays trained without reinforcement from the owner(s). Everyone in the family needs to work with the dog, and everyone needs to be consistent. He needs to be called by the same name by everyone, learn the same commands, and be expected to follow the same rules, no matter who is talking to him.

Remember what I said before: even if you aren’t training, your dog is learning, and he will learn very quickly what he can get away with. No amount of professional training will fix what doesn’t get reinforced consistently at home.

Obedience classes

Obedience classes are great for most dogs. Even experienced owners learn a lot. I recommend more advanced classes or even repeating the class if you are a first time dog owner.

An inexperienced owner has a lot to learn, so don’t expect to absorb everything the first time you hear it. You work with the dog daily between sessions, and incorporate training into everyday life (this goes for ANY type of training–class or private). Practice makes perfect–for everyone. As I said in my previous post, basic obedience lessons build the foundation for future learning. Many owners find this enough, and their dog calms down dramatically and learns to live peacefully in the household.

Classes are not the place to address serious behavior issues. Most class trainers are not equipped with the skills to deal with aggression and other serious problems, and will refer you to private lessons or a training center where the dog stays for a few weeks while he is trained for you.

What’s a serious problem? That’s up to you; decide what is beyond your capabilities

Private lessons

The next option is private lessons, where you have a trainer work one-on-one with you and your dog. If your dog has issues that just aren’t getting fixed or aren’t dealt with in class, this might be a good solution. Maybe YOU are the one that needs the one-on-one help! This is your chance to get more detailed instruction. Again, you will practice with your dog between lessons.


When neither the dog nor the owner know anything, sometimes it is a lot easier for the owner to start out with a fully trained dog. Send the dog off to boot camp for a few weeks. Most facilities ask for a month, and you come in for weekly lessons. When I worked at the Academy of Canine Behavior, we would sometimes get very nice dogs that were easy to train, but the owner asked us to give him the basics.

But most of the dogs that came in were tough, tough dogs: wild out-of-control dogs, aggressive dogs, powerful dogs, over-anxious dogs. No average owner could deal with these dogs and their problems. The difference after a few weeks of professional training is dramatic, and the owners received intense training themselves. Often, dogs would come in for a training tune-up once a year while his family went on vacation.

Removing him from the home makes it easier to change bad habits and develop new good behaviors. He thinks he knows the rules at home, and will resist change. When he arrives at the training facility, he’s not sure of his place in the pack, and looks to the trainers to explain the rules to him. Then the new rules are transitioned back to his home.

Media: Internet, books and television

I love reading about almost any subject. You may enjoy it too. If you aren’t someone who likes to read, some of the TV dog trainers offer a lot of good information on behavior, especially human behavior and how it affects your dog. While some of their methods are not appropriate for a novice handler, the philosophy is often worth listening to.

Here are a couple of my favorite books and Web sites:


Good Owners, Great Dogs, by Brian Kilcommons & Sarah Wilson. Short easy to read sections so you can pick it up and read for 10 minutes and learn something useful.

Surviving Your Dog’s Adolescence, by Carol Lea Benjamin. All of her training books are great.

Web Sites: Dr. Ian Dunbar is a well-respected expert on puppy training. This site offers good advice for dogs of all ages. Association of Pet Dog Trainers. Find a professional trainer near you.

Good luck to you! Whatever you decide, keep in mind the words of the late Job Michael Evans, one of the Monks of New Skete and author of some great training books: “Train, don’t complain.” And my favorite: “A tired dog is a good dog.”

Photo above: Training is a great way to develop a bond with your dog. This my once-in-a-lifetime dog, Tank, practicing obedience with me at a fun match.

© 2009 Terry Albert. All rights reserved.

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