After growing up with various pets, fostering dogs and cats, and raising my own two dogs, I’ve learned a valuable lesson, which resonates with me each time I meet a pet — all pets need training. Cats need to learn to use the litter box, horses need to learn to be handled by humans, and dogs need to learn to mouth toys, rather than humans and furniture. Even if your pet is well-behaved and doesn’t cause trouble, he or she can still benefit from the mental stimulation and bonding that training provides.
There are a variety of different methods and classes for training dogs, and not all of them are equal. Below is a list of questions you can ask yourself to determine if your dog will benefit from training and how to go about picking the right trainer for your dog’s individual needs.
1. Does my dog need training?
Training serves many purposes, and those purposes are not always related to your dog’s behavior. “Dogs need training for many reasons, including obedience, self-control, behavior issues, and the list goes on,” said Wendi Faircloth, the director of training at Villa La Paws Training Academy.
Ginny Price, a certified veterinary technician with the National Association of Veterinary Technicians, founding member of the Academy of Veterinary Behavior Technicians, and a member of the Society of Veterinary Behavior Technicians, agrees that training serves multiple purposes. In particular, however, training is an excellent method for getting humans and dogs on the same level. “All dogs need training to learn the behavioral rules of the group they live in,” she said. “This training should ease tensions between species by creating clear communication regarding the rules of living together.”
All dogs can therefore benefit from training — even if they are already well-behaved.
2. What kind of trainer is right for me?
When considering this question, think about how you want your dog to benefit from training sessions. If you want your dog to get socialized with other people and dogs, a group class may be right for you. If you think your dog needs extra, individualized attention, then you may want to consider private classes. Once you determine which you prefer, you can begin looking at different trainers that offer that type of training class.
3. Is the trainer legitimate and worth the fees?
Training can be expensive, so it’s natural to wonder whether or not it’s worth spending money to train your dog. In my experience, it is, and Price agrees. “When thinking about the consequences of owning an untrained dog, dog bites, and destruction, the cost for any good trainer is worth it,” she said.
However, you’ll only meet with success if you invest in the right trainer. To determine whether a trainer is legitimate and worth the investment, Price recommends doing a little research on how animals learn so that you can make an educated decision about trainers and humane training. Faircloth agrees, and also recommends looking up reviews online and asking any potential trainers for references. When calling references, you have the opportunity to determine whether the trainer will be able to address your concerns and training needs.
Before settling on any one trainer, though, Faircloth suggests sitting in on some classes to determine if it’s the right atmosphere for you and your dog. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to get a sense of the trainer’s philosophy and to determine whether or not the trainer takes safety and enjoyment into consideration. After all, both owners and dogs should have fun in the class.
Price suggested that dog owners ask the following questions of potential trainers:
- What is your training philosophy?
- What type of training have you received as a dog trainer?
- What do you typically do when a dog misbehaves in class?
- What safety considerations do you have in place for dog owners and dogs in your classes?
- What should my dog learn in this class?
- What happens if my dog is not learning the behavior in class?
You can use the answers to those questions to determine if a trainer’s methods meet with your expectations and training goals.
4. What are my training needs?
Everyone has different rules and values. As a dog owner, you should think about your rules of behavior. For example, do you want your dogs on the furniture? Do you want to stop your dogs from jumping on you in greeting? Do you want your dog to stop barking at non-threatening noises? Once you determine what you want your dog to learn, you’ll be able to start the search for the right training program to suit your needs.
“The owner needs to honestly assess the reason they have the dog,” said Price. She suggested that dog owners utilize the following questions to determine what they both need and want from training:
- What are my views on dogs and dog training?
- What are my assumptions about how dogs learn and how people should teach them?
- What are the implications and consequences of the style of training I want to choose?
- What concepts do I want to teach my dog?
- What additional information do I need?
Thankfully, you won’t have to answer all of those questions on your own. Your trainer is there to help you determine how you want to approach your dog’s training. “Trainers will be able to help you identify what your dog might need,” said Faircloth.
5. Is my dog making progress?
It is important that your dog benefits from training. If neither you nor your dog are learning or enjoying the class, then it might be time to look for something else. To determine whether or not the training is working, take a step back and evaluate your dog.
“You should see a change in your dog’s behavior fairly quickly,” said Faircloth. “This will, of course, vary by dog, but noticeable progress should be evident after a few sessions.”
Keeping tabs on your dog’s behavior will help you note any positive changes. “The dog should learn new wanted behaviors and stop performing unwanted behaviors over the course of the class,” said Price. “These improvements may not occur in a smooth, continuous fashion, but instead in fits and starts.” Despite the fact that improvements may not evolve perfectly over time, they should be there, especially if you, as the owner, are reinforcing the behaviors both during and outside of the class.
But if it doesn’t seem as though your dog is learning, or if you are unhappy with the trainer, don’t be afraid to bring up your concerns with trainer. Discuss some possible ways for you to address any issues you may have. Consider increasing the amount of time you spend reinforcing at home what you’ve learned in class.
If the training still isn’t working or if you and the trainer have difficulty seeing eye-to-eye on a matter, it may be time to seek out a new trainer. “There is nothing to be gained by continuing classes that are not useful to the owner and the dog,” said Price.
6. My dog completed a training class — now what?
If you and your dog finish training, congratulations! Training not only benefits your dog’s behavior and obedience, but it also helps create a bond between you and your dog. Training doesn’t end with the class, however — it is a lifelong process.
“Dogs need to learn throughout their entire lives, not just when they are puppies and young adults,” said Price. “Behaviors that are reinforced will be maintained.”
It is important to practice what you learned in class with your dog throughout your dog’s life. And don’t be afraid to take on new challenges. Training is mentally stimulating for your dog. It will keep him or her active, occupied, and happy. Most importantly, the activities you teach and perform with your dog will continue to strengthen your relationship.