Finding an obedience trainer for your dog seems simple. Google the nearest dog training school, call and sign up, right? Not so fast . . .
There are many factors that go into choosing the right training school for you and your dog. Certainly distance is a consideration; however, convenience shouldn’t be the only factor that influences your decision. Other things like training methods, appropriate classes for your needs, compatibility of the instructor’s personality with yours, and certifications of the instructor should also play a role.
Home or Away?
There are benefits to home training and group class training. Some trainers will come to your home and provide private one-on-one training. Some owners opt to train their own dogs.
Home training may allow you and your dog to focus more on each other. Group class training helps your dog learn to focus, even when there are distractions from other dogs.
Home training means you focus only on things you particularly want your dog to learn, while at group classes you may spend time on things you don’t personally find important. In some cases, you may not have any choice but to train at home; remote or rural areas may not have a local training school where you can take group classes.
In this case, the AKC GoodDog! Helpline can be a great way to further your dog’s training. Knowledgeable trainers are available every day of the week through this telephone support service. The AKC GoodDog! Helpline can also complement group classes in which problem behaviors or issues, such as house training or mouthing, aren’t discussed.
Choosing an Obedience Training Instructor
Most training schools are happy to allow you to attend and observe (leave Fido at home for this) a class or two to be sure the style of instruction fits with your beliefs. Dogs learn best through progressive reinforcement training; rewarding the dog for making the right choice and withholding rewards, or ignoring the dog for making an incorrect choice.
When observing a class, take note of the dogs; do they look happy? Relaxed? Excited to work? Is the instructor encouraging dogs and owners? Does the class seem to be run in a safe and effective manner? If you don’t feel comfortable at a particular training school, your dog won’t either, and you’ll be setting Fido up to fail. Keep looking for a school where you feel comfortable; you and Fido will do your best work this way!
Trainer vs. Behaviorist
There are some important differences to note between trainers and behaviorists. Behaviorists can also be trainers and/or veterinarians, but not always. Trainers are equipped to handle symptoms, but not necessarily the underlying causes for the symptoms.
Training other behaviors and getting a dog used to being alone, for example, can help reduce separation anxiety. The root cause, however, would likely need to be determined by a behaviorist, who could then refer you to a trainer if he or she was not able to help with the training issues.
Some trainers have certifications from training schools or organizations. It’s always prudent to check the certifications of your trainer, or check references if your trainer is not certified.
AKC Canine Good Citizen (CGC) evaluators are another class of dog-training professionals. AKC CGC Evaluators may or may not be trainers or behaviorists, but are certified by the AKC to evaluate dogs in the Canine Good Citizen test. Training other behaviors and getting a dog used to being alone, for example, can help reduce separation anxiety. The root cause, however, would likely need to be determined by a behaviorist, who could then refer you to a trainer if he or she was not able to help with the training issues.
Types of Obedience Training Classes
There are many types of classes available at different training schools. The schools’ trainers should be able to help you determine which class best meets the needs of you and your dog.
Most schools have a series of puppy classes, starting for puppies as young as 8 weeks, and training can progress through AKC STAR Puppy, AKC Canine Good Citizen certification, and advanced obedience classes.
Puppies and owners who complete at least six weeks of class and meet various other basic training and care-taking requirements earn the AKC STAR Puppy certification. The CGC certification is a bit more rigorous and shows that your dog has obedience training and is under control around other people and dogs.
Obedience Training Equipment
The training school should tell you what equipment and supplies to have before you attend the first class.
But if you have a big, strong dog, and he is hard to control on a flat collar, then front-hook harnesses are a great option.
This device works just like it sounds, it’s a type of body harness, and your leash attaches to a ring on the dog's chest. This harness uses physics to limit your dog's pulling and allows you to reward him when he redirects his attention to you.
Another great alternative is a head halter. This functions just like a halter on a horse, giving you control of your dog's head and neck.
Again, physics comes into play. If your dog pulls, and you simply stop moving, he will be turned around to face you. Now you can get his attention and encourage him to come back to your side and continue walking on a loose leash.
Handling and Socialization
A good training class will do more than just teach you how to train your dog. These days, there is a lot more information available about dog behavior, socialization, and dog body language, and an effective trainer will discuss these topics in class along with the training topics at hand.
Subjects like the importance of socialization of puppies up to 16 weeks old, and reading your dog’s body language, are important topics that are now always discussed in training classes.
Another often overlooked discussion point involves handling and grooming. If your instructor offers good advice and you follow her recommendations, your veterinarian and groomer will thank you.
Practice handling and grooming your pup from the time he is very young, and your vet and groomer will have no trouble examining, treating, bathing, or clipping him. However, if the only time your dog sees nail clippers or a brush is at the vet's or groomer's, he will likely come to associate it with scary or unpleasant things.
If you start at home, where your dog is comfortable, you can make the vet and grooming experiences a lot more pleasant for everyone. And as a bonus, many groomers charge less for easy-to-handle dogs, because they can be groomed without the assistance of a second groomer.
Dog Behavior Problems
Even if your pup gets the best start in life, he will still likely develop some “problem” behaviors as he grows up. We put the word “problem” in quotes because most of these behaviors are natural and normal dog behaviors, but they are not welcome in the human world. Behaviors like jumping on you as a gesture of affection, nipping at your hands as an invitation to play, and sniffing you in inappropriate places are all perfectly acceptable behaviors for dogs to do to other dogs.
However, in the human world these behaviors are not OK and are often reasons why dogs are abandoned at animal shelters. Remember your dog was born knowing only how to be a dog. If you want him to live successfully in the human world, you must first teach him what is acceptable. This is easiest done with a puppy, but older dogs can learn, too.
First, you must be consistent. If jumping on you is not OK when you’re wearing nice work slacks, then the same rules must be enforced when you’re wearing old clothes to work in the yard.
Second, it’s easiest to ignore unwanted behavior and reward an incompatible behavior. When Rover bites at your hands, he wants attention. He wasn’t born programmed to know that you want him to sit and ask nicely for attention, so you have to teach him. Instead of scolding him, ask him to sit. When he complies, reward him with a food treat, lavish praise and petting on him, or offer a game of fetch or tug.
Remember, a quiet dog is easy to ignore, but that’s the time when you should be praising him. If your dog gets your attention only when he jumps on you or bites at you, what is he going to continue to do?
Last, basic obedience training isn’t just for dogs that compete in obedience, agility, or trick competitions. Obedience exercises are important for all dogs, especially high-energy breeds that need mental stimulation as well as physical exercise. Simple behaviors like sit, down, stay, come, and leave it are essential for a well-behaved pet. You can challenge your dog even more by teaching him more advanced behaviors like "go to place," formal heeling, to roll over, etc. The old adage -- a tired dog is a good dog -- is not incorrect. However, a mentally and physically tired dog is even better.
Where To Find A Dog Obedience Trainer
There are many resources for seeking dog trainers. The links below are a good place to start.
AKC Training Clubs - https://www.apps.akc.org/apps/events/obedience/training_clubs/index.cfm
AKC Canine Good Citizen Evaluators – https://www.apps.akc.org/apps/events/cgc/cgc_bystate.cfm
AKC GoodDog! Helpline – https://www.apps.akc.org//apps/helpline/index.cfm
Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT) – https://apdt.com/
Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) – http://www.ccpdt.org/
Another great resource? Friends and neighbors who own well-behaved dogs. Next time you’re out for a walk and you notice a model canine walking nicely with its owner, stop and ask where the dog was trained. There may be some little-known training facility just down the street from you!