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The Nitty Gritty

Getting “bad dog” to “good boy”

Dogs have a way of finding a special place in our hearts. However, making sure your pup enhances your life, instead of upending it, often relies on some serious effort on your part. As the saying goes, “dogs require work.” Engaging a professional dog trainer, especially for first-time dog owners and more challenging fur babies, can shorten the time to create the harmonious situation of a happy dog and owner. Here are some tips on how to find the best dog trainer for you. 

Not Every Dog Trainer Has the Same Qualifications

Before signing up for classes, do your research. In the United States, there are no restrictions or laws about who can claim to be a dog trainer. The person you find in an advertisement could have extensive experience, or your dog could be their first attempt at training professionally.

There are independent organizations that certify dog trainers, such as the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers and the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. Many of these organizations require continuing education to maintain certification, so you can be sure your trainer is up to date on the latest techniques. Always ask a trainer about their certification and experience.

You Are Being Trained Along with Your Dog

A good dog trainer has two clients: the dog and the dog’s owner. A dog trainer has limited time with your dog for training sessions. As the owner, it’s your responsibility to reinforce these lessons and incorporate them into your life outside of trainings sessions. The trainer should be comfortable including you in the lessons and showing you how to interact with your dog, whether your sessions are in-person or virtual. Either way, dog training isn’t doggy day care, so be sure you are available to participate at the times you schedule.

Ask the trainer what a typical training session includes and how you will be part of it. Get a feel for their expectations of you as the dog owner and how they track your progress outside of the lessons.

After the training lessons, Deb Murray, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, Certified Canine Behavior Consultant and Certified Professional Dog Trainer, recommends that you “work training into your daily life with your dog. Some of the ways you can do this is by practicing how well they listen to “sit” when you throw a toy or open a door. Another way is to use daily meals for food training – after all, dogs need to eat, you need to train.”

Training Methods Vary 

There’s no one right way to train a dog. Some trainers employ alpha-dog or dominance training, which taps into a dog’s natural instinct as a pack animal. Others use positive reinforcement to reward dogs for expected behavior, or clicker training to cue dogs with a noise when they do something right. 

Ask the potential trainer which method they use. For instance, you may not be comfortable with a trainer who relies on negative reinforcement, like a shock collar, to discipline a dog. Know what kind of training you’re purchasing before the first lesson.

A Good Trainer Has Happy Clients

Ask the trainer if you can speak to a few clients. Hearing from others will give you the full picture on what to expect from the trainer. While it’s unlikely that a trainer would put you in touch with an unhappy client, you can get additional details that the trainer may not have offered, such as the trainer’s communication style and willingness to follow up after training sessions.

Get Your Pup Ready for a Post-Pandemic Life

Be sure to ask your trainer to address any concerns you have about your dog’s separation anxiety and related behavioral issues. After all, you want to avoid coming home to torn up couch cushions and potty mishaps. Your trainer should be able to suggest a few ways to prep your pup for more alone time when you head back to the office and the kids go back to school. If you’re unsure how to start the conversation with your trainer, here are a few tips from Murray. 

What is the best way to condition the pet to be around other people and animals?

“If your dog needs to be conditioned to be around other people and animals, ask your trainer to help.”

How can I prepare my dog for when I go back to work, and the kids go back to school?

“You can prepare your dog for when you go back to work and the kids go back to school, by getting them used to your “normal” routine. While you’re at home, stick with crate training, you will want to use lots of mental and physical stimulation before leaving them alone.” Murray suggests that if this training isn’t going well you should talk to a professional.

What if my puppy always requires extra attention and I give it to them? How will this affect them when social distancing requirements are lifted?

“If by extra attention you mean never alone, the dog could have trouble being left alone: separation distress, not comfortable in a crate, etc. give dog small amounts of alone time in crate to start, gradually increase the alone time so when you go back it isn’t a big shock to the dog.”

Spending the time to find a dog trainer, who is the perfect fit, can be challenging. However, the effort will be well worth it if it means many happy years with your well-behaved dog.

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