Most dogs can benefit tremendously from a well-taught obedience training class. “Most dogs” and “well taught” are the operative phrases. Is dog obedience training school for your dog? How do you evaluate basic dog obedience instructors? Even experienced dog owners can often benefit from some expert tips on how to train a dog, and a good instructor should provide valuable feedback on how you can improve your training skills.
However, not all dogs are ready for group class, and some may benefit from private training instead. Finding a good trainer and knowing what type of services your dog needs is key to setting him up for training success.
Selecting the right trainer can often be a frustrating process. Dog training is an unregulated industry, so anyone can print up business cards and market themselves as a dog trainer, behaviorist, or “psychologist,” no experience or education required. We do not allow people to cut hair or apply acrylic nails without a license, and it is sometimes scary that no certification is required to train dogs.
It is worth taking the time to find the right trainer. Here are some places to find trainer recommendations:
Parks frequented by dogs: Look for happy, well behaved, confident dogs. Ask these owners if their dogs have received professional training. If so, ask for feedback, and make a note of their recommendation. Follow up on it with a phone call or email!
Review the American Veterinary Society for Animal Behavior’s Guidelines for Choosing a Trainer. Keep them near you as you call around to local trainers, use them as a reference.
Call around: Ask questions about the methods employed by various local trainers. Ask for veterinary, client, and colleague references and follow up on them. Ask what trainers they refer to, and what trainers refer to them – follow up on these leads also! Inquire about education and experience and remember not to feel guilty for being selective, you are interviewing each of them for a job and your dog’s behavioral health is at stake. Behavioral problems are the no. 1 reason for euthanasia and shelter turn-ins, so choose wisely! Check Dogster’s local listings for obedience schools and trainers.
If you are satisfied with a trainer’s phone interview, ask to observe a class. If a trainer will not allow you to observe a basic obedience class, look elsewhere. When you visit class, talk to the students about their classroom experiences, and observe the dogs – are the dogs happy, eager to work, with wiggly body language, shining eyes, and happily wagging tails? Dogs and humans should be enjoying the training process in a well-taught class.
If you have a puppy, it is advised that you look for a class which emphasizes socialization and prevention of behavior problems. At this stage of development, the need for socialization, development of appropriate interaction skills, and behavior problem prevention (now is the time to prevent such common behavior problems as unwanted barking, jumping, pulling on leash, biting/nipping, and more severe problems like aggression and reactivity which are often directly related to inadequate puppy socialization and inappropriate training) trumps the need for obedience behaviors. Look for heavy emphasis on socialization, appropriate play, and polite greetings, confidence building exercise instead of obedience behaviors for your puppy.
Not all dogs are good candidates for group training. These dogs frequently benefit from private lessons, and many can eventually be enrolled into group training. Dogs with severe behavioral problems, including aggression, reactivity, destructive separation anxiety, or extreme fearfulness often benefit from the individualized attention offered by a private lesson. Dogs that have illnesses or parasites that are communicable to other dogs are not appropriate for group training until they have received a clean bill of health from the veterinarian. Behavioral and physical illnesses are good causes to seek individualized training for your dog. Private instruction will also allow your behavioral professional to structure the training to your goals for your dog.
When evaluating a behavioral professional to work with severe behavioral problems, you should be especially selective. Make sure you carefully interview the trainer and ask for references related to your particular behavioral concerns – if your dog has aggression or separation anxiety, ask for references from clients who have had the trainer work their dogs on those same problems.
Separation anxiety (S.A.) dogs are often fine in a group class situation with their owner but may still require private lessons to deal with the S.A. specifically. Aggressive or reactive dogs may need numerous private sessions before they are comfortable enough to work in a group class.