As a professional dog trainer, I find it tragic that less than five percent of owners take their dog to a class. I don’t find it tragic for business reasons, as I live in a dog-crazy mountain town where I run at a fast pace to keep up with demand. The tragedy is that dogs who never receive proper socialization and training can end up paying for it with their lives — after being abandoned, turned in to a shelter, or seized because of a bite incident.
According to a recent American Pet Product Association National Pet Owners Survey, four percent of the dogs in the U.S. take a training class. An article in the Journal of the American Animal Hospitalization Association seems to confirm that dim percentage, noting that only 4.7 percent of puppies in a particular study had attended a socialization class. Meanwhile, 1999 research found that 25 percent of owners participate in classes with their dogs.
That all means that as many as 75 percent of the dogs in this country never receive professional training — with more than 83 million dogs here, that works out to 62 million dogs. Dogs are dying in the millions at shelters, and bites continue to increase.
What can change these two horrible scenarios? Education. But the education needs to be salient and of real-world value to the owner, convenient, and — for the dog’s sake — pain-free. A couple of organizations make an attempt to get owners to classes with their dogs. More can and should be done, but here’s what happening now:
The Association of the Professional Dog Trainers (APDT) for the fifth year in a row has declared January to be National Train Your Dog Month. The organization offers free owner handouts on such important topics as busting dominance myths and tips for kids and pets. The group also has a Train Your Dog Month social media contest for its members.
APDT Chairman Amber Burckhalter, CDBC, CNWI, says, “APDT offers a wealth of information to the pet owner via our website, social media live chats with training experts, links to training books and DVDs, and so much more. Many APDT members host local Train Your Dog Month events and feature training discounts as well.” While this effort is not a large or necessarily loud one that many dog owners seem to know about, it’s a start.
The American Kennel Club is a nonprofit organization that makes millions of dollars every year. The group attempts to reach owners with one day of the year with its Responsible Dog Ownership Day. One day a year? Really? How about 365 days a year?
The AKC does have a link on its website that “promotes responsible ownership,” and it suggests 101 ways to be a responsible owner. Some of the tips are good indeed, such as “clean up your dog’s poop” and “spay and neuter your dog,” although the AKC is a breed registry that makes money from its membership … of breeders. It would go broke in a hurry if members stopped the breeding as suggested.
Tip No. 75 is way, way, way out of date, however: It urges owners to “be the alpha dog.” That’s known as the dominance theory, and it has been totally rebuked as not relevant to how dogs learn. Dogs are not trying to dominate you. Period. Please Google “dominance theory rebuked” if you have any doubts. Scientists and behaviorists with advanced degrees galore have posted information pleading with dog owners not to listen to that outdated information.
A relatively new organization, The Pet Professional Guild (of which I am a member), provides a terrific amount of education and member benefits at no cost to pet owners. Membership is free, and it has more then 10 areas of handouts, videos, and articles on its website. The PPG also puts its money where its mouth is and sponsors an International Day of Celebration for Force-Free Training and Pet Care in February each year. Owners and trainers can enter the competition, and there are some great prizes to be won, including a first place prize package valued at $2,000.
I applaud these organization for trying to reach into the hearts and minds of dog owners. We need to do more, however, because the current rate of only five percent of dogs getting professional training is beyond dismal. We need owners to look at their precious puppy and recognize that pup did not come to them trained. It is up to the human being in this partnership to get thee to a class with your dog, preferably before she hits the 20-week mark. If you don’t get into a class and aren’t properly socializing your new best friend by the time his brain is 20-weeks old, you are literally playing catchup for the rest of that dog’s life.
Take the class when your dog is a puppy, and you will be putting a solid foundation on your dog for the rest of his life. The Pet Professional Guild has a free directory, and it is the only dog trainer organization that demands its members never use force while training. To truly be a responsible dog owner, please take your dog to a class — even if you are a rockstar dog trainer in your own right. Dogs need to learn in the presence of other dogs, as they will be encountering dogs in the real world for the rest of their canine lives.
Have you attended a class with your dog? Are you going to? Tell us in the comments!
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About the author: Annie Phenix, CPDT-KA, is a force-free professional dog trainer enjoying her mountain-filled life in Colorado. She is a member of the Pet Professional Guild and the National Association of Canine Scent Work. She takes her highly trained dogs with them everywhere dogs are welcome because of their exceptionally good manners. Join Annie on her dog-training Facebook page.