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Training is Not a Luxury

Any responsible dog owner, upon bringing a new dog into the home, expects a wide variety of expenses will arise as a result of dog...

Casey Lomonaco  |  Nov 5th 2010


Any responsible dog owner, upon bringing a new dog into the home, expects a wide variety of expenses will arise as a result of dog ownership. Veterinary expenses, grooming supplies, crates, food, toys, leashes, collars, etc., are all investments that most assume are part and parcel of dog ownership. We budget for these things, and if they’re not in the budget, wait to get a dog until they are. A dog owner would not be considered responsible if he or she were to obtain a dog knowing in advance that s/he did not have the financial resources to provide for these basic needs.

We take our dogs for both prevention and treatment – we take whatever measures are possible to prevent illness and frequent wellness exams will allow us to identify signs of medical trouble as soon as they begin rearing their head. Serious illness, like cancer, is much more treatable if caught in the early stages. We groom our dogs to prevent matting, build a bond with our dog, and also so that we can familiarize ourselves with our dog’s bodies and notice any lumps, bumps, or scratches that were not there at last grooming session. We crate our dogs to prevent potty accidents, prevent them from chewing or consuming items which may be dangerous to them, etc.

These are all assumed expenses of dog ownership. Yet training, for some reason, is considered a luxury. This is despite the fact that behavior problems are the number one cause of dogs being relinquished to shelters and rescues for rehoming or worse, euthanized.

I understand that many families are struggling financially in this weak economy. We save pennies where we can, and try to cut out unnecessary expenses and luxuries to the greatest extent possible. However, enlisting the assistance of a qualified trainer or behavior consultant may very well be the best investment you can make on behalf of your dog.

At the veterinarian’s office, preventative care (basic wellness examinations) is generally much more affordable than treatment for established, chronic medical problems (cancer treatment, for example). Similarly, with dog training, investing $100 – $200 in a basic puppy class to get you and your puppy off onto the right foot in preventing behavior problems is going to be much less expensive than hiring a trainer later to do a number of private consultations for your dog who has already developed severe behavioral problems like separation anxiety, reactivity, and aggression.

In the article Behavioral Therapy for Separation Anxiety in DogsAn Evidence Based Approach I & II, presented at the 80th Western Veterinary Conference in 2008, the author Gary Landsberg asserts:

Although one study found no association between spoiling, obedience training and behavior problems, 17 recent studies have found less separation anxiety and less behavior problems in dogs that have had obedience training. In fact, dogs that have obedience training, have been trained with positive reinforcement, or have been to agility classes are less likely to have behavior problems, while those trained with punishers had lower obedience scores and a higher level of training problems.

Colleague, Facebook friend, and respected positive reinforcement trainer Diane Garrod had a nice blog on this topic not long ago called Undertones of “I can’t afford a trainer” where she succinctly addresses the point at hand – the question should not be “Can I afford to hire a trainer?” but “Can I afford not to?”

It makes me sad when owners are so frazzled with their dog’s behavior that they no longer enjoy living with their canine companion; when they dread coming home to walk the dog because he pulls so hard on the leash or lunges at other dogs when these problems are largely treatable with fairly simple solutions. Walking your dog should be an enjoyable experience, for both of you. A trainer can help you achieve that goal.

Training should not be considered a luxury, but a necessity. Pet owners need assistance in finding training solutions which are accessible, practical, and reasonably priced. Here are a few options:

FREE

The internet provides a wealth of resources on dog training at no cost to users. There are a variety of great videos on youtube and wonderful articles online that can show you how to teach basic behaviors like sit, down, walk politely on a loose leash, come when called, etc. Look carefully for resources which seek to motivate the dog to perform through providing him with access to things he likes (treats, toys, play, etc.) and avoid using techniques which teach through force, coercion, and intimidation.

LOW COST

In addition to free resources, there are a wide variety of great training books and videos on the market. Purchasing a book is usually less expensive than hiring a trainer. While books and videos are great educational materials for instilling basic manners and obedience behaviors, they cannot and should not replace the assistance of a qualified behavior professional for severe behavior problems. (However, they can serve as great supportive materials to a rehabilitation protocol as set forth by the behavior professional of your choosing – your behavior consultant may recommend one or more books, videos, or websites to complement the training protocols laid forth in the rehabilitation plan.)

HIGHER COST

As with many things, you get what you pay for. Hiring a trainer is more expensive than free and more expensive than purchasing a book, but what you are paying for is years of education and hands-on experience working with a variety of behavior problems in a variety of different breeds. Private lessons will be more expensive than group classes. If you are looking to hire a trainer, remember that no training is preferable to bad training – an unqualified trainer can easily cause more behavior problems than she ever fixes. This article from the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior will give you tips on how to find a great trainer!

Trainers may offer discounts or specials. I have always offered discounted training services for shelter or rescue dogs, and do offer discounts for multiple dogs from the same household. I offer discounts on puppy class enrollment to anyone starting class before their dog is 10 weeks old. I offer discounts to clients who purchase a buckle collar or harness and turn in a choke chain, prong collar, or shock collar that they’d previously been using on their dog. I offer discounts to foster parents who are looking to train a few desirable behaviors in a homeless pet to make him more likely to find a permanent home.

Good trainers, when coming across a dedicated owner that is financially strapped, may be willing to work out payment plans. I’ve certainly let people pay a down payment at orientation and then pay a per-class rate instead of paying all at once for clients who were committed, dedicated to doing the work, and had fallen on hard times. If I see that the person is not working outside of class with their dog, I generally don’t offer a second discount – I’m only willing to help you if you’re willing to help your dog.

I did have one client who had adopted a dog to provide comfort to a child who was suffering from terminal cancer. Medical treatments had consumed the family’s entire savings. This is one of the few times in my career that I offered a full scholarship to basic classes – the client had to write a three-page essay on what their dog meant to them and why training was important to them. Occasionally, when I am frazzled or frustrated professionally, I pull this essay out and review it, it reminds me why I do what I do and how important the work of a trainer is.

I’ve seen an increase in the number of breeders, rescues, and shelter organizations that are including in their adoption requirement that new dog owners take the dog to an obedience or puppy class. I am encouraged by this trend, because it lets dog owners know, from the time of adoption, that training is the number one factor which will keep a dog out of a shelter or rescue in the future and help him stay in a home where he is loved forever. Training a dog is no more a luxury than sending a child to school for an education is a luxury. It is one of the hallmarks of responsible dog ownership.