How to Find a Good Training Class

When you get a new dog, one of the first things you should be thinking about is dog training.  If you Google the phrase “dog trainer”, you’ll get pages and pages of results.  How do you know what sort of training program and trainer you should look into?  What would fit best with you and your dog?

Dog training methods come in many different types.  Approaches can vary from forceful obedience training to the sort where you are the pack’s “alpha leader” to sympathetic approaches using positive reinforcement.

Until fairly recently, dogs were rarely considered part of the family in the way that we think of them now.  In previous decades, a dog was just another animal that received little to no training and when or if it did step out of line, it suffered harsh punishment.

Over time, methods that would be considered inhumane by today’s standards softened some and families taught their animals that they were subservient to their human masters.

Electronic collars, crude whips, rolled up newspapers and shaking the animal by the scruff were all used to intimidate the animal into behaving.

The dog’s reaction to this sort of punishment was always dependent on their personality.  Stressed or timid dogs might cower or hide, dominant dogs might get aggressive, either way, most dogs’ reactions to this sort of discipline were rarely positive or constructive.

Most of these methods and approaches are now recognized by today’s trainers as inappropriate and ineffective.  The most praised method of training today is the positive reinforcement approach.  This approach is not only effective, but will foster a sense of confidence in your animal and his relationship with you.

Though there are basic standards nearly all trainers follow, the specifics on the approach to their training still vary widely.  To figure out what sort of training method would fit with your dog, you need to take a closer look at your animal.  Does he have a history of abuse or the potential for it?

Is he insecure or timid?

Dominant and aggressive?

Has he had any basic training in the past?

Is he well-mannered or has his behavior been problematic?

What sort of relationship are you looking for with the dog beyond general companion?

Is he a family pet?

Are you training him for agility, competition, tracking, hunting or any other sport?

With your end goal in mind, check out those Google results again or pick up a newspaper.  Jot down all the applicable trainers’ information and look them up online if they have a web page.  If you know other dog owners, inquire about their dog training experiences and who they worked with.  You can also call local veterinarians, rescue groups and kennel clubs for trainer recommendations.

You more likely want to look into trainers with positive reinforcement approaches but to be sure they are want you want, do some background research!  Ask for referrals from your prospective dog trainers or find out where they hold their classes and observe one.

Some trainers will come to your home to train your dog and while that may be convenient, be sure you have a way you are socializing your animal, as training them in an isolated environment lacks important socialization.

Be sure to enroll your puppy as early as you can into beginner’s classes or groups to make sure to get him socialized early.  Also, if you know you have a dog that has a history of abuse or seems to have aggression issues, be sure to seek a certified animal behaviorist instead of just a dog trainer.  Issues that may be worked out by the proper professional can blow up if left unresolved.

Many trainers will have a beginning “train the trainer” class where he/she works just with you on how to communicate with your dog efficiently and use tools (clickers, head collars, leads) to help train your dog.

As we’ve established, the most widely accepted and praised method of training is the positive reinforcement method. Here are a few tips for recognizing a positive reinforcement training class:

Method is reward based, using treats, praise or something the animal values when wanted behavior is exercised by animal,

Unwanted behaviors receive as little discipline as possible; instead, dog’s attention is diverted the general tone of the classes are upbeat patience is used,

Dogs are given time to offer a desired behavior,

Unwanted behaviors are cleverly nipped in the bud by asking for an incompatible “wanted” behavior (for example, preventing a dog from jumping on someone by asking him to sit)

There are many resources available online and in libraries on how to train your dog and on methods of dog training.  Take some time to research different approaches and figure out what works best for you and your animal.

Mark Mansfield

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