It’s time to consider whether or not your dog needs to attend class as well. Behavioral problems are the number one reason dogs are relinquished and the leading cause of death for dogs under 3 years of age. You want your dog to be a happy member of the family, and appropriate training can help him learn good manners and prevent problem behaviors from occurring.
Your new puppy’s peak learning period is from 3-14 weeks of age and “kindergarten” classes usually start at about 10 weeks. These first classes should be for dogs the same age who are receiving appropriate vaccinations. Group classes will teach the basic commands: sit, down, stay, come, heel and leave it. This is also a great opportunity to socialize your puppy and to meet other pet parents. At about 6 months of age, when your puppy reaches adolescence, more formal obedience training will solidify and refine earlier learning and help prevent bad habits from forming. Puppyhood is also a good time to teach her to amuse herself with toys and to rest in a crate.
If you do find yourself with a dog who exhibits troublesome behaviors such as aggression or destructiveness, first rule out medical causes with an exam and consultation with one of our doctors. (Going to a trainer won’t do any good if your dog is urinating in the house because of a bladder infection.) It’s also important to understand that some behaviors (like barking) that are sometimes considered problems are, in fact, normal. Vetstreet.com has a section on their Learn tab called “Why Does My Dog?” that explains typical things dogs do.
Adult dogs who need to unlearn negative behaviors and replace them with positive ones usually work one-on-one with a qualified trainer. That way lessons can focus on the specific issues your dog is having. Another common option is board and train programs, where dogs receive intensive instruction. In all cases, it’s essential that the trainer work with YOU to show you how to continue the training on a day-to-day basis when the instruction period ends.
Oak Tree Veterinary Hospital recommends that whatever training program you choose be reward, not punishment, based. Your goal is to teach and reinforce desired behaviors while ignoring or redirecting undesired ones. Dominating and punishing your dog can lead to fear, anxiety and increased aggression without teaching him what you really want him to do. You will be frustrated and your dog will be confused; not exactly the goal of training! Effective training shows respect for you and your dog and involves the least amount of stress possible.
Dog training is currently not a regulated industry; that “trainer” you’re considering may have little or no relevant education or certifications. The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers does offer certification programs; you can check their website for more information. A good instructor will strive to strengthen your bond with your dog and will individualize lessons to suit each dog and owner. Ask to observe a class or training session; does everyone seem to be having fun? Is the trainer patient and creative? Ask to see the trainer’s credentials and references and verify that he or she is properly insured. Also consider whether a particular instructor is experienced and knowledgeable about the type of training your dog needs. Ultimately you may need more than one trainer during your dog’s lifetime; the time and effort you put in now will pay off with your well behaved dog for years to come.