So, you went to the shelter and said, “Yes, I’d like to adopt a hellhound. That’s right. One hound from hell, please. The more aggressive, the better. Bonus points if it acts like it’s deaf and snarls at complete strangers.”
Okay, maybe you didn’t say that. Maybe you found a good breeder, or adopted from a reputable rescue. And maybe your dog isn’t that hostile and ill-mannered. But certainly there’s a little room for improvement.
If you’re feeling fed up, frustrated, and befuddled over why your dog won’t listen, maybe it’s time to learn how to properly communicate. Hiring a dog trainer may sound like a last resort, but why suffer?
Get ahead of negative behaviors by being proactive and starting early. Your mildly misbehaving pup isn’t really a bad dog… but with the right training, your little fur baby has serious potential to be the best dog ever.
How Early Should Dogs Be Trained?
Like yesterday. New puppies are usually adopted out by about eight weeks, and basic bootcamp should start on day one. No one said you need to be a hard-ass drill instructor right out of the gate, but yes- right-now is the perfect time to start reinforcing the essentials at home.
After all, the honeymoon is going to be over the first time your cuddly ball of fur pops a squat on the living room floor. Potty training your new dog will become your top priority.
Now is also the perfect time to teach your dog its new name, make introductions to family and friends, and begin to redirect unwanted behaviors. Essentially, you want to make sure Fido understands that your arm =/= squeaky toy.
Group Dog Training Classes
Once your dog has its initial vaccinations, it’s time to get your social socialization on (there's other ways to socialize your precious pup even before they get their vaccines). Group dog training classes are an awesome way to get your puppy feeling comfortable with new people and other dogs, though they aren't for everyone. It’s basically preschool for pups. Figure out how to play well with others while learning the fundamentals.
Group training sessions happen in a controlled environment, but there are still distractions that mimic real life. You and your dog will learn to communicate through basic verbal and nonverbal commands.
The best part is getting to know other pet owners who are in the same boat. It’s comforting to know that you’re not doing anything wrong. You just haven’t learned the techniques to get it right - and you’re not the only one.
Plus, group training is a pretty good motivator to actually do your homework between sessions. Not that it’s a competition, but who wouldn’t want to be crowned best in class?
One-on-One Dog Training Sessions
Maybe you’re a bit antisocial and not into the idea of bonding with other dog people. Maybe you’re not even a dog person - you’d prefer to identify as a person who loves their dog.
But this isn’t all about you. Trainers do encourage group classes, because socializing your dog is absolutely, 100% non-negotiable for raising a well-adjusted dog that feels safe and doesn’t act a fool around people and other pets.
However, one-on-one (should we say two-on-one?) classes with your dog trainer can be taken concurrently or as the next step in advancing that good dog education.
Some dogs do learn best in a more individualized training environment. This is especially true if they’re skittish or reactive around other dogs or seem to be suffering from doggie ADD.
It’s important for dogs to learn socialization young, but there are ways to incorporate that while keeping training sessions distraction-free to start.
What Else Does a Dog Trainer Teach?
Basically, your dog will learn how to function in life. Once you and your dog can speak the same language, you’re on track to be BFFs. But hopefully, you won’t develop some obsessive codependent relationship and never leave home… right?
A dog trainer will help your dog feel more comfortable being handled, especially by strangers. And we’re not just talking about that weirdo at the park who tries to pet without permission. If that situation hasn't happened yet, give it time... it will.
There will be situations when someone new has a legit reason for touching your dog. Think visits to the veterinarian or groomer. You and your dog will learn valuable techniques for handling that will improve your pooch’s quality of life and save your sanity and bank account.
You’ll also learn more advanced obedience commands. “Sit”, “down”, “leave it”, “come”, “stay”, (and a few others) are the bare minimum that your dog needs to know.
But how fucking cool would “go potty” be when it’s freezing out and you want your pup to hurry it up? And dorky and basic as it seems, “paw” still feels a little impressive (though it loses its coolness factor once Fluffy punches you in the face a few times, trust me- I speak from experience).
Your trainer will help you learn to follow through, be consistent, and feel confident in your newly minted role as your dog’s number one person.
Dog Trainers Train People?
Abso-freakin-lutely. They’re training you to train your dog. That’s the hard part of our jobs, honestly.
One of the most important things you’ll learn is how to read dog body language. It’s the primary way that they communicate, so you’re totally screwed if you misinterpret your dog’s mood. "But his tail was wagging!" Yeah it was, but did you see what the hackles were doing? Which direction the tail was wagging? Was it a soft wag, stiff wag, high wag, or low wag? What about the pupils? Commisure? See where I'm going with this?
You’ll learn how a dog’s carriage, tail, mouth, and ears can tell you exactly what it’s thinking without so much as a word. Thank God, since they don’t say words.
Your trainer will also observe your body language, voice, and tone. You may feel in control, but sometimes it takes a little outside perspective to see that your tone lacks confidence or you’re giving off some bad juju vibes. Your energy directly influences your dog’s behavior, so balancing calm with assertiveness is the best way to get the action or reaction that you want.
You’ll learn what it means to reward good behavior. Like, duh- You give a treat, you say “good boy”, you do a little dance. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.
Great! But your trainer gets a little more nuanced than that. Ever seen a toddler scream like a banshee until they get what they want? Dogs know that trick too. Negative attention can be better than no attention… which makes it feel a little like a reward.
Also consider that giving a treat as part of positive reinforcement training shows your dog that food is a reward for doing the right thing. When your dog begs for food… and you give in… you feel me? Your dog just learned begging is good. And that’s bad.
It’s the little things that count, and there’s always more to learn. Take full advantage of Q&A time during each session to ask for clarification or additional help or demonstrations if you’re ever unsure.
Your trainer is there to help, and a good trainer will be open to giving plenty of useful advice to reinforce the lesson of the day. A great trainer will help you even after the training session is over.
How to Choose a Dog Trainer
Yes, there are good trainers and not-so-good trainers. Unfortunately, it’s an unregulated industry, so the barriers to entry are low and any geek off the streets can print a few business cards. Sadly, I’ve encountered a few… and then I end up with their dogs as my clients.
While education isn’t mandatory, the best trainers will have gone through some extensive learning. Some may have attended formal training schools, some will have gone to seminars, some may have mentored under more prominent trainers. Others will have partaken in webinars, or have an extensive library. Some may have certifications- but just because they have letters after their name doesn’t mean that they’re worth their salt. Ask about their experiences with the dogs that they have trained, and listen to how they speak about the cases they’ve handled. Ask plenty of questions, like what their approach is to training dogs or what they think of certain tools.
Look for a dog trainer who uses positive reinforcement techniques as part of a balanced approach. You want to reward your dog for being awesome, replace unwanted behaviors with desired behaviors, and strengthen your bond. Purely positive trainers can teach your dogs to do things, but most of their “fixes” are merely bandaids and don’t get down to the root of the problem behavior. Remember that treats teach good behaviors? Well, they don’t stop bad ones.
Aversives have their place in a balanced approach to training, as well. Steer clear from the “Alpha” type trainers, those that believe hitting your dog is ok or those that don’t know how to properly use an e-Collar or prong collar and think that you must make your dog submit to your every whim. This is how you get a shut down shell of a dog, not the best fluffy friend you’ve always wanted. A trainer that knows how to correctly use training tools will enhance and build up your relationship with your dog using clear and effective communication techniques through the use of the tools, not destroy your bond.
Finally, you want to make sure your trainer is cool as hell. Seriously. Someone patient, encouraging, and just chill is key. After all - they’re not really training your dog...They’re training you to train your dog. You wanna like them.
If you’re interested in finding out more about our introductory training programs, get in touch! No pressure, we promise. We’d love to talk about how training could help improve day to day life with your new dog! So send us an email or get on the phone and let us help you and your pup!