Is Your Trainer/Obedience Class Earning a Pass or a Fail?

Now that the kids are back in school, is it finally time for the family pooch to learn how to stop jumping on new people, how to walk quietly – without pulling – on the leash, or just become better socialized? If that is the case in your family, we have put together some information and tips on what to look for in your local obedience class and how to find a professional dog trainer that will not only teach your pet, but also show you how to continue training at home.

Obedience Classes

When checking out obedience classes, here are some suggested guidelines to help you decide which class and instructor is best for you and your pup.

  • Find an instructor who actively listens to the clients and dogs in the class. Any trainer who forces an animal to interact with strangers – both human and canine – when it doesn’t feel comfortable should be on the “pass” list.
  • Look for a class that uses consistent positive reinforcement for good behavior. Lavish praise, and the occasional treat, teaches a dog that behaving appropriately gets rewards. Dogs learn more quickly, and stay calm and mentally involved, when pet parents and trainers use approval for good instead of punishment for bad behavior.
  • Make sure your trainer/class allows you to use the treats your dog likes, rather than something he/she is trying to sell that your dog may not want to eat.
  • Listen to the trainer teach other clients and pets to ensure that all instructions are clear and consistent. If you’re confused by what the trainer is showing, how is your pet to understand and perform to expectations?
  • Ask if the trainer/class allows all members of your family to participate in the pet training. Without consistency from each family member, your dog can pick up mixed signals that hinder any positive results.
  • Watch the trainer and class for any signs of impatience or rough handling. It takes time for all dogs to learn appropriate behavior; leash-pulling, loud, angry voices, and finger wagging should earn a “pass” from concerned pet parents.
  • Be careful of trainers who equate treats with bribery. If using treats gets your pup to do what you want, why not use them? Some dogs, just like their human counterparts, take more incentive than others to learn and a trainer who doesn’t recognize those differences is not paying attention.
  • Search for a class/trainer that instructs you, as the pet parent, how to carry on with consistent training at home. Once you leave the classroom, teaching must continue in a safe, familiar setting to let your pup know that appropriate behavior is expected at all times, not just in one room with one particular person.

Dog Trainers

Dog trainers come with all levels of knowledge and all different qualifications. As a responsible, loving pet parent actively interviewing your prospective trainer and watching several of his/her training periods should be paramount on your list of “must haves.”

Additionally, look for trainers that have excellent recommendations from veterinarians, other dog trainers, rescues and/or shelters, and animal experts in your community. Don’t be afraid to ask for references and make sure you diligently check out all references before scheduling any classes or handing out any money. Please note: As a personal recommendation, I don’t allow my dogs or my horse to go to any trainer where I am not able to watch the training at any time, participate in the classes, and learn myself what is needed.

Many reputable dog trainers receive accreditation and certifications through various national and international agencies. The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers and the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, as well as the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Canine Professionals, provide training, on-going continuing education, and certification programs for anyone interested in going into the field of canine training.

Additionally, these organizations monitor trainer behavior and clients are able to report any problems to the accredited agency.

According to the APDT website: “Be aware that not all certifications are the same.” Some trainers are ‘certified’ by the school that they took their educational program through whereas others are certified through independent certifying bodies that are not affiliated with any particular school or program. So a ‘certified trainer’ could be someone who simply took a two-week course on training or someone who has studied dog training and behavior extensively for years and was independently tested on their knowledge and skills. The term ‘certification’ is widely used incorrectly in the field and most certifications are in fact certificate programs. This does not mean that certificate programs are bad and many of them are quite good, but the dog owner should be aware that the term means many different things in this field.”

Veterinary Behaviorists

If you feel that your dog needs more than an obedience class or a dog trainer because of particular behavioral characteristics (for ex: aggression issues, separation anxiety), you may want to find a veterinary behaviorist in your area.

The term “veterinary behaviorist” applies to licensed veterinarians who are specialists in the field. They have completed a residency or training program in the discipline of veterinary behavioral medicine and studied topics such as sociobiology, psychology of learning, behavioral genetics, behavioral physiology, psychopharmacology, ethology and behavioral endocrinology.

A vet behaviorist has both the medical knowledge and the behavioral knowledge to evaluate an animal’s behavior and determine whether a medical component is involved. These specialists can suggest and prescribe appropriate medications and integrate those same medications into a behavior modification program that best suits individual pets.

According to the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, “Specialists in veterinary behavioral medicine have the skills and knowledge to take detailed behavioral and medical histories, weed out irrelevant information, and base the treatment plan on the pertinent behavioral and medical information. This ability to take a good history and to ascertain relevant facts is essential and is often overlooked as a necessary skill when working with behavior problems.”

You can ask you local veterinarian for a recommendation to a veterinary behaviorist in your area or check their website for names and accreditations.

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