Picking a Dog Trainer for Basic Obedience

Our canine companions deserve the best and fullest, meaningful life through a relationship with their humans, and a good owner will naturally give them just that. Let’s face it though, so do we. So we work on their overall health, we provide them good food, excellent medical care, we socialize them with other people and dogs, and we spend daily time to develop useful skills to teach them some basic commands.

Somewhere along the way we have noticed that our dogs listen, but not completely. It almost seems like there is something that we are not able to communicate with them on, something we have not been able to work through. Little things turn into big things. We now have a dog that is excited and happy, but is also out of control and lacks basic manners. Normally, one would assume it is time to contact a trainer, but before we get too hasty, we need to make sure this is the right move.

One of the main decisions you will have to make is what type of course you will do. There are basically five types of programs: (1) study and train at home, (2) In home training sessions, (3) Group sessions, (4) On site train the trainer courses, and finally (5) Board and train obedience school. My personal belief is that if you have the time and financial capabilities, 4 + 3 +1 always yields the best response, but it is typically a fairly large investment of both time and resources and not all can go this route. There are a lot of opinions out there about which one is best; it is not the intent of this publication to direct, rather to guide. We believe in the capabilities of invested owners in making the best decisions on behalf of the health of their pups. For this purpose, we have focused on the aspects of training when an owner decides to go with a board and train program and how they will get the best results out of the program’s offerings.

Therefore, once the decision is made to go with a board and train program, there are a few recommendations we can offer. First, always research a potentially good trainer based on word of mouth, reviews, and simply doing a solid Internet search can go a long way. Then, go reach out to talk with them and have some questions written down. A trainer doesn’t need to always agree with you, rather, a good one will tell you where they disagree and provide reasonable insights as to why they believe those things. Be leery of the always-in-agreement-with-you trainer, they may not be honest. Treat this like an actual relationship; they are never perfect, but a good one knows how to communicate tough truths. It is perfectly normal to talk with 3-6 different trainers before we talk to the one we believe is the right fit for our family. This is your family member. We shouldn’t just settle for what is close or what is “available”. We should always have a high level of comfort and confidence of the person on the other end of the line prior to visiting and setting up a time for drop off.

The day has arrived to tour the facility, meet the staff, and make a final decision about your pup’s training. There are a few things to draw a hard line on when visiting a trainer at their site:

(1) this is your pet and you know what is best for them.

(2) The way the trainer/business owner listens to you is key and yes, they will naturally be on their best behavior so try and read between the lines. Pick their brain on what their ongoing level of communication will be, how do they respond to any training accidents/health concerns (you should never be surprised by anything), what is their plan in the event of natural disasters and/or severe storms? The biggest thing here is to see if the owner/head trainer has developed action plans for any potential issues. Do you feel rushed? Do you feel there is only one method for training a dog? Run-of-the-mill trainers these days tend to be either all positivity trainers or heavy-handed trainers; both sides tend hate each other and will tell you all the reasons why the other is wrong. It’s quite rare to find a trainer who can praise and correct at exactly the right time, with equal fairness and unbiased intent to make education their primary concern.

(3) The facilities are key, but remember, it is a kennel and they will never be hospital level cleanliness (they’re dogs). Really think about how you feel about leaving your pup there for an extended period of time… it needs to be safe, secure, and clean.

(4) Meet the staff; are they confident, are they in love with their jobs, are they on the same page as the owner? The staff will be a big tell as to how well your pups’ are looked after.

(5) Look at the overall health of the dogs in the facility. Are they happy, healthy, and satisfied? Are they anxious, overly thin, and how do they respond to their trainers? Expect to see a few of the dogs in training in action.

(6) Finally, there are more than enough reasons to say no, but be honest and true with yourself and your dog. If you believe that your dog will be cared for on a holistic level, and the training team will provide a solid and reasonable level of education, then you need to be ready to let your pup go off to school. Are you ok with sending your pup off for an extended period of time? Another question: will you be allowed to come out 2-3 times over the course of the program?

So we’ve made a decision on the trainer, what then? There are a few things to be prepared for with a full board and train program. The biggest one is to have an idea of what they will be learning and how far do you want to go with the training. Most basic obedience programs are 4-6 weeks, though, there is no set standard. What we do is a standard month-to-month process: Basic – 1 month, Intermediate – 1 month, Advanced – 1+ months. Know the curriculum (we’ve outlined our programs in this publication). Is the program just command learning or is there more substance therein? The biggest thing to make sure of is that we have answered all your questions, and now the trust begins.

One of the most heart wrenching questions we get from almost every obedience client is: “Will my dog remember me?” The long and the short, yes. Your dog will not forget you! We have had dogs spend 2-3 months with us in training and their owners take them home for 2+ years just to have them come back for some more advanced training and they still remember us. So we can say this with total confidence – your dog will not forget you!

Well, you’ve weighed all the options, made a decision, planned all the logistics out, decided on the programs, and have officially sent your pup off for obedience training. Now what? Be patient. This too will pass. The one thing we reiterate over and over with our clients is that basic obedience training is a platform, not a pill. There is no magical training plan that provides a perfect dog, it doesn’t happen. Therefore, the next thing you need to keep in mind is that your dog is going through a formal program and you should be prepping yourself to continue on where the trainer stops. Prepare yourself to be ready to have 1 to 2 ongoing training sessions a day lasting 5-15 minutes in length, obviously based on what you are working and your dog’s capabilities. Burn these things into your brain.

So two weeks have passed since dropping off your pup. You’ve coordinated a time to see them with the trainer, and are on the way. Normally, we try and have the dog out and work with the owner at a distance in order for the owner to see their dog work and interface with the trainer. If yours doesn’t do this, ask them to do it, they will be more than happy to comply. Here is the deal – your pup will be so excited when they realize you are there (and remember, they are no where near complete with the program), they will do whatever it takes to see you and get to you. Sadly, if your dog reacts this way you won’t be able to see as full of a picture of their current progress as you would have hoped.

Spend some time talking through next steps with your trainer: positives and negatives, weaknesses and strengths, and any concerns with the trainer. Please don’t be alarmed when they tell you about any attitude or behavioral issues they have discovered, it’s all part of the learning process. No one is perfect, and likewise, no dog is perfect either. It’s always interesting to see what trainers really think about your dog in comparison with other dogs. They have no real reason to lie to you, but either way, tell them to be brutally honest with you. It is always wise to have a full picture of what your dog is doing, how they are behaving, and how they progress through training. You will want to set aside a few minutes to work some basic commands with your trainer and your dog (like: sit, here, and heel) just to go ahead and get a feel for how your dog is working in the program and attain a foundation of how to work obedience with your dog once they go home.

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