Dog Training Programs Buyers Guide
Dogs have been being trained for centuries, if not much, much longer, but the methods used have changed drastically over the years. Those outside of the dog training profession may be surprised to learn of the controversy surrounding the industry. It’s a battle of the methods between traditional trainers who use older methods and modern trainers who take a more scientific approach.
Modern trainers use scientifically proven methods to teach and shape desired behaviors in gentle, humane ways. Traditional trainers use methods that are historically proven to work, but have been called into question for their harsh tools and punishment-based approaches. Also, although the traditional methods have been proven for years, their detriment to the dog’s psyche is often overlooked.
Before You Sign Up
Decide what approach works best for you and your dog before finding a training program that suits your needs. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior put out a statement saying punishment based methods can be disadvantageous to training and animal psyche, and they recommend using reward-based training to reinforce proper behavior. While this method may seem strange to those looking to extinguish problem behavior, it is proven to work when implemented in a training plan for all types of issues.
What to Keep in Mind
- No Certifications for Dog Trainers: The field of dog training is highly unregulated. There is no licensing board. That means that “Sue” from down the street can decide she wants to train dogs today, and call herself a dog trainer tomorrow. It’s important to inquire about the credentials of the instructor for any program that interests you. There are many schools and certifying institutions that can imply expertise, including an education from Karen Pryor Academy or a certification from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers.
- Different Training Methods: As was stated above, there are different training methods for each and every problem. Some of these methods include benign tools, like clickers, a small box that makes a sound that helps mark desired behaviors. Other methods use tools that have the potential to be harmful, if not downright dangerous, like electric shock collars, which have been made illegal in other countries, or other types of correction collars. These methods that are punishment based can be detrimental to your dog’s psyche, leaving you with a dog scared to do anything at all, in fear of being punished. Also, these methods require expert timing and technique, which is often hard to master for the general population.
- Make Sure Your Dog is Healthy Enough for Training: Some problem behaviors arise from health issues. For example, a dog that suddenly starts urinating indoors may have a urinary tract infection, or a dog that suddenly acts aggressive could have a hormone imbalance or be in pain. Before beginning any training program, your dog should be seen by a veterinarian to get a clean bill of health.
- Remember, You Are Your Pet’s Safety Net: Often, we’re taught to trust the professionals. Unfortunately, in an unregulated industry, that can be hard to do. Keep this in mind while you are in the process of training your dog. If you notice your dog is excessively stressed, or the program requires you to perform actions that make you or your dog uncomfortable, feel free to walk away. You are the only one looking out for your dog’s well-being, so be there to step in and be an advocate.
Some Last Minute Tips
Remember that dogs are dogs... they are not people. Dogs have innate instincts that cause certain behaviors that are often seen as undesirable. Digging may not be good for the garden, but your dog’s ancestors have been doing it forever. Your herding breed might be extra protective of his flock (aka the family), but understanding why they are skeptical of strangers can help you encourage positive changes. Look past the problem behavior to come up with creative solutions that cater to those drives without causing issues in the household. Many modern training programs can help you do just that.