When we first brought Westin into our lives, he was... well... a bit of a menace. He has always been a good dog –I believe all dogs are inherently good-- but he was far from obedient. No, obedience is something that all dogs have to learn. And it's more difficult for some than others. To be honest, it wasn't long before we started thinking about hiring a dog trainer. But it was quite a while before we actually went for it.
Why So Many People Try to Train Their Own Dogs
It's easy to watch a few episodes of a dog training show or read a few chapters of a book and think you can handle the job. Reality is quite different, and that's something we learned the hard way. Westin came to us at a time when we had to be a little mindful of our spending, and we weren't exactly eager to invest in what we thought would be expensive obedience training. So, we bought a few books, DVR'd a few episodes of the Dog Whisperer and thought we had it covered. That is, until we realized that Westin was six months old and still gnawing at the couch like it was a leg of lamb. The allure of the DIY approach to dog training was just too good to ignore – until we figured out we were actually doing more harm than good.
The Consequences of Training Your Dog Yourself
The biggest drawback of do-it-yourself dog training is the potential lost time. If you are among the small percentage who can successfully train your dog without help or intervention, you don't have to worry about lost time. But if you are fumbling through and trying to figure it out as you go (as most of us are), you stand to lose valuable moments in your dog's life that could be spent reinforcing good behaviors instead of sending mixed and inconsistent messages. Yet again, we learned this the hard way.
Westin was a youngin' when we started training, and we gave it six months before we decided that what we were doing wasn't working. By that time, he was almost a year old and had made some strong habits out of his bad behaviors, even though we thought we were working to correct them. Just like with humans, the first year of a dog's life is extremely formative. It's not that you can't teach an old dog new tricks; it's just that it's not as easy. So, my advice to anyone with a new dog is to get it together sooner rather than later. If you have dog training experience, by all means, go for it. Otherwise, bite the bullet and hire a dog trainer. You'll be glad you did.
Danger of Hiring an Amateur
Do you know someone who claims to be a dog trainer? Maybe they'll train your dog for free or give you a discount. There aren't many situations in which this works out. It is imperative that you find the right trainer for your dog, and that isn't always a family friend or relative.
When you hire someone you know, you're less likely to ask the hard questions because you don't want to offend them. Do they use choke collars? You would assume they wouldn't, and asking could be offensive, right? Well, what if they do and you didn't ask!
Learning About Different Types of Trainers
When we set out on our journey to find a trainer for Westin, we thought it would be as easy as Googling the closest dog training professionals and comparing prices. Boy, were we wrong! Imagine hiring a personal trainer or a nutritionist for yourself. How many different methods and schools of thought could there be? You could find someone who is really into cross training or someone who believes that vegan is the only way to eat. It's the same when it comes to dog training! There are many different methods and types of trainers, but here are the basic categories of training you'll have to choose from.
Behavioral – This is the most basic and common type of dog training that is done. Behavioral training addresses issues like chewing, barking and housebreaking. This is what we started Westin on, but then we moved on to obedience training once he shed his disruptive behaviors.
Obedience – With professional help, it wasn't long before Westin was ready to get started on obedience training, and we were able to use the same trainer. Here, he learned to obey common commands like sit, stay, lie down and roll over. These commands are more than just parlor tricks. When a dog learns to sit and come on command, you can use them to keep him out of tricky or dangerous situations.
Agility – Agility training takes obedience training to another level. If you've ever seen Nana the Border Collie, you have seen the results of a combination of obedience and agility training... on steroids (not literally, though). Agility training teaches dogs to participate in sports, obstacle courses and jumping.
- Vocational – Dogs who are meant to herd, hunt or do rescue work all must go through vocational training. If this is what you want for your dog, you will need to find a trainer who specializes in training your desired vocation.
And as I've mentioned above, in addition to the type of training your dog may receive, there are also different types of trainers. All trainers fall into one of two categories: “Do” and “Don't.”
Many trainers believe that the key to training lies in rewarding good behaviors instead of punishing a dog for bad ones. These are “Do”-based trainers. “Don't”-based trainers do the opposite.
Lure-Reward Training – Enticing the dog by rewarding good behavior with a food lure (or treat).
Compulsion-Praise Training – Physically manipulating the dog to perform your requested task (e.g. sitting), and then rewarding with a treat.
- Marker Training – Using sounds or clicks along with rewards to let your dog know which behaviors you desire.
Replacement Training – Correcting undesirable behavior with a more desirable one.
- Consequence Training – Employ an undesirable consequence to the dog when he performs an undesirable act. A choke collar is one example of consequence training, but it isn't the only one. Consequence training could also mean taking away attention or affection whenever the dog performs an undesirable behavior.
How to know which trainer is right for you
Now that you know about all the various types of trainers and training methods, it's up to you to decide which is right for your dog. But don't worry. If you're unsure, schedule a meeting with a few different trainers and discuss their methods and your options. You should get a pretty good feel for which method is right for you by your comfort level with the training.
And remember that you will have to perform the tasks at home. Every trainer will give you some homework. So be sure you're comfortable with the method before you invest in training.
Pros and Cons of Professional Dog Training
First, let's start with what's easy. The “con” of hiring a dog trainer is the cost. That's the elephant in the room, isn't it? But when you start to really examine the pros, you'll realize that you're getting so much more than just obedience. You'll learn how to spend quality time with your dog and avoid the frustrations of misunderstanding one another. He'll know what you want from him and you'll know how to get it out of him. In many cases, trainers will also socialize your dog for you. This is something that requires work on your end too, of course, but it certainly helps to give your dog professionally supervised time with all kinds of other breeds.
Why Personality Matters
We absolutely love Westin's trainer, and I think that has helped a great deal with his training. I have always felt comfortable asking questions and requesting more time on something if he seems to need more work. Our relationship with our dog's trainer is a true partnership, which is exactly the way it should be. If you don't like your dog's trainer, move on to the next.
Questions to Ask a Potential Trainer
Before you hire any trainer, regardless of whether you like him or her, you should know exactly what to expect. I've compiled a list of the questions we asked potential trainers when we were interviewing for Westin. You may be able to think of a few more, but this is a good starting point.
- How long have you been training dogs?
- Have you ever trained this breed before?
- What type of equipment do you use and will I have to buy anything?
- Can you explain your training method? What happens when the dog performs an undesirable behavior?
- Do you guarantee any results?
- How will you know if my dog is stressed during training, and what will you do about it?
We hope this article will help you find the right trainer for your dog's needs. Remember, it will be a journey that you will take alongside your pet, so it's one you should enjoy too! But we know this isn't the only journey you will take with your four-legged friend, so we've prepared a series to help you navigate through life with your best fur buddy. You won't want to miss this, so sign up for the HomeoAnimal newsletter HERE!