Camerado! I give you my hand!

Camerado! I give you my hand!

Allons! The road is before us!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Embarking on the Obedience Train

Would you agree that stability and clear communication in relationships lead to their success? Then you should agree that trained dogs are happier than untrained dogs. Trained dogs’ lives are more stable and consistent, and they are rarely sent to shelters for behavioral problems. They are part of the family, rather than relegated to a boring backyard or crated most of the time. Since training your dog is so essential, one wonders why anyone would want to have an untrained pooch!

The sad fact is that many people are more willing to give up their dog instead of putting effort into training. Perhaps they are put off by the cost or effort required (often, the perceived cost or effort is greater than the actual cost and effort), or they simply think their dog doesn’t need manners. Whatever the reason, untrained dogs are suffering because of it. Finding a trainer who will work with you and your pooch effectively isn’t difficult, but it is essential to know what you need and where to look. Refusing to train the dog is simply not an option–-if one day you can’t live with him because of his behavior, why expect someone else to?

To canine professionals, training is not a luxury. It's a necessity. We have brought dogs into our lives on purpose, and there is no doubt that they have enriched the human race in immeasurable ways. When you realize that enriching their lives by simply showing them the proper way to behave in our lives takes so little time and effort, you will wonder why you didn't do it sooner. Training provides stability and purpose for dogs, many of whom are no longer performing the jobs that they were originally bred to do. It also gives them freedom.

As for what the "right" way to train is, there is one maxim to remember: no tool or method works for every dog. Dogs and their owners are individuals working as a team, and what works for one “team” may not work for another. It may take some trial and error to find just the right tools and methods, but once you do, your dog will thank you for it, and your relationship will be much enhanced.

All dogs need a leader and a set of rules to follow in order to fit well into the household. A competent trainer will be able to match your needs and the dog’s needs to tools and methods that work best for you. He or she will also be friendly, helpful, accessible, and care about what you need and want, in addition to making sure you are meeting your dog's actual needs. Training should be interesting and enjoyable for both you and the dog. Your dog should improve after just a few sessions, and you doing your homework.

Here are some pros and cons of the four basic training setups.


1. If it works for you, it's cheapest; minimal money outlay is mostly for books/video and training tools
2. You are building the relationship with the dog; dog learns to work for you
3. It can be done at your convenience in the place of your choice and at your pace

1. The method you choose may not work for your dog; books and manuals vary widely in approach and cannot always answer your questions
2. No professional is on hand to make sure you are doing right by the dog and the dog is actually learning what he is supposed to be learning (no feedback)
3. No professionally-supervised socialization or distractions


1. Typically it's the least expensive of professional help options
2. Shows you how to teach your own dog; dog learns to work for you
3. The better ones contain a beneficial socialization component, and the added distractions of class prepare the dog for “real life” situations
4. You get to meet and speak with folks “in the same boat” as you–-you learn you are not alone, and you can meet some fellow dog-lovers
5. Allows for lots of training opportunities, including doggy sports like agility and flyball

1. The method they teach may not work for your team; instructors can vary widely in approach and teaching skills, and may forbid certain tools or methods that could work for you
2. Little individualized instruction; multiple class attendees means less attention per team
3. Not suitable for aggressive animals and won’t always work for major problem behaviors
4. Scheduling and geography may not jell with your needs

Private lessons (usually held in your home)

1. Individualized instruction is tailored to your dog’s (and your) needs
2. The dog learns to work for you with the aid of professional help
3. It can be done usually at your convenience in your home and at your pace
4. Problem behaviors have best chance of being solved

1. The method the trainer uses may not work for your dog or you (though a quality trainer will figure out the best way to get results)
2. One of the more expensive training options, and once you've paid for it, you may feel obligated to keep using the trainer even if it isn't working
3. It has less chances for socialization than classes
4. Regular “home” distractions (phones, kids, etc.) may lessen your chance of success

Board-and-train (B&T)

1. Provides individualized instruction tailored to your dog’s needs
2. Your dog gets the basic foundation from a professional, away from the distractions of your home
3. Great for dogs that need to be boarded during the time they should be getting trained (i.e., crucial learning periods)
4. Most of the "startup" work is done for you

1. It can be expensive
2. Dog is learning to work for the trainer, not you; you may not get good follow-up once the boarding has ended and find that the dog doesn’t behave at home
3. Most of the work is done for you, so your relationship with your dog is not growing
4. You cannot watch how your pet is handled or trained or socialized

When choosing trainers, ask questions! A quality trainer is one who is experienced, knowledgeable, makes you feel comfortable, likes your dog, is flexible and willing to use the tools or methods that work best for your dog and you, and who gets the job done to your satisfaction. After all, YOU have to live with the dog.

Word-of-mouth referrals are the best way to find a good trainer. Ask for references, length of experience, and what types of dogs and behaviors they've dealt with. Avoid a "high-pressure" tactic to get you to sign up, and avoid franchises with "too-good-to-be-true" guarantees. These often mask a lack of experience, and can inflate the training's price--and may do you absolutely no good. Caveat emptor.

P.S. Remember to take what you see on TV in regards to dog training with a grain of salt. Some of it works, some of it is just for show, some of it isn't even training. Plus, you don't know what ended up on the cutting-room floor. Though TV would like us to think differently, problems are never solved in one hour or less.

Training takes patience and time. Good training is efficient, but it cannot be rushed. Your dog has had weeks, months, or even years to build up his habits. It may take some time to erase them, and replace them with better ones.

If you don't have the patience for this, you should have gotten a cat. Or a guinea pig. Or a hamster. Or a fish. I'm just sayin'.


  1. Perfect! Another excellent post that all non-trainer dog-owners need to read & heed.

  2. Awesome. I want this blog post in the form of a handout for all my clients (with proper attribution, naturally). Heck, I may just link to it directly from my website. Okay with you?


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