This article was contributed by our guest author, Madison Baker. Show her some love by sharing and commenting on this post!
All dogs are little angels, right?
Well, that’s probably what most owners want to think about their dog, but it might not always be the case. And when your dog is less than well-behaved, it’s important to not let your love be blind. As the owner, if your dog needs more training, it’s your responsibility to recognize and work on it.
No dog is too old to learn new tricks, but sometimes the training they need falls outside your wheelhouse. Whether you’re new to pet ownership or simply need extra help with training, it may not be a bad idea to consider enlisting the help of a professional obedience trainer.
Admit That It’s Time
The first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one, right?
It can be hard to accept that your dog might need professional help from a trainer. It can be even harder to accept that you aren’t able to help them on your own. You may feel like a failure or that you let your dog down. You may even feel like you’re a bad pet parent because you have a “bad dog” who needs “fixing.”
However, it’s important to put your personal feelings aside and focus on your dog’s needs. Your job is to help your dog be the best animal they can be, even if that means working through difficult behavior.
Letting bad behavior go unchecked can be dangerous, even if you have a little dog. If your dog bites someone, you can be held liable for medical bills or sued for damages — you may even be ordered to put your dog down. If they love to go outside, they could dart out the door and get lost or hurt. If they are left unattended, they may swipe a potentially fatal snack off of the counter. Traveling even becomes more difficult, because it’s risky to bring your dog with you camping or on a road trip if they won’t listen to you (and who wants to leave a their poorly behaved pooch with a pet sitter or friend?).
Trust me, it’s not worth it!
I had a difficult time recognizing that my Labrador-Border Collie mix, Dash, needed more help than I was capable of giving him. He learned basic commands like sit and stay easily but had intense fear-based aggression toward other dogs. I chalked it up to the trauma of being in the shelter and moving into a new environment. But after he got into a scuffle with another dog on a hike (don’t worry, no one was hurt!), we knew the necessary training was beyond our skill level. It was an emotional process to figure out the next step, but it was time to talk to a professional.
Find the Right Trainer
Deciding to go to a professional trainer is only half the battle; finding the right obedience trainer is a feat in and of itself. There are currently no educational requirements or federal regulations to become a dog trainer, so it’s important to find someone who is experienced and knows what they’re doing. Here are a few tips to help find the best professional for you and your pooch:
- Do your research on the obedience trainers in your area. Identify the specific behavioral problems your dog needs help with and look for a trainer who either specializes in or has worked with those issues before. Research the different methods of training — such as positive reinforcement training vs. operant conditioning — and be sure to find one that aligns with your own philosophies.
- Be careful. Again, anyone can open up a dog training business. Find trainers who are certified by the Council for Professional Dog Trainers, the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, or other reputable organizations. Look for businesses that are nationally recognized and with positive reviews online.
- Ask your fellow dog parents for recommendations. If they haven’t met with a professional trainer, ask them to talk to family and friends who have. Be sure to discuss the specifics with them too — what they liked, what they didn’t, the cost, the amount of time it took, what was promised, and the end result. We found our trainer by talking with our neighbors about the trainer they went to. Our neighbors were very open about their experience, which made meeting with them less intimidating.
- When you find a trainer you’d like to meet with, see if they will do a free consultation or initial meeting. No amount of research will be enough to know if you found the right trainer; you’ll have to meet with them yourself. Use this chance to talk with them about their methods and program, and how they think your dog will do with their guidance.
- Communicate openly about your needs. You don’t want to sugarcoat things here. If you aren’t honest about your dog’s behavior, the trainer won’t be able to help you. You also have nothing to be ashamed of! You’re taking responsibility and doing the right thing for your dog.
- Be patient and trust your instincts. If the trainer doesn’t meet your expectations or just doesn’t feel like the right fit, don’t feel pressured to commit to them. There are other options available and you will be spending a considerable amount of time and money. For the sake of both you and your dog, keep looking until you find the right trainer.
Benefits of Formal Training
Once you’ve found the right trainer, it’s time to get to work! Trainers can only teach you and your pooch so much. You have to do your homework to reap the plentiful rewards of professional training.
Dogs aren’t the only ones who benefit from working with a trainer. A good portion of what obedience trainers do is teach pet owners how to teach their dogs. In addition to learning how to correct your dog’s unwanted behavior, you’ll learn how to create a healthy pack structure and exude a self-assured energy around your dog, which will help them learn positive behaviors more quickly.
Perhaps best of all, you’ll be more engaged with your dog, which will alleviate any guilt or sadness you previously felt. You’ll have the chance to build a deeper relationship with your canine companion and feel excited as they learn and improve. Instead of worrying about what crazy thing your dog might do next, you just get to enjoy their company.