Regardless of the age, breed, or personality of your pup, training is a critical part of their life and your relationship. Dogs are incredibly intelligent creatures, much smarter than we give them credit for most of the time.
Your dog is constantly looking and learning from you to find out what you want. What that means is that you and your dog are likely participating in training whether you realize it or not. Are you sending the right messages? Probably not.
For example, I potty trained my Samoyed, she now knows to do her business outside, but she trained me to jump up and run to the door to let her out whenever she sits by the door and whines.
That is a good example of her training me, but I have seen dogs train people to give them attention when they jump up and demand it, which is not a habit the family wants to continue. Sometimes you just need a fresh pair of trained eyes to see where things are breaking down.
1. Dogs don’t have morals!
Dog trainers can help explain your dog’s behavior. I know everything would be much easier if our dogs just read our minds and trained themselves, but that is simply just not the case.
If I had a nickel for every time I had a client tell me “They know what they did was wrong! They looked so guilty!” I would be a millionaire. The truth is that dogs have no guiding moral compass, they simply see things as safe and dangerous.
“Fido got a walk this morning, his raw dog food breakfast, and one more potty break before I left for work. When I left for work he walked over to his bed and laid down to take a nap. When I got home he ran to greet me, he looked so guilty, I just knew he chewed something up again! I was right, my brand new sofa was in shreds all over the living room.”
“Mom and I went on a walk this morning and I got to eat all my healthy raw food! Once she left, I took a nap. When I woke up I went looking for something to do, and found this big thing full of fluff! I had such a blast tearing up the couch."
"When I was done I heard the door opening, so I ran over it to see mom. She always yells at me when I get home, so I started giving her all of the calming signals I could think of so she wouldn’t yell at me. I wonder what out there is so terrible that she comes home angry every day.”
Do you see where we are going wrong? Dogs don’t think the same way we do. Chewing when mom is home is dangerous! Fido gets yelled at.
Chewing when mom is at work is safe! Fido gets to play. Fido has learned that chewing in front of mom is dangerous, NOT that chewing on the couch is wrong!
2. Private Dog Trainers are also dog interpreters.
Like I mentioned above, dogs have a totally different perspective on the world than humans do. Dog trainers, behavior consultants, and behaviorists can interpret dogs' body language and open your eyes to your dog’s day-to-day life and struggles in a way you never even knew existed.
Clients often tell me “She just bit out of nowhere!” While a dog bite is scary, dangerous, and can catch you off guard I have yet to see a single case where the dog truly bit out of nowhere.
I know you know this, but it is one of my favorite mantras: Dogs do not speak English! It seems like I am stating the obvious, but with the way we treat our dogs, it doesn’t seem obvious. Dogs use their body language to communicate with us, and yes they almost always use that way before growling or biting.
3. Dog training is people training.
Would you want a dog trainer to do your job? Probably not, I sure wouldn’t want to help you with your taxes or change the oil in your car, I would do a terrible job.
Dog trainers are professionals whose career is advocating for and understanding dogs. Your dog trainer will help you, your dog, and your family live in harmony. They will help you understand your dog and guide you in creating good habits for your pup in your home.
Not all dog trainers are created equal.
In the United States, there is no licensing or education required for dog trainers, because professional dog trainers come from a wide range of experiential and educational backgrounds. There is also a wide range of methodologies amongst dog trainers.IAABC, APDT, and CCPDT created the Joint Standards of Practice for all their members. Science shows that positive reinforcement, force-free, and fear-free training is the best practice. Positive reinforcement helps build your bond with your dog, keeps them mentally healthy, and creates great habits!
What is your background and experience in dog training? Do you have any certifications? Are you a member of any professional organization?
While certifications and organizations do not guarantee a good dog trainer, they do show that the trainer is committed to continued education and the standards that the organization agrees to.
Since there are no required licenses or education for dog trainers it is good to find out what their experience is and make sure they are a good fit for your pup.
What training methods do you use?
Positive reinforcement, force, and fear-free training uses training treats and rewards to strengthen good behaviors, behaviors that are reinforced will be repeated. Training methods that use fear and pain, while sometimes effective, can also make your dog anxious and frustrated. It's best to avoid any fear-based trainers for the sake of your dog's happiness.
What is your plan to help me and my dog?
When I meet with clients for the first team and learn what is going on with them and their pup, I like to map out a game plan. At the end of the day, your trainer is not going to be living with your dog, you are. Make sure you agree with their plan for your dog's training including their methodologies and focus.
When choosing a private trainer for your dog, be sure that both you and your dog like the trainer, check references, read reviews and ask the tough questions to make sure your investment in your dog's formal education will be well spent & worth it for many years to come.
The right training method should strengthen the communication & bond you have with your dog. Imagine if your dog understood exactly what you want from them most of the time. It's possible with the right private dog trainer.
Marissa Sunny CPDT-KA is a behavior consultant and owner of a local dog training company, Epiphany Dog Training.