So, you have a dog and you have finally decided what you want to train him in. How do you go about this? You can pay someone a hefty fee to train you and your dog, or an even heftier fee to train only your dog, but then that leaves you not understanding how to work your dog.
I decided to write this, because I have noticed a trend these last few months on social media; people bashing on others, simply for their preferred choice of method in training their dog. There are several different ways of training a dog. Ultimately, that choice is the trainer’s, and their’s alone.
My advice is to grab some books and videos from your local bookstore, on basic dog behavior and training. Then find some on the discipline in which you want to train the dog in. Regardless of what you train your dog for, the most basic thing that you want is a rapport with your dog, and control over the dog. This is what we refer to as FOUNDATION. You will hear many handlers and trainers of working dogs, refer to having a good foundation. Most of the time, a foundation is accomplished through some easy, basic obedience. Personally, I don’t recommend any competition obedience (unless you are training for that), as those are not always feasible for daily work or some sport work. Sure, some of those things look pretty, but “pretty” is not always functional in life. What I recommend starting with are the Sit, Stay, and Recall commands. The rest of the commands are just gravy. These three are important, as those commands may just save your dog’s life, in the event of an emergency or an unforeseen event.
Now you can watch videos online, or on social media, as there are many trainers out there with social media pages for their business. Be careful with this! Do not judge based on a 30 second to two-minute video, without getting some clarification, from that trainer if you need it. Talk with the trainer, so that you may understand how they train, and more importantly, what they train for. And for God’s sake, do not judge, or attempt to publicly humiliate them. All that will serve to do, is to make you look like an arrogant fool. And doing so, will pretty much dry up any potential help that you may need later. There is already far too much of that nonsense going around. We are all individuals, and as such, we have different styles, based on our own needs, and those of the dogs that we train.
There are many good trainers out there, and all will train somewhat differently. But different does not mean “bad.” It simply means different. What works for one trainer and the dogs that they train, may not work for another. It’s a process to find out what the dog needs. I have found that in most cases, it is the dog who dictates what you will use in his training. A good way to help figure this out, is to evaluate the dog, for your chosen discipline.
If you look online for trainers, read the testimonials, if there are any. But again, be careful! In some cases, those have been made to look legitimate, but not all of them are. The best way to settle on a trainer is to speak with them, personally. Do your online research to narrow down what it is you are looking for. You don’t want to select a trainer who specializes in protection or bite work sports, if you are just looking for obedience. Conversely, don’t look at trainers who only work obedience if you want nose work/detection. A trainer who has had primarily drug or explosive detection in their experience, can very well train you and your dog for nose work, or other scent work disciplines. Detection is detection. The only difference is the target odor that you may use.
Additionally, don’t make the mistake of asking a trainer, “how many finds or searches they have had.” That should have no bearing on a trainer’s qualifications to help you train your dog. A handler who has worked detection, whether tracking or explosives detection, may have literally hundreds of searches, but very few “finds.” That “number” is of no relevance whatsoever! The reverse of this is also true. Be wary of the “trainer” who touts his “hundreds” of finds. A good trainer is humble. You won’t hear them bragging, nor will you hear them bashing on others.
Another thing to consider NOT doing, is to ask a trainer if they have any “certifications.” Please do not rule out any dog trainer, simply for not having a “certification.” Currently, there are no certifications of any sort required for dog trainers, in the United States. There are some who want this to become a law, but in actuality, there are so many various styles of good effective dog training, that it would be near impossible for one organization to accommodate all the different styles of credible dog training that are being used, with success. There are a couple dog training organizations that a trainer can join, for a hefty “membership” fee, and they get ‘support’ as well as the organization’s certification. If a trainer trains for a specific organization, then that organization’s certification will apply. Let me repeat, there is currently NO certification REQUIRED for dog trainers to operate in the United States!!!
When you have found some potential trainers, set up an appointment to speak with them personally, and watch how they train, if that is an option. You may not be able to watch all the training, due to client confidentiality, but there should be some training that they will allow you to watch.
You want to select a trainer that you feel comfortable with, and one who will help you to accomplish your intended goals. What your friend, neighbor, or that social media contact may say, is going to be pretty much irrelevant. It is you who needs the training, so it is you who needs to speak with and feel comfortable with the trainer. On the reverse, be careful of the trainer who wants to train your dog in their preferred choice of discipline. A trainer may give you suggestions as to what discipline the dog may be better suited for, but ultimately, it is your decision. Remember that! You must feel comfortable in your choices.
If you choose to use books and videos, you should already have a basic understanding of dog behavior and training. This is very possible! I know of some very good trainers who are self-taught. But you should also have a good mentor available to you, in case you need some advice. I have been training dogs for 40 years, and I always have another trainer available, in case I need advice when a problem arises. Sometimes the solution to a problem is better solved through the eyes of another. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
Another avenue for dog training, is a more recent trend. I admit, I have dabbled with this one, and that is online training. This can be done, and has been done with success, but it should not be taken by a ‘green’, or inexperienced handler, nor is it appropriate for all disciplines of dog work. It also can be more expensive and labor intensive, in that most, from what I have seen, require that the handler has access to a video camera, to record his training sessions with the dog, and then send the video to the online instructor. The instructor then reviews the video and sends back any suggestions and recommended improvements. However, ideally dog training is best done in person, and ‘hands on.’
One thing that I personally, do not care for is the trend of “purely positive” training. In my opinion, that is merely a marketing gimmick, as there really is no such thing in effective dog training, as “purely positive.”. Dogs need both corrections and reinforcements in order to learn. Take one of those out, and you may potentially incur a problem, that will require much work to fix. Depending on the dog, such as those that come from abusive situations, this method is sure to inflict some serious bite damage on the inexperienced handler. Those dogs need structure in their lives and in their training. If the dog growls at your toddler, you cannot let that go!! You must have an effective method of correcting that behavior, that will help the dog learn to stop the unwanted behavior. I use this as an example only. Those training methods are better left for another time, and most certainly NOT online.
I, as well as several others, follow a “balanced” style of dog training. I train using reinforcements and corrections. Punishments have no place at all in dog training. So, what is the difference between punishment and correction? A punishment is something negative that you inflict on the dog, and then ignore the undesired behavior. YOU CANNOT IGNORE UNDESIRED BEHAVIOR!!! (There is one exception to this, but I will not go into that here). An example of a correction is a verbal “No” or a very slight jerk on the leash. This leash jerk only serves to get the dog’s attention. It does not hurt them in any way. I prefer to use a verbal and firm “No” to correct a dog’s undesired behavior.
You then follow up your correction, with the task Command, and show the dog, the desired behavior. If your dog fails to respond to a task, and you do not show them what you want, how are they supposed to learn what behavior is correct? Dogs are very intuitive creatures, but they cannot read our minds! We must let them know what we want. When I taught obedience many years ago, I described this as “Show and Tell.” You must tell the dog the Command, and then show him the desired behavior you want. Example: You tell the dog to “Sit,” then place him into a Sit position. There are a variety of ways to do this, but I won’t go into that here.
In summary, do your own research, find a trainer, book, or video, that will help you to accomplish your desired goals, and then work to train your dog. No one else can do this for you, as we all have different criteria.