“A lot of people say ‘I know how to teach a dog to sit. Why would I go to a class?’ And it's so much more than that,” says Lindsay Hamrick, director of shelter outreach and engagement at the Humane Society of the United States and a certified professional dog trainer herself. She advises dog owners to “reach out for help anytime they don't know what to do.” Animal behavior websites vary greatly in quality, Hamrick adds, so owners might want to consult a qualified trainer and/or enroll their pooch in a class.
Starting the search
Start your search for a trainer at the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, which makes locating a qualified trainer near you as simple as plugging in your zip code.
Making a match
Contact potential trainers to see if they’d be a good fit. Trainers’ websites typically describe their expertise, allow you to submit a form explaining the concerns you have about your dog’s behaviors and give you an idea of the cost. It’s also important to determine if they have the bandwidth to work with you.
Good trainers “know what they can and can't handle,” Hamrick says. Some don't work with aggression cases, for example, and focus solely on obedience training or non-aggression behavioral challenges.
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Setting realistic expectations
Remember that dog trainers aren’t miracle workers, and behavior change takes time. “If you are talking to a trainer and they think they can fix your issue in a 30-minute television show … you should find somebody else,” Hamrick says.
However, while a single session may not solve the challenges completely, we know that access to behavioral support can be pricey unless you have a low-cost option in your community. One consultation can still be helpful in identifying the root causes of your dog’s behavior and some initial ways to help them choose new behaviors.
And just like when you were in school, homework matters.
“If you only practice during those training sessions, it's not going to stick,” says Jessica Simpson, a senior companion animals public policy specialist for the HSUS. A consistent approach is necessary to help dogs generalize the new behavior from the classroom to the home.
Online dog training options have exploded in COVID’s wake. It's possible for dog trainers to size up a dog’s issues through virtual chats with the owner and videos of the dog’s behavior. After an initial video consultation, trainers can give the owners homework and then watch videos tracking the dog’s progress. GoodPup is a great online program for those looking for this approach.
Ideally, you’ll find an affordable, certified trainer who’s knowledgeable about your dog’s issues, practices humane techniques and is available either in person or online. But if the training sparks concern, you can simply leave.
“If you don't feel good, then remove your dog,” Hamrick says. “If you go to a local obedience class, and the trainer is yanking on leashes or making your dog scared, if your dog is not excited to go to class, then you absolutely have the right to cancel and remove them. You will do more damage by trying to be nice and stay.”