Basics of dog training

Dog training styles range from reward-based to military-style approaches. Classes may be taught in groups or individual sessions, at a facility or the owner’s home.

Some professionals offer boarding training, during which a dog spends days or weeks undergoing training at the facility, and the owner is later shown how to continue what was taught.

Training can have many objectives: socializing puppies, basic to advanced obedience, Canine Good Citizen certification, ability to do service work, or to compete in agility or other dog sport.

Dog training methods may focus on gestures, body language and voice tone, or may be reward-based, with treats or praise, or may include electronic collars or other correction tools.

Why hire a dog trainer?

Unwanted dog behavior can be more than annoying. Many of the 8 million pets taken in by U.S. shelters each year are abandoned because of behavior issues, and many end up euthanized, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

Training a dog to respond to basic commands, such as “come,” “sit” and “stay,” can help prevent problems and make living with a pet more enjoyable. But experts say it’s important to first consult a veterinarian, to rule out a physical cause for behavior issues.

There are many books and resources to guide you in training your pet, but highly rated trainers say benefits of working with a professional include:

• Help in working through the frustration that can arise during training sessions.
• Maximizing results for busy people.
• Specific ideas based on years of experience.

How to find a dog trainer

To make sure you find the best fit for you and your dog's needs, follow these steps to find a reliable pet trainer in your area:

States don’t require that dog trainers be licensed, so ask about the trainer’s education, credentials and experience. Consider a trainer who’s a member of a professional organization, such as the Association of Pet Dog Trainers or the Association of Canine Professionals.

Ask your vet for recommendations. Read reviews on Angie’s List. Seek and contact references, asking clients what their dog learned and in what time frame.

Interview potential trainers, asking for details about their training approach and techniques. Check into the differences in pace and expectations between individual and group instruction. Observe a class to make sure you agree with a trainer’s approach before paying. Also, ask for a money-back guarantee.

Make sure you hire a trainer who asks for your dog’s health records, to reduce the chance of disease spreading.

Dog training tips

Highly rated dog trainers from around the United States offer their advice:

Consider the ingredients of successful training. Consistency, repetition, correction, praise, patience and — possibly most important — humor, will lead your dog to success.

Always follow through with whatever you’re asking the dog to do. Don’t repeat commands. If the dog isn't listening, add in a hand signal, or move in closer.

Be aware of your emotions and energy level. These directly affect your dog. Notice your voice inflection. Say “come” in a positive tone.

After feeding your dog, take away whatever he doesn't eat immediately.With housebreaking, remember that if you control what goes into the dog and when, you can control what comes out and when.

Keep training sessions short and positive. If progress lags, take a break and play.

Only pet your dog when you see desired behavior. This reinforces to your dog that he's doing what you want.

Figure out what your dog values most and make him work for them. For example, if your dog likes to play ball, make him sit before you throw the ball. Also, meal time is a good time to train. Feed the dog piece by piece as you teach something.

Regularly walk and exercise your dog. By doing so, you let the dog exert energy. Too much pent-up energy can result in a dog that misbehaves.

Set rules. If you're planning a family, put rules for your dog in place before the child arrives.

Be patient. Remember that an old dog can learn new tricks, though it may take longer than with a young one.

Cost of dog training

The cost of dog training varies widely. Some animal trainers base their prices on an hourly basis per training session your dog attends. Others offer prices for a package of multiple sessions over a period of a few weeks.

Angie’s List members report paying an average of $448 for training. The American Kennel Club advises people to prepare to spend $340 for initial training and supplies and $254 a year for ongoing training.

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