All Dogs Should Go to School!

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Veterinarians often advise clients about behavioral issues with their pets. Statistically, behavior problems are the number one reason dogs are given up in the first year of their life. Hopefully, your pet will be with you for many years, so an obedience class or two is a small investment towards a great partnership.

In the past, I have taught many, many dogs in group and private obedience classes. I still attend obedience classes with every new dog I acquire. I do not want a dog that only obeys in my backyard, when I am alone, or with family. A well-trained pet should obey when the doorbell rings, when the front door is open, and when walking down the street. In other words, you want a pet trained for normal life. For this you need to go to a strange environment with lots of other young hell hounds and convince your pet to listen!

Calgary is loaded with great dog trainers in all quadrants of the city, but unfortunately anyone can market themselves as a dog trainer with no licensing. The Calgary Humane Society offers several classes, including one specifically for reactive dogs. That means it is for dogs that over react to certain stimuli or situations. Different breeds need different approaches to teaching. Sporting breeds, like retrievers, and working breeds, like Border Collies, learn very differently from terriers and hounds. Toy dogs want to rule the world. Does the trainer understand your breed? Ask for references. What are the trainer’s credentials? Do they compete in obedience trials? What is the focus of the class? Some trainers teach general obedience, others concentrate on competitive obedience, and a few trainers in the city can help owners with dogs with specific problems such as aggression. Private classes are occasionally warranted. Don’t be afraid to walk away from a trainer if your instincts say you will not be able to work together, the best training experiences are FUN!

The younger a puppy is started in obedience the more long-term effects it will have. If all puppies in a class are vaccinated and dewormed, the risk of disease is outweighed by the benefits of early training. Make sure the trainer checks all puppies’ vaccination records, no exceptions. Puppy classes are a foundation for learning with commands introduced as fun play as your puppy is socializing with other dogs. One description of training I like is first we show a puppy what we want, then we ask the puppy to do what we want, and finally we tell the puppy what it must do… all with rewards. The rewards are easy for food-motivated dogs, but sometimes a pet is more motivated by a squeaky toy or simply effusive praise.

Novice obedience classes follow puppy classes with more structure. From there classes can lead to tracking, fly ball, even dance classes. Learning is limited by your imagination. Good trainers fit the tools to the pet and owner in each class. Various collars, halters, and harnesses are available. Trainers teach owners critical timing. Trainers train the owners, who then train their own dogs.

Owners come to me with problems ranging from separation anxiety, general destructiveness, barking at the front door, dominance issues, housetraining problems, and aggression. I usually will recommend obedience classes as part of the solution. Even fearful behaviors such as thunder phobias benefit from the confidence built in obedience classes. A confident, well-adjusted dog is a partner you will enjoy with you in all your daily activities.