Basic Training

By Chandra Orr

January 16, 2009 6 min read


Working with your pup is crucial to enforce good behavior

Chandra Orr

Creators News Service

It's never too soon to enroll in obedience classes. Whether your new companion is 8 weeks or 8 years old, it's important to set the standards for appropriate behavior early on.

It's vital for any well-mannered dog to learn the basic commands, but obedience classes teach much more than just proper pooch etiquette. They provide dogs with essential socialization skills, offer necessary mental and physical stimulation and help strengthen the human-canine connection.

"Dogs should start training as soon as they walk into your home," said certified dog trainer Babette Haggerty, owner of Babette Haggerty's School for Dogs in New York City and author of "Woman's Best Friend: Choosing and Training the Dog That's Right for You" ($15, McGraw-Hill).

"Not only does it give the dog basic skills that can be applied in everyday life, but it also balances the relationship between owner and dog," Haggerty said. "In addition, it challenges the dog mentally and physically. Without that stimulation dogs can develop problems such as frustration, anxiety and aggression."

It's especially important to get puppies off to a good start.

From 12 weeks to 6 months old, puppies are in their prime socialization period. Obedience classes offer an excellent opportunity for young ones to meet and greet others of their kind, mingle with new people and experience new sights and smells.

Puppy classes, which cater to canines under 6 months of age, emphasize proper socialization and good manners. Instructors provide information on growth, nutrition, grooming, housebreaking and problem solving while teaching a few basic household commands. However, the focus is on having fun, learning to play well with others and setting the standards for future behavior.

"Dogs benefit from the consistency and one-on-one time that training provides, and it sets expectations immediately as to what is acceptable behavior," said certified pet dog trainer Paula Baker Prince of DogBoy's Dog Ranch in Austin, Texas.

"With puppies, it's important to get them in training to help develop bite inhibition and appropriate house training and proper socialization -- basically, getting them off to the right start," Prince said.

Even if your pooch is not longer a puppy, they can still benefit from some basic training -- and, yes, old dogs can learn new tricks.

Courses designed to prepare dogs for the show ring lay the groundwork for a well-behaved canine, regardless of whether or not you plan to compete, Haggerty said. Look for a basic course that meets the minimum requirements for an American Kennel Club (AKC) Novice title.

A Canine Good Citizen Class, sponsored by the AKC, is another great place to start. Designed to reward dogs with good manners at home and in the community, the certification program teaches basic commands and exercises that form the foundation of obedience training.

Upon completion of the course, dogs with qualifying scores receive a certificate and have their names added to the AKC Canine Good Citizen Archive. Check with your local AKC club for dates, times and locations.

Obedience courses vary greatly both in their methods and in what they teach, so ask potential trainers to outline their teaching techniques, their approach to behavior modification and the content of the course before signing up.

Look for reward-based trainers who use food, praise and toys to motivate dogs. Clickers and training collars are fine, but avoid punitive trainers who rely on choke chains or shock collars.

"When training is positive and reward-based, we help build a respectful, mutual bond," Prince said. "It ensures that those behaviors will continue and that our dogs respond because it is beneficial to them and not because they are scared of the consequences.

"Methods that correct dogs for not performing cause a lot of stress on the dog, and, if corrected enough, the dog will shut down and not respond to the owner at all."

Before you commit to a class, interview the trainer, check their references and watch them in action. A good trainer will be happy to share their success stories and let you observe a class.

Look for trainers that take time to answer questions from the class and offer knowledgeable insight into the canine mentality. Trainers should also work within the parameters of the owner's handling skills and the dog's capabilities to make the experience enjoyable and stress-free, Prince said.

While you're there, evaluate the facility. It should be clean and well kept. Obedience rings should have non-skid floors to prevent accidents and injuries, and the training area should be escape-proof in case your dog gets away from you during class.

Also, check the dog to trainer ratio. Oversized classes mean less one-on-one attention. Look for classes with six dogs or less per instructor to ensure you and your puppy get the most out of the training session.

Above all else, pay attention to the students in the class. You should see plenty of smiles and wagging tails.

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