Dog Training 101: Choosing the Right Class

Dogs with trainer
Look for a training class that suits your dog's life stage. 

Do you want to keep your dog for life? Of course, you do! To help him become your BFF, take him to training class. Whether your dog is going to be your companion on the couch or travel the world with you, he — and you — can benefit from training.

Training classes help ensure that your dog has basic good manners in public, and they strengthen the bond between you and your dog. A training class sets you both up for a lifetime of learning: You can develop a foundation for teaching your dog, and he can learn how to learn from you. In addition, training classes can be a valuable resource when you want to build on his skills to become involved in dog sports, therapy dog visits or other fun activities.

One note though: Group classes aren't always the answer for every dog or dog owner. In some cases, you may want to work one-on-one with a trainer to resolve specific issues with your dog. And always be sure to talk to your vet about any behavioral issues, as she will know if there could be a medical component to the problem or if you should seek out a veterinary behaviorist for more advanced treatment. 

How to Find the Right Trainer

The best trainers not only understand dog behavior, they are also good at teaching and motivating people. They don’t rely on a single style of training but have a whole bag of tricks they can draw on to teach dogs with different learning styles.

Anyone can print up business cards saying he or she is a dog trainer, but certifications from organizations such as The Association of Professional Dog Trainers, the Karen Pryor Academy for Animal Training & Behavior, The Academy for Dog Trainers or the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants can help you find a trainer who uses humane methods and positive reinforcement. “These organizations require trainers to have continuing education to keep their certifications,” Vetstreet trainer Mikkel Becker says. “Training is always evolving, so it’s important to have someone who keeps up with the latest concepts.”

To find a trainer, check the websites of the above organizations for members in your area. Seek out recommendations from friends or relatives who have well-trained dogs. Veterinarians, groomers and other pet professionals may also be able to refer you to good trainers.

When you find a trainer you think suits you, ask to observe a class or two before signing up. The trainer should be patient and creative in working with students, and all the participants should appear to be having a good time. Avoid trainers who use harsh or inhumane methods or who yell at dogs or people. And don't be afraid to talk to people in the class and get their feedback, too.

Therapy dog at hospital
Once your dog has the basic commands down, continue his learning by trying out different types of classes like Canine Good Citizen and therapy dog classes.

The Basics of Training

Your puppy’s peak learning period is from 3 to 14 weeks of age. Of course, he can learn well after that age, but there’s no reason to let that time go to waste. A puppy kindergarten class will help you take advantage of that period when he’s soaking up new information and set his paws on the road to good behavior. Ideally, you’ll be able to enroll your new pup in a class geared toward his age as early as 10 weeks. He’ll need to have had at least one series of vaccinations before getting started and should be exposed only to other puppies and dogs who have also been vaccinated. Be sure to get the go-ahead from your veterinarian before exposing your puppy to other dogs or enrolling him in a puppy kindergarten class.

Puppy kindergarten classes offer a great opportunity for your puppy to socialize with other dogs of all sizes and breeds, as well as with new people. He will also learn basic behaviors, such as sit, stay, down, come, leave it and loose-leash walking. Trainers should also deal with issues like house-training, nipping and jumping up. Expect this class to last four to six weeks. You may also want to look for some fun drop-in classes for puppy playtime during the week.

By the time he is 6 months old, your puppy may be ready to move on to more formal obedience training. This type of class will reinforce what he learned in puppy kindergarten and sharpen his skills. Dogs are starting to head into adolescence at this age, which can be a rocky time for owners. A good trainer will help you understand what to expect and how to hopefully head off some problem behaviors.


Join the Conversation

Like this article? Have a point of view to share? Let us know!