Hello Fellow WAGGERS. The past 20 years in WAGS has made me so much more aware of the needs of a dog that is going to do pet therapy work that I could write a book, but for now, I will stick to this column. Read More......  One of the most frequent questions I get asked is about training, when to start, how long to do it, and who to use as a trainer. As I hope you are aware we do have a preferred trainers list here in WAGS. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t a lot of wonderful trainers that are not on the list but it does mean that we have personal experience with the trainers on that list and they have signed an agreement with us to only use positive and humane training methods.

I have to confess that when I first started training dogs I subscribed to what I now call the “jerk and pull” method of training and I used both slip collars and prong collars on my dogs. Back in the 70’s that was the accepted method of training and I know I owe a huge apology to my dogs of that era for being so inconsiderate and causing them such distress. Even though I used those harsh methods, dogs being the amazing beings that they are, they still loved me and were faithful to me to the end.

Now we know there is no reason to use those harsh and painful methods to explain to your dog what it is that you would like them to do. Sadly, there are still many trainers out there that still believe you have to be dominant over the dog, demand perfect compliance, and punish what they consider aberrant behavior. So we must be ever so careful about who we chose to trust to help us train our pets.

So, to answer the above questions of:

When to begin training? The environment begins training puppies the second they are born but certainly formal shaping of behaviors can begin at about 4 or 5 weeks as soon as become more social. So when do you begin training? The second you get your dog no matter the age is the perfect age to begin. It is never too soon. Train sensibly and consider the age and physical development and attention span when designing training sessions. Keep them short and frequent (5 minutes or so 2 or 3 times a day). Socialization is often misunderstood. To socialize your pet merely means to introduce your pet to as many things as possible. Always being careful that it is gentle and with predictable outcomes. Once again keeping it “short and sweet”.

How many weeks or how long should you train? Training is ongoing throughout your pet’s life. It truly never ends.

Who to use as a trainer? You want a trainer that uses reward based training utilizing the pet’s natural instincts and drives to shape and proof behaviors. Ask questions. Where did they get their training? Whose training methods and theories do they follow? What types of equipment do they recommend? How many years have they been training? Ask for references and by all means ask to observe one of their training sessions. Avoid any trainer who does not want you to observe how they train.

To sum it up do your research, be careful, vigilant, dedicated to your work and of course patient. It will all come together when the time is right.