The New Year is upon us and so are most peoples New Year’s resolution.  In addition to your own goals and resolutions you can also include your pets in the New Year, New You goals.   The month of January is National Train Your Pet Month.  Now I know some people think that you cannot teach an old dog new trick, but that is wrong.  You can train a dog, or any animal for that matter, at any age.  In some ways training an older dog can be easier than training a puppy.  Older dogs are generally calmer than young puppies and in turn have better focus and attention when working with you.  Having the right tools and information can make training your pet easy.

So first you would need to decide is this something that you would like to try on your own at home or find a trainer to help teach your pet new tricks.  There are tons of books and online resources that can help you to train your pet from home but there are also various trainers that can help you as well.  Searching for a trainer can be difficult so here are a few steps to make the process a little less stressful.  Some tips and suggestions are coming from the

First there are the different types of training. Training pet dog behavior is for two general purposes—“do” and “don’t”.  First is a training basic manner, or “do”—to perform desired behaviors on cue such as “sit,” “down,” “come,” “stay,” and walk politely on leash. The other purpose of pet dog training is “don’t do”—don’t jump, pull on leash, run away, take candy from the baby and the like.

Given the large number of training books, author-named “methods,” and different “trainers to the stars,” it may seem as if there are nearly countless ways to train a dog. Despite this impression, the fact is that training basic behaviors falls into one of, or a combination of, three categories: 1) Lure-Reward, 2) Compulsion-Praise and 3) Marker- Training.

  1. Lure-Reward Training — the trainer entices the dog into the desired position by typically using a hand-held food lure, like a treat. For example, the trainer lures a dog to sit by placing a treat in front of his nose and moving it backwards over his head. The dog follows the treat or ‘lure’ into the desired position. Reinforcement is generally giving the food reward along with verbal praise at the completion of the desired behavior.
  2. Compulsion-Praise Training — the trainer manipulates the dog into a position by using physical placement or training equipment. For example, the dog may be physically manipulated into sitting by applying pressure on his bottom or brought into heel position with a head halter or collar correction. Reinforcement may be verbal praise and/or a food reward.
  3. Marker-Training — the trainer uses a sound, word, or clicker to ‘mark’ or immediately indicate the moment a dog is correct with a behavior. For example, the moment the dog’s bottom hits the floor in a sit, a trainer would use his desired marker to tell the dog that was the right behavior. A marker is followed by reinforcement with food and/or verbal praise. The marker creates a brief separation between food or touch and the performance of the behavior, so food is a reward, not an enticement. Behaviors can be shaped, captured or lured using a marker.

Reducing undesirable behavior— The “Don’ts”

There are two main training approaches for reducing undesirable behaviors:

  1. Train an incompatible/replacement behavior.
  2. Employ an undesirable (to the dog) consequence.

Train a replacement behavior. The first approach for most reward-based trainers to reduce undesirable behavior is to train a replacement “good” behavior. Called an “incompatible behavior,” the new behavior both replaces and prevents the one the owner dislikes. For example, to eliminate jumping up to greet, a dog might be taught to stand still or sit when the owner walks through the door. Both stand and sit are “incompatible” with jumping up. Another example is pulling on a leash during a walk. In order to eliminate pulling on a leash, the dog is trained and rewarded for walking on a loose leash. Loose leash walking is incompatible with pulling.

Undesirable consequences. When a dog “knows” a behavior, that is, when the trainer has a reasonable expectation that the dog has been sufficiently trained to recognize the cue and reliably respond appropriately, yet fails to do so, a trainer might employ consequences for this non-compliance. Trainers may also use consequences to reduce undesirable behaviors when an incompatible behavior is not appropriate or has not sufficiently addressed the behavior. The purpose of these consequences is to reduce or eliminate the likelihood of the behavior recurring and is evaluated in retrospect—by its affect on the behavior.

Now that you know what type of training you are looking to teach your pet you need to decide what type of trainer to use.  Here are a few steps and suggestions to choosing the right trainer:

1.     Decide Between In-Home and Group Lessons

Once you have an idea of the type of training techniques you want to use, you can begin to narrow down your search by deciding whether private lessons or group lessons will work best for you. Private lessons are usually conducted in your home, and you have the benefit of having your trainer’s undivided attention. It also allows your trainer to create a training program custom made for your dog’s needs.

Group lessons usually take place in at a training facility. The benefit of taking group lessons is that your dog gets the opportunity to socialize with a variety of people and other dogs. Group lessons are also often less costly than private lessons.

2.     Get References

Now that you have an idea of what type of training you are looking for, the search can really begin. Start by asking friends and family for referrals. You can also check with your veterinarian or local humane society to help you find a dog trainer.

Once you have a few names, begin contacting the trainers. Find out how long they have been training, how they got their training, and ask for references. A reputable trainer should have no problem putting you in touch with past clients. Be sure to call these references to find out about their experiences with the trainer.

3.     Check the Initials after the Name

Often trainers have a bunch of initials after their names. It can be confusing to figure out what those initials mean, and how they relate to the trainer’s ability to do his or her job. First, it’s important to note that anyone can call themselves an animal behaviorist or an animal trainer. There’s no certification requirement. Different organizations, however, do have specific requirements for certification. This is where the initials come in.

If you see CAAB after a trainer’s name, this means he or she is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist. This title is granted by the Animal Behavior Society, and only trainers who have done graduate work in the field of animal behavior are able to use it.

You may also see CPDT following the name of a number of trainers. CPDT stands for Certified Pet Dog Trainer. The title is granted to trainers by the Certification Council of Pet Dog Trainers. In order to receive the title of CPDT, trainers must pass an exam which tests their knowledge of dog training.

You can find a complete list of trainer certifications on the Association of Pet Dog Trainers website.

4.     Observe a Lesson or Class

If you are still unsure about which trainer is best for you, ask if you can observe a lesson or group class. It should throw up a red flag if a trainer does not allow you to observe a class. By watching a class, you should get an idea of how effective the trainer is at conveying ideas, and how much individual attention you will be receiving.

In the end, you have to go with your gut. Usually after talking to a few dog trainers about their training methods, you will find one or two who appeal to you more than the others. Go with your instincts and choose the trainer who makes you feel the most comfortable. And if you choose to train at home, educate yourself and have fun! This year we can include our furry friends in on the New Year’s resolutions.