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Breed & Health Resources

Why You Really Do Need a Dog Trainer—Even If You Don’t Think You Do

By Dr. Patty Khuly

Dog Trainer

There’s always a subset of pet owners who presume to know more than professional dog trainers. (Thankfully, they’re in the minority.) That’s not what I’m talking about in this post. Instead, I want to address the common assumption that there’s no pressing need for professional training once a dog is post-puppyhood.

While conventional wisdom says that old dogs can’t learn new tricks, nothing could be further from the truth! So, too, is the assumption that post-puppyhood professional training is not necessary.

This confusion is understandable given that most training services tend to be directed at puppies. “Puppy kindergarten” is crucial, of course, seeing as early socialization is the cornerstone of dog training. But training in puppyhood is only the beginning.

In fact, there are very few dogs who will behave acceptably without a second or third round of training (whether it’s an organized class setting or with an independent trainer). Basic manners don’t come easy to our human children, so why should we assume a 6-week class for our dogs will suffice?

Unfortunately, it’s been my experience that while 95% of my clients’ pups and rescue dogs see a training professional early on, only 10% or fewer pursue any additional professional training – presumably because their owners don’t think it’s necessary.

Indeed, as long as their dogs are housetrained and (more or less) know how to sit, stay, lie down, walk on a leash, and not jump up on people, most owners seem content. But is the dog?

I’m not so sure. Even if dogs could be trained and maintained as simply as most owners assume, I’m of the opinion that dogs who aren’t engaged throughout their lives in a challenging training regimen just aren’t as happy as they could be. After all, most dogs need social companionship, mental stimulation, and robust exercise along with food, water, shelter, and healthcare. Professional training offers all those things, and it is very helpful for many dogs.

Even my own hydrocephalic puppy mill Pug, Slumdog, has benefited from two rounds of training as well as an ongoing series of in-home basic manners sessions (courtesy of every new foster dog I take in). Though he’s cognitively challenged due to his disease, he’s nonetheless able to learn and make progress. Most importantly, however, is that he’s enjoyed [almost] every minute of it!

Training is not only fun and stimulating for both you and your dog; it makes for a better relationship between the two of you as well. There’s no substitute for training. No other activity can match training’s ability to deepen and strengthen the bond you share with your dog through simple call and response interactions.

This is why I urge all of my dog-owning clients, whether their pets are well-behaved or not, to consider some form of continuing training.

But training is boring, you might say. Not so! Most dog owners, whether in urban or rural environments, now have plenty of fun opportunities to keep their dogs’ brains busy while keeping their manners in check.

If you’re not so sure about training, here are some examples of the kind of coursework your dog might see:

  • Sniffer Training (puts her impressive nose to good use)
  • Out and About (a course in public manners)
  • Frisbee Catching (it’s more than just fetch!)
  • Dock Diving (just what it sounds like)

The hardest part isn’t finding the right class; it’s making the time to get there. Once you do, though, I can promise you that you’ll never look back. And who knows? Maybe you’ll like it well enough to get competitive about it.

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