We love our dog trainers. After all, how else could we bring the woofs to all the dog-friendly places? But they’ve got a ruff gig. So we asked them: If you as a dog trainer could anonymously put one uncensored piece of advice out into the universe to make your life easier, what would it be? Here’s what they said.
1. For pup’s sake, do your homework assignments. Pet parents who don’t practice between training sessions were a Great Dane-sized gripe among trainers in our survey. “My clients never did this even when I told them to,” one trainer lamented. Repetition is key to mastering new skills for humans and dogs alike, so practice with your pup to get the most from your training investment.
2. Pay attention to your dog’s body language. Just like people, dogs learn best when they’re calm and focused. “Learning basic canine body language isn’t too hard, but it has a huge impact on how fast your dog will learn from you,” one trainer said. Check out our guide to canine body language for a crash course.
3. Respect your breed’s tendencies. Repeat after me: I will not choose a dog based on cuteness. Pet parents should either choose a dog breed that matches their lifestyle, or prepare to pup-date their lifestyle to fit their new family member’s needs. In other words, don’t get a Siberian Husky if you don’t like to run (and don’t get a Basset Hound if you want a distance running partner).
4. Have patience with your pup. Just like humans, dogs learn at their own pace. Rushing will only hinder progress and shut down your pup mentally. Does Fido have his selective hearing devices turned on? Consider ditching the food bowl, one trainer advised, and instead use that food to “hand feed, scatter feed, train, and reward. You’ll see your relationship and your dog’s desire to focus on you skyrocket.”
5. Be positive. Positive training methods are not only highly effective, they also help you build a strong relationship with your pooch that’s based on mutual trust and respect. (On this point, the dominance-focused teachings of dog behaviorist Cesar Millan of The Dog Whisperer received some major flack from trainers in our survey, and several said they wished clients wouldn’t use his tactics.) As one trainer put it, “Forget about dominance, alpha, and out-of-date, wolf-based theories, and focus on engaging in a relationship with your dog.”
6. Keep it up! Your dog continues to learn from you all his life, whether you’re actively training him or not—the “old dogs can’t learn new tricks” adage is simply not true. So keep at it and watch your relationship (and collection of party tricks) continue to blossom.