Q: My vet says I should take my dog to obedience class but I can't afford a trainer! What can I do?
A: Many people think that obedience training means hiring an expensive trainer or sending their dogs away to school. Not so! Reasonably priced obedience classes are offered in almost every city and they're open to the public. Most of them are sponsored by local all-breed kennel clubs, training clubs, veterinary clinics and humane societies.
A typical obedience class meets for an hour a week for six-to-nine weeks. The cost for an entire session usually ranges from $40-80. During this time, you'll learn how to teach your dog to obey basic commands like sit, come, lie down, stay and heel. You'll also learn how to handle your dog around strangers, in unfamiliar places and around other dogs.
Class size is limited to the number of dogs and owners the instructor feels he or she can properly handle. You can usually find a class that's geared to your level of experience. If this is your first dog or you've never tried to train before, a beginner's class would be a good place to start.
Q: How do I find an obedience class?
A: Easy! Every issue of the Dog Owners Guide contains contact information for the all-breed kennel clubs and obedience clubs throughout this area. Most of these clubs sponsor public classes and will be happy to tell you about them. Veterinary clinics, animal shelters, boarding kennels, grooming shops and pet supply stores can refer you to training clubs and classes, too.
Q: Can't I just get a book and train my dog at home?
A: Yes, you can but classes give you definite advantages! Many people learn better when they're shown something in person rather than looking at diagrams or reading words in a book. The instructor can demonstrate exactly how to give an effective correction and what the right tone of voice sounds like.
Solving problems is easier in a class environment. A good instructor will observe how you interact with your dog and help you work better together. You'll learn from the other owners in the class, too, as you see what works (or doesn't work) for other people.
Class also gives your dog something important that he doesn't get at home — distractions. Many dogs obey perfectly well in places where everything is familiar (and maybe even boring) to them. They often forget all their training when they're out in the real world where there's so much to see, smell, and chase. In class, you'll learn how to keep your dog's attention even though he's in a strange place with all kinds of interesting things going on around him.
Q: I took your advice and went through an obedience class with my dog. I couldn't believe how fast she learned! She was the best dog there. Now that classes are over, though, she doesn't pay attention anymore and acts like she didn't learn a thing. What went wrong? Did I waste my time?
A: Not at all! Obedience class is just the first stop on the road to a well-trained dog. Classes train people, not dogs. What you learned in class was how to train your dog. In class, you were taught how to give commands and how to enforce them. You learned how to encourage your dog to do the right thing and how to correct her when she made a mistake. What you need to do now is apply what you've learned to your everyday life with your dog.
In class, if you told your dog to sit and she didn't, what did you do? If she broke a stay, what did you do about it? You corrected her and put her back into position, didn't you? To get your dog to behave well at home, you need to follow the same procedures that you did in class.
Training is a project that's never quite finished. Dogs quickly forget their training if it's not practiced regularly. You can easily include little practice sessions in your daily life: put her on a sit/stay while you fix her dinner, have her heel to the mailbox with you, lie down while you're eating supper, etc. In class you were shown techniques and given the tools to get your dog's attention and her obedience. All you have to do now is put them to good use!
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