There are lots of different reasons people choose to work with a dog trainer from basic manners to wanting to pass the Canine Good Citizen test to wanting to register their dog in various competitions. Others bring in a trainer to help with problem behaviors that are causing family stress. These are all great reasons to hire a dog trainer.
Today, I thought it would be fun to share what I have found to be the sort of bread & butter requests that dog parents have when they start thinking they need help training their dog.
Before I share them with you, I want to say that if your dog begins to exhibit unwanted behaviors that he or she has not previously expressed, such as all of a sudden peeing in the house after years of being potty trained or all of a sudden becoming leash reactive, your first step MUST be to take your dog to the vet. Behavior changes/problems in animals can often have a medical cause. Also bear in mind that any good trainer will ask you if you’ve taken your dog to the vet first when you reach out to her about a problem behavior.
That said, here are my top 9 problems people hire a dog trainer to solve (in no particular order):
- Puppy Basics – new puppies are SO much fun but there is a LOT to learn and many people work with a professional trainer to help their puppy grow into a confident, well-adjusted, well-trained and emotionally stable adult dog. Puppy Basics include such behaviors as sit, stay, down, etc., careful socialization, potty training and the ever popular “He’s chewing up everything I own!” You can work with a trainer on Puppy Basics in a group class or one to one. Group classes are popular because, well, they’re full of puppies for one, and it’s a good chance to socialize your little bundle of fur.
- Growling & Biting – on the opposite end of the cuteness spectrum is a dog who growls, lunges and/or bites other dogs/people. Having a dog like this is overwhelming (believe me, in the beginning I paid a lot of vet bills on Jake’s behalf) so people often turn to a professional trainer. A danger here is people will often punish their dog for growling so the dog starts biting seemingly “out of the blue.” NEVER punish a dog for growling. He is telling you he is uncomfortable to the point he may lash out and that is vital information for you to know. Dog’s give other signs as well which appear quite subtle or are misinterpreted by the average owner who hasn’t studied dog body language. I do recommend you work with a professional positive reinforcement dog trainer if your dog shows signs of aggression. She will either be able to help you fix the problem or know that your dog needs to see a specialist.
- Leash Pulling – this is one of my favorites because it is so annoying and people often let it get SO bad before reaching out for help (no judgement – I was guilty of this myself!). It can also be hard to stop because it is inherently reinforcing to your dog who is so excited to get out there on a walk and smell everything. A professional trainer can recommend the best harness and techniques to eliminate pulling. Make sure you are working with a positive trainer who will never recommend aversive techniques like a prong collar which can cause serious damage to your dog’s trachea and thyroid. Check out our free guide to easily teaching your dog to walk politely on leash.
- Jumping Up – slightly annoying when little dogs do this and potentially dangerous when big dogs jump up on people. This is another area where the behavior often gets unintentionally reinforced because the humans make a big deal out of it. That attention makes it much more likely the dog will continue jumping on people. This problem can usually be solved pretty quickly when you have the right combination of environmental and training processes in place and professional dog trainers are happy to help you fix this one.
- Potty Training – this is an area that gets covered often in Puppy Basics but also comes up when you adopt an adult dog from a shelter who has never lived in a home before or are nervous and forget what they learned before. Adult dogs who have never lived in a home have never been trained to potty only outside so you need to potty train them like you would a puppy (Jake was like this when I adopted him). Newly adopted dogs may also pee indoors out of nervousness in their new location. They are experiencing a lot of changes at once and you’ll need to be patient and consistent in teaching them good potty manners. I recommend working with a professional trainer because it will help both you and your new pup not get frustrated with each other.
- Door Issues – this manifests generally as rushing the door to jump on people, rushing the door to escape or barking/growling when someone is at the door. Depending on what your dog is doing and why, a trainer will customize a training plan to make it stop. You’ll want a trainer who takes a multi-faceted approach based on keeping everyone safe (people and dogs) and changing the unwanted behavior.
- Reactivity – reactivity is a word that is almost too widely used these days to mean anything from mild anxiety in a dog to full on aggression. What I mean by reactivity here is your dog displaying unwanted behavior based on specific triggers. For example, years ago, I discovered my dog, Jake, had a negative reaction to big floppy hats when my neighbor, who is an avid gardener, walked out of her house our first summer together wearing one. Jake freaked the “F” out as the saying goes. Dogs can react to many different things: other dogs, men with beards, sirens, etc. Some dogs are only reactive when confined on leash. Some dogs will become reactive to something they never reacted to before. A professional trainer can help you figure out what your dog is reacting to (because it may not be what you think) and develop the best plan for changing the behavior. In Jake’s case, I chose to desensitize him to big floppy hats by wearing one myself. After a couple of weeks, it didn’t bother him anymore. If you try this at home, be careful, introduce the item slowly and give lots of praise and treats.
- Chewing – this is another Puppy Basics one that also applies to some adult dogs. Some dogs are nervous chewers and some just plain love chewing things, especially your expensive leather shoes. This problem can be solved using similar techniques as the Jumping Up problem, with the right combination of environmental and training processes.
- Counter Surfing – if you leave yummy food on the counter, your dog’s going to want to eat it. I think it’s even in the doggy handbook. It doesn’t have to be this way, though. You can train your dog not to gobble up any unguarded noms on your counter. If you haven’t already detected a pattern to my training advice, the way to keep your counter goodies safe is with the right combination of environmental and training processes.
There you have it.
Nine of the most popular dog behavior problems that people reach out to professional dog trainers to help them solve. I’ve given you an idea how to fix these problems but haven’t explained in any detail because you want to be careful of thinking that one solution fits all dogs.
When you hire a professional dog trainer – and I know you know I mean only hire a Positive Reinforcement Dog Trainer – you want her to meet you and your dog, assess your specific situation and outline a plan to solve the problem that incorporates environmental management, behavior modification and enrichment. Don’t work with anyone who offers you less than that!
And here’s a picture of Jake suspiciously eyeing my floppy hat.
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