Whether you want to improve a dog's behavior, instill good habits in a dog before it has a chance to develop bad ones, or train a dog for agility or canine sports, a good obedience school or trainer might be able to help. Some schools and trainers will come to your house to do private training, although this is expensive. Some schools run classes in which you and your dog both participate. Some schools will board and train your dog at their facility, without your needing to be there. (This last option can also be expensive, and the Minnesota Valley Humane Society advises against it, because in your absence dogs can learn to respond to trainers without learning to respond to you. But careful, ethical schools can prevent this from happening.)
Finding a good obedience school can be a challenge, but there are lots of things you can do and find out to make the process easier. Probably the very first thing you should do, as this article sensibly suggests, is to ask for recommendations from other people who have had their dogs trained. If you purchased your dog from a breeder, or if there's a pet owners' association in your area, you could ask them for suggestions too. For more schools to choose from, search the directory; if you live in the US, you can also browse Verizon's directory.
Once you locate a school with a feasible location, schedule, and cost, investigate it carefully, even if it's been recommended to you by other people; what worked for them might not necessarily be best for you and your dog.
- Are the school and/or the trainers affiliated with reputable organizations such as training associations (including the Canadian Association of Professional Pet Dog Trainers and the Association of Pet Dog Trainers in the US, UK, several European countries, and Australia), breed clubs, kennel clubs (including the American Kennel Club, American Boarding Kennels Association, Canadian Kennel Club, and The Kennel Club of the UK), or animal-welfare societies?
- Look at the professional qualifications of the trainer(s), as recommended in this article: How much experience do they have? Have they worked with your breed before? Have they solved any particular behavior problems that you want to correct in your dog? To what level of accomplishment have they successfully trained dogs? (For example, it takes a high degree of proficiency to train a dog to reach AKC "Utility" status.) But balance trainers' credentials against their personality: After meeting them, do you like them? Does your dog? Do they genuinely seem to love dogs, enjoy working with them, and be a good teacher?
- Even if you won't be personally involved in training your dog, insist on watching at least one training session for other dogs. Do the trainers' methods seem humane, caring, and effective? Do the dogs seem to have fun? If you'll have to use the same methods to reinforce your dog's behavior at home, can you do it?
Of course, some dogs need obedience training more than others, both for the owner's benefit and their own. Norma Bennett Woolf points out far too many dogs are turned over to shelters and euthanized because of behavior problems that often aren't hard to correct with obedience training. But even if you have no such difficulties with your dog, both of you can benefit from the educational activities available at good obedience schools; they make a difference in the lives of pets and their humans every day.