Private Obedience Training

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This type of program usually involves a trainer working with you and your dog one-on-one. Most private lessons take place in your home, although some can be conducted at other places you frequent and where you expect your dog to obey.

Obedience commands can be customized to fit your needs, although typically the basics need to be covered. These include sit, stay, come, down, heel and loose leash walking. Problem solving, including environmentally specific requests and more difficult behavioral challenges, are typically addressed in this kind of program. For example, if you want to teach your dog not to run out your front gate, the trainer can work with you and your dog right at your gate, increasing the likelihood of success.

Many private pet trainers give owners the option of paying for lessons one at a time. Prices can vary depending on your region and the trainer's reputation and experience. Typical price ranges in 2003 are $25 to $150 per session. Some trainers charge more. Some trainers charge by the hour and others by the lesson. This is an important point and one owners should be aware of. If a trainer charges $75 per hour and each lesson takes two hours, that's $150 per lesson. Other trainers charge by the lesson, meaning a flat fee regardless of how long the lesson lasts. Personally, I prefer the latter if the price is reasonable.

There are trainers who also offer programs such as a four-week or seven-week program for a flat fee. Usually purchasing a series of lessons will offer some savings over the same number of lessons purchased separately. For example, lessons may be $75 each or four for $250.

Private lesson pet training is also owner training. However, some private trainers will teach your dog obedience commands and then teach you how to handle an already trained dog. This can be an advantage for some owners, provided you understand that the trainer can't do it all for you. This is an absolutely critical point. I have met hundreds of owners who have spent thousands of dollars apiece with trainers before they learned this lesson. Most owners speak a different language than trainers. What a trainer says isn't always what an owner hears, and vice versa. A typical scenario sounds like this:

Owner: I want my dog to be trained.

Trainer: What would you like your dog to learn?

Owner: I need him to listen. You know, come when I call him, not to chew my couch, stop jumping all over people, not drag me down the street and stop having accidents in the house.

Trainer: We can work on all of that.

Owner: Great!

While the dialogue here is simple, most owners don't realize that they are really asking for two different things.

The first is problem solving. Chewing the couch, jumping all over people, having accidents in the house all fall into this category. But the simple fact is, no trainer coming to your home is going to be able to housebreak your dog for you—not unless they move in! This means you, the owner, will have to learn the necessary techniques so that you can housebreak the dog, address his chewing and jumping and deal with any other canine problems.

The second is obedience. Coming when called and not dragging you down the street on a walk fall into this category. A trainer could teach your dog to come when they call and certainly to not drag them down the street. However, only you will be able to teach your dog to listen to you.

Many trainers say that obedience (sit, stay, come, heel, etc.) is related to problem solving, and that if your dog doesn't listen to simple commands, teaching him to stop engaging in problem behaviors is difficult or impossible. This is not always true. For example, your dog doesn't need to know a single command in order to learn to stop chewing on your couch or to be housebroken. That being said, obedience is important, because it enables you to build a stronger relationship with your dog. It also can be used to address many (but not all) problems.

One thing to be careful about when looking at different programs is the "guarantees." Some trainers claim that their training programs are "guaranteed." I don't usually see "guarantees" offered in group training, but some private and in-kennel programs make these claims. As an owner, I would be extremely skeptical about "guarantees" or any trainer who offers them.

I remember meeting with owners who had spent $1,500 with a trainer. The owners originally contacted the trainer because their six-month-old Great Dane was not housebroken. The dog also jumped all over people in a friendly, Marmaduke fashion. Finally, the owners recognized that their dog really did need to listen to some basic commands.

The trainer came to their house, heard their request and signed them up for a training program. In this program, the trainer was to work with the dog three times a week for several months, teaching obedience. According to the owners, when they asked about housebreak-ing, the trainer said that "solutions will be given." Included in the contract was a written "guarantee" stating "if your dog regresses from any of the commands I teach during the training program, I will retrain the dog at no additional cost."

The problem was that the "guarantee" was irrelevant. When the dog didn't listen to the owners and was still not housebroken, they called the trainer. This trainer went back to their home, reviewed the obedience commands he had taught the dog, and, since he had trained the dog in the first place, the dog was perfectly responsive to him. The trainer then said the dog had not regressed from any of the commands he taught and there was nothing else he could do! When the owners asked about housebreaking, the trainer responded that he had given the owners written material on the subject.

The owners thought housebreaking, chewing and obedience were "guaranteed," and that the trainer would solve these problems for them. In reality such "guarantees" are really not possible. The bottom line is that it is critical to find someone who is ethical enough to be honest with you.

Here's the truth: You, the owner, need to learn how to properly communicate with and teach your dog. This includes simple commands such as come, sit, stay, down, heel and loose leash walking. It also may include you learning various ways of eliminating, redirecting, and/or curtailing behavior problems. If you expect your dog to learn these skills, you will need to spend time every day working with your dog. You will need to do this for at least four to eight months. Some dogs may require less time; many will require more. The only shortcut is for you to be consistent and use effective, humane training techniques.

Trainers who are willing to tell you something similar to what I have just said are the ones I would consider hiring.

The advantages of private lessons are:

♦ Individual attention. Most private lessons are one-on-one and offer a great deal of individual attention with the trainer.

♦ Environmentally specific problems. Problems that only occur at home are most effectively addressed in the environment they take place in.

♦ Convenience. Lessons can be set up around your schedule. It is also sometimes easier for several family members to all be home at the same time, as opposed to everyone going to a group class or kennel at the same time.

♦ Customized training. Because of the individual attention and the fact that the dog is being trained in his actual environment, custom training can often be more effective using private lessons.

The disadvantages of private lessons are:

♦ Price. Private lessons can run from several hundred to several thousand dollars.

♦ No socialization. While it is important for dogs to learn to behave where they live, it is also critical for dogs to be exposed to other people and animals. If private lessons are only conducted in your home, critical socialization opportunities may be missed.

♦ Fewer distractions. Here too, while it is important for your dog to obey at home, it is also important for your dog to obey in public. If private lessons are only conducted in your home, your dog may not get the necessary work around distractions he needs to be responsive to commands in most real-world situations.

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