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What a dog trainer can and cannot do for you

Heather Barnett is a freelance writer and foodie whose work has been featured in blogs, websites, magazines, and TV and radio ads. She spends her free time relaxing with her soulmate, Keith; her dog, Mosby "The Fly Slayer;" and Felix th...

Need a dog trainer? It pays to know what they can and can't do

Some of the problems a lot of dog owners have with their trainers are related to a misunderstanding of what it is a trainer can and can't do. It's important when you go into anything, even something as seemingly simple as making sure you have an obedient puppy, that you do so with the proper expectations.

Your dog trainer can't

1. Train your dog for you

This isn't some kind of intensive celebrity weight-loss center where your dog goes for a few weeks to learn new habits and emerges more obedient and knowing how to be obedient for the rest of its life. You don't just drop your dog off and get it back "well-behaved." Sure, the dog will be trained when it comes back home, but that training may slowly disappear, or it may develop bad habits because you do the wrong things (or don't know how to speak to your dog in "its language"). Whether you realize it or not, part of what a dog trainer is doing during training classes is training you. Kinda makes you wonder why the trainer doesn't toss you a mini candy bar when you get something right, huh?

2. Fix your dog

If your dog has actual behavioral issues, that's not a job for a dog trainer. He or she can certainly do some "retraining" lessons if your dog's sitting reaction has gotten a bit spotty, but when it comes to things like anxiety, sudden peeing indoors or unusual (especially aggressive) behavior, or if it seems like there's a behavioral reason it won't take to a certain "trick," it's time to get a behaviorist involved.

A behaviorist is specially trained. We recommend looking for an official Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist or an Associate Certified Animal Behaviorist, and both will have very specialized training to help you and you dog work past what's causing the issue. Now, a behaviorist can't "fix your dog" either — it requires hard work for both you and your pooch, but the good news is that a responsible trainer will be up front with you if your dog has an issue that requires a behaviorist.

3. Change your dog's personality

Dogs are people, too. Well, not actually people, but just like people, they have their own personalities. A trainer can help you teach your dog what is appropriate behavior (vs. inappropriate behavior) in certain situations, but your energetic dog won't stop being energetic. In fact, the trainer should recommend that you give it plenty of exercise, so you don't run into problems when pent-up energy is causing a problem. Conversely, if you have a laid-back dog, your trainer can't teach it to be more energetic just because you want a pup you can run with. That's why it's important to take your time when you're searching for a dog and spend time with the animal before you bring it home.

Your dog trainer can

1. Show you how to teach your dog to obey

Training schedules will vary but generally, depending on whether you join a group class or get individual lessons, you'll have about hour-long sessions in which you'll be taught skills like teach your dog to sit, stay, let go of items, heel, etc. You need to pay attention because your dog may need "continuing education" at times, whether it's because it has developed bad habits, thanks to you temporarily ignoring your training, or because it's a bit strong-willed and testing the boundaries with you.

2. Teach your dog "silly" tricks

Like roll over, shake, speak and more.

3. Provide agility training (and other canine sports)

While not all trainers offer agility training, it can be a fun way for you and your dog to bond, as well as a great source of exercise for your pet (and you to a certain extent). You don't have to be a competitive agility team to have fun doing it. You can also find trainers for Frisbee and water sports.

4. Provide "nose works" training

Again, not all trainers are qualified to provide this training but some are, and they aren't only available to police or military K-9s. Chances are, your pup will never use these skills to save lives or track down a missing person (though I guess you never know when it could come in handy when the local bloodhound is vacationing in Cabo), but many dogs find these games to be a fun challenge. Think of it as doggie video games. You're not really a sniper, but you still love Fallout 3, right?

5. Provide pet boarding

Some trainers may even provide boarding services for owners who are going on vacation. Just don't confuse this boarding with a good excuse to get out of the training on your part. Refer to No. 1 in the things trainers can't do. But at least if you board with a trainer, you know he or she is not undoing your work.

More dog care tips

Why you shouldn't let your dog put its head out the window
Last week I put my dog down — here’s what it really feels like
Car safety advice for dogs that every pet parent should know

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