It’s never too late to train your dog. These 6 tips can help you get started: Life Kit: NPR

Winnie, Samantha Balaban’s dog, shakes hands with his human.

Photo illustration by Becky Harlan/NPR

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Photo illustration by Becky Harlan/NPR

Winnie, Samantha Balaban’s dog, shakes hands with his human.

Photo illustration by Becky Harlan/NPR

My dog ​​(from Samanta), Winnie, always barked at the door, whether it was for the postman or his best friends. It was still a bit boring but manageable. Until we moved into a condo in DC with nine units. That’s nine doors, plus the front door, and Winnie was barking at each one.

I tried to say “UH UH” and point my finger angrily. She was impassive. I tried giving her a treat every time she stopped barking. She was still barking. I tried to separate us through a door. I tried never to schedule another Zoom meeting again.

Then I tried to call a trainer.

“Helping the dog feel comfortable in their own skin, comfortable in the lifestyle you have together – that’s a really good basic goal I would have for every dog,” says Kayla Fratt , certified dog behavior consultant and owner of Journey. Dog training.

No matter the case – whether you adopted a dog during the pandemic, recently brought home a puppy from the breeder, or have had your dog for years – all dogs can benefit from lifelong training. throughout their life.

But where to start the process? If you’ve recently searched the internet for “dog trainers near you,” chances are you’ll be immediately overwhelmed with options, certifications, and vocabulary. There is a lot of information there! So we consulted experts on where to start. Here is what they say:

Identify your training objectives

Margo, Winnie and Zero show off their skills in the gifs below.

Photo illustration by Becky Harlan/NPR

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Photo illustration by Becky Harlan/NPR

Margo, Winnie and Zero show off their skills in the gifs below.

Photo illustration by Becky Harlan/NPR

There are (essentially) two levels of dog training. If you’re interested in skill training or basic manners, like teaching your dog to sit, stay, and lie down, that’s the domain of a dog trainer. If your dog has a behavioral problem – anxiety, aggression, fear – then you need a dog behavior consultant, like Brianna Dick of Pack Leader Help.

“The way I approach dog training is based on behavioral psychology,” says Dick. “We don’t just look at the dogs’ physical behaviors. We look at their emotions and the relationship they have with their humans.”

If you need both job training and behavioral training, start with the more complicated of the two: behavioral training. A dog behavior consultant will also be able to teach your dog to sit, but a dog trainer will be much less equipped to help your dog deal with separation anxiety.

To be realistic.

As Fratt says, “Just as not all humans will learn to love going to raves, not all dogs will learn to love going to the dog park.”

Kim Brophey is an applied ethologist, dog family mediator and owner of the Dog Door Behavior Center. She has also written a book called “Meet Your Dog: The Game Changing Guide To Understanding Your Dog’s Behavior”. Brophey uses a framework called LEGS (learning, environment, genetics, self) to explain dog behavior. For example, suppose your dog barks at your guests.

“It could be a breed of dog that has been bred for hundreds of years to defend itself against people who show up on your doorstep,” Brophey says. Since you can’t train a German Shepherd’s genetic drive to defend its territory, you may need to modify your expectations instead.

Decide how you would like to train your dog.

A greyhound on a pink background demonstrates how to sit


Zero demonstrates the “sit” command.

When it comes to training methods, you have a few options: group classes, individual training, boarding and training, day training, and self-training, to name the most common. Group lessons are less expensive but less personalized. On-board and train facilities are more expensive and riskier, says Fratt.

“If the trainer spends all this time training the dog in this very specific setting and they just hand you the leash, take your check and walk away, chances are you can’t actually put in implement these new strategies and skills…successfully in your home.”

Your choice will depend on your budget and training goals. For example, if your dog is acting aggressively towards another dog in your home, that’s probably not well served by training that takes place outside of your home.

Also know that you will need to be involved in training your dog, but it doesn’t have to take up a large part of your day. Fratt says she spends about five minutes a day working out. Much of the homework that coaches will give you can also be fun and easy to incorporate into your daily life.

If you don’t want to shell out too much money for dog training, our experts offer these free or low-cost resources you can find online:

  • Kikopup on Youtube and Instagram
  • Fenzi Dog Sports Academy
  • K9 to me

Brianna Dick has also compiled free resources on her website, and Fratt has a series called Training Tuesday Free Lessons.

Understand the methodologies.

A dachshund jumps up to touch a person's hand


Margo demonstrates the “touch” command.

Dog training is a completely unregulated field, which means anyone with a website, Instagram page, or storefront can claim to be a dog trainer. It also means that there is no definitive rule of what methods to use when training a dog, and many trainers disagree. However, many trainers fall into two broad categories:

The first concerns positive reinforcement coaches like Fratt. Positive reinforcement means giving your dog something good – like a treat – when he does something good, so that he repeats the behavior. Or give your dog something good to associate something (which he thinks is) scary with a positive experience.

The second is balanced trainers like Brianna Dick. Balanced trainers use positive reinforcement methods, but are also more willing to incorporate corrections, like electronic collars, into their training.

Find a good trainer.

Gif of a medium sized dog following a trainer's finger in a circle


Winnie demonstrates the “spin” command.

If you need a solid list of positive reinforcement coaches or balanced coaches in your area, a good place to start is with lists compiled by various professional associations. There are many, including:

  • International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC)
  • Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT)
  • The Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT)
  • Karen Pryor Academy (KPA)
  • Guild of Pet Professionals
  • The Academy of Dog Trainers
  • Pat Miller Certified Trainers

And then do interviews! Call past clients. See which coach makes you most comfortable. Make sure they can explain their training methods.

Do not exclude medications.

Changing your dog’s brain chemistry can be scary. But if your dog is experiencing fear, anxiety, panic, or aggression, it can’t be treated with training alone. And you should treat it like the medical condition it is.

“It’s a bit like having a diabetic patient, isn’t it? You don’t give your dog insulin for his diabetes, because that’s what he needs to maintain the proper level of insulin. hormones in his body,” says Dr. Andrea Y. Tu. , a behavioral veterinarian and the medical director of NYC Behavior Vets.

“Ultimately, it’s a chemical imbalance. And it needs to be addressed.”

What if you’ve tried everything – from positive reinforcement training, balance training, medication to changing trainers – and nothing has worked? Maybe your dog just can’t get over his fear of your kids, or he’s too scared to pee outside on a busy city street. At the end of the day, and this is not a fun subject to talk about, you may come to the conclusion that your home is not the best fit for your dog.

“It’s tough, but I think rehoming, if you have a great option for a dog…where all the conditions can be put in place to support that dog, then that may be the best decision,” says Brophey.

It should not be shameful to consider repatriation. Sometimes it’s the most loving decision you can make. But we hope this is not the case for you! There are a lot of things you can try to train your dog before that happens.

As Fratt says, most dogs can be trained imminently: “It’s never really too late for a dog to learn, and it’s never really too late to get the dog to a trainer.”

The podcast portion of this story was produced by Janet W. Lee.

Thanks to Samantha Balaban, Meredith Rizzo and Meghan Keane for sharing the talents of their dogs Winnie, Zero and Margo respectively.

We would love to hear from you. If you have a good life hack, drop us a voicemail at 202-216-9823 or email us at [email protected] Your tip might appear in an upcoming episode.

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