Famously, dogs are humans’ best friends. But when your buddy attacks the living room furniture, strews the kitchen trash and shreds your slippers, the quality of friendship suffers serious strain. Worse, your attempts to change behavior seem to fall on deaf canine ears. That’s when it’s time for professional intervention – past time, in fact, according to Southern Maryland dog trainers.
“You really ought to start obedience classes for a puppy at eight weeks,” says Eryka Kahunanui of Kahuna K9s, based in Calvert County. It’s not that you can’t teach old dogs new tricks, but as in humans, it’s easier to establish good habits than to break bad ones. At a recent class, Kahunanui dealt with a golden retriever, young but no longer a puppy, who kept jumping up on her hind legs. This was not a good start to a class on sitting and settling. Gently, Kahunanui pushed the dog down to a sitting position, at the same time sounding a clicker in her hand and giving the dog a treat – a small slice of hot dog.
“Clicker training” is based on a theory of consistent positive reinforcement, in which a consistent, readily identifiable sound marks the behavior the trainer is teaching. An additional advantage is that it focuses human as well as canine minds – you’ve got to know when to click – and that helps both trainers and dog owners, who are also issued clickers.
Whether or not they subscribe to the clicker theory, trainers agree that the process is as much about the owners as the dogs. “The dogs are the easy part,” says Lance Nogosek of Charles County, who is with Sit Means Sit dog training. “It’s the owners that are difficult.” Kahunanui adds, “The owners have to understand that they and the dog are a team in learning.” And Michelle Roberts of Midnight’s Dog Training in St. Mary’s County stresses, “I tell the owners that one hour a week won’t do it. You have to do your homework.”
That homework, say experts, should begin even before training classes start. You should put as much research and effort into choosing a dog trainer as you would in picking any other professional. Training methods differ; some trainers use clickers, some don’t. Some concentrate on positive reinforcement, rewarding success; others use more negative reinforcement, punishing misbehavior. Both you and your dog should be comfortable with the trainer’s approach. Fellow dog owners, of course, represent a good source of information. “I advise people to have as close a relationship with their trainer as they would have to their veterinarian,” says Kahunanui.
Finally, you should realize that training requires a significant investment of both money and time. A basic training course averages upwards of $100. Expect to spend considerably more if you continue with training for the first eight months of a dog’s life, as most trainers recommend. Some, like Roberts, offer courses that go well beyond obedience, into agility training, hurdles and obstacle courses.
Whether you just want a well-behaved pet to welcome you home, or a canine athlete to admire, training can make your dog a better friend. ✦
Dog Obedience Trainers
Good Dog! K9 Obedience Rachel Richards
Calvert Animal Welfare League
Chesapeake Kennel Club
Kahuna’s K9s Eryka Kahunanui
Prince Frederick; 443-228-8597 www.kahunask9s.com; email@example.com
Training by Julie and Associates
Julie Jacobus; 443-852-4912 www.trainingbyjulie.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
Charles County Humane Society
Waldorf; 301-645-8181 www.humanesocietycc.org/events.html
Chico Stanford Canine Training
The Playful Pup Christina McCauley
White Plains; 301-305-7282 www.playfulpupsomd.com/#!training
Sit Means Sit Lance Nogosek
St. Mary’s County
Applejack K-9 Academy Charlotte Hall
Three Notch Veterinary Hospital
Brian Markowich; www.dogboyobedience.com
Midnight’s Dog Training Michelle Roberts
Wetherburn Dog Obedience Robert Deluca
St. Mary’s County Recreation & Parks
This is a partial list of locally based trainers. Some of these trainers can arrange classes outside their home counties. The pet supply stores Petco and PetSmart, with outlets throughout the region, also offer classes.