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Dog training... need help?


Training a dog for the first time can be truly a minefield, rather like parenting! I have had a lifetime of educating the family dog although you never stop learning no matter how long you've been at it. In this article, I want to give you a few 'pointers' to finding the right training for your dog.

I started working with dogs from as soon as I could toddle after my father, Norman Burke, the well-known and highly-respected founder of Norbur some 50 years ago... I've since spent my whole life running the kennels and have worked with literally thousands of dogs.

Dog training used to be fairly straightforward and ultimately still should be but in the last 10 years or so techniques have developed enormously and can be somewhat confusing to the uninitiated... factor in the internet, fantastic for research of course, and there you have your proverbial minefield. Run a search on Google and you will be swamped with advertisements for Clicker training, Personal training, Residential training, Dog Whisperers, Dog Psychologists, Socialisation classes... the list is endless, all with their own part to play but how on earth do you decide what will best help you and your puppy.

As with so many things, word of mouth is always a great starting point - over the years in my kennels frequently people would come for training from literally all over the country having spoken to a complete stranger, usually in the park or woods who had brought their dog to us and had great results. If you meet with other dog owners while out exercising ask if any of them have had first-hand experience of a class or personal trainer, you could ask your vet too as they often get feedback of who is good.

It's worth keeping in mind that problematic behaviour from your puppy which might seem insurmountable to an inexperienced owner can very often be easily rectified with a little professional help...

A few things to consider

Above all else, whoever you seek help from, make sure that you feel comfortable with them and with how they handle your dog, if how they are doesn't sit well with you then don't use them, don't assume that just because they claim to be some sort of expert you have to adhere to everything they suggest.

Whether you are attending a class, having a personal one-to-one session or considering leaving your dog for a residential course it's paramount to expect that the person/s you are dealing with have your dogs welfare at the top of their list and have a genuine love and understanding of what they do, this should be very evident.

I have had over the years and still get told incidents of surly or irritated attitudes from so called 'doggy people' or kennel staff, especially when asked what might be fairly obvious questions....anxious and worried owners should be respected, after all if someone else has gone off with your dog it can be quite traumatic, usually more for the owner than the dog!

Residential (In-House) training

Don't necessarily be nervous of considering sending your dog away to be trained. There are many good kennels that provide this facility and it can be an excellent option although for various reasons it's certainly not for everyone, nor necessarily for specific problems which may need to be addressed at home. You may hate the idea of somebody else working with your dog and after all you do get (hopefully) unbelievable pleasure from doing it yourself but like most things in life, sometimes there is no substitute for having a professional job done or at least having the foundations laid by one - not everyone has the necessary time or wherewithal to start the ball rolling with their youngster, maybe a big breed is a bit full-on and of course if it can be combined with a holiday when your dog would have to board anyway... even better.

I don't intend to go into what to look for when seeking out good kennels, there's loads of information all over the internet that addresses that BUT go and look, chat and probably look again and trust what and who you feel drawn to.

Classes... of whatever 'persuasion'

All sorts of classes abound all over the country and can be great fun especially when you have a brand new puppy, however, 'horses for courses' again, give a bit of thought to what exactly you want and do some research.

Well run classes by an experienced handler are a joy but not all are such a pleasant experience. Do you prefer an inside or outside class, make sure the class isn't too crowded and that it's run in an orderly fashion with enough attention to those that need it. A Giant Breed or typical 'teenage' Rottweiler or German Shepherd for example may not do so well in a crowded church hall nor a slightly nervous Toy dog in a large open field. If you find yourself leaving each week exhausted and in a hot sweat with no real progress then maybe you should try something else.

Specific puppy classes that usually commence as soon as the puppy has had his or her vaccinations are invaluable, a bit like nursery school, they get the puppy used to being handled and socialised in a confident and well-mannered way with other dogs and people and set up the framework for the rest of your dog's life.

The other 'C-Word'

One aspect I can't emphasise enough is to ensure any training method used is kind and positive and don't shy away from the 'C ' word... Cruelty. I know it's uncomfortable but if in doubt ask if any form of 'abusive or cruel behaviour' is ever used (maybe not exactly in those words)... the answer should be absolutely and categorically NO, NO, NO, and any trainer worth putting your faith in should be horrified at the prospect.

One-to-One Training

Training sessions tailored exactly to your requirements... "one-size definitely does NOT fit all" when it comes to your dogs education! Private tuition can really give you 'the edge' and I love working closely in this way, but do endeavour to find a trainer who can be flexible and mindful of what YOU want to do, not what they want to do... the ultimate benchmark is: 'is what I'm doing producing the desired effect?'. If it isn't then change it. Just remember: "a trained dog is a happy dog"...

Best wishes until next time,

Julie Burke

More articles coming soon.

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