Dogs are said to be humans' best friend, but humans' best friend originated in the wild and descends from wolves. The modern dog must be trained in household etiquette in order to live with people. There are ways to accomplish this goal on the cheap.
Basic training starts with the fundamentals, such as potty training, socialization with other dogs and people, and responding to simple commands like sit, lay, and stay. "Come when called and good leash manners are two skills that make any dog a safer and more enjoyable companion," notes Dawn Pribble, a certified professional dog trainer.
There are a million things you can teach a dog -- they are, after all, very smart and very attuned to their human owners -- but we're all about the basics here. Just remember that training your dog for less may require a bit more time and effort on your part.
Dog training costs
Hiring a professional trainer isn't cheap, asserts PawNation.com, a site devoted to pets. PawNation figures that group training classes led by a professional run anywhere from $50-$125 for four to six weeks. And this is the cheapest form of professional dog training. Private lessons cost upwards of $50-$100 an hour and private boarding kennels, where the dog lives for two to four weeks while receiving one-on-one training, hit the $1,000-$2,500 bracket.
To train your dog for less, Pribble suggests checking the offerings at the local animal shelter. She serves as a volunteer trainer at a humane society and says that dog and puppy training classes are cheaper there than elsewhere and help to raise funds for the facility.
Petco, PetSmart, and local pet stores
Two national chains, Petco and PetSmart, offer a range of dog training options and resources for owners. In addition to Petco's fee-based dog training, store locations host free seminars on topics such as manners and socialization. Petco also posts training videos on its website; potty-training basics and loose-leash walking are among those currently available.
PetSmart likewise offers training classes for a fee. It also posts short training-related videos on its website that are accompanied by plugs for the paid classes. For $10 you can take your puppy to select PetSmart stores for an hour of supervised play with a trainer and other dogs that teaches valuable social skills.
Many independent pet stores also offer free or cheap dog training help.
These days you can learn virtually anything online, including how to train a dog for less. The website of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is an excellent starting point. Its Virtual Pet Behaviorist section provides a beginner's guide to dog training with tips on topics like rewarding desired behavior and discouraging undesirable behavior and with related links.
Dog Training Central
is another site with a comprehensive guide to DIY dog training that covers a range of topics, from basic obedience training to solving problem behaviors.
The professional trainer we spoke with likes Dog Star Daily, which deals with concerns such as getting ready to bring a puppy home and destructive chewing, and offers blog posts, podcasts, and videos. She also recommends a new book, "Decoding Your Dog" (starting at $19), by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists.
Of course, no dog training article would be complete without mentioning Cesar Millan, a.k.a. the Dog Whisperer from his TV-show days. Cesar's Way
is packed with dog-training articles and short video clips; DVDs are available for purchase.
A simple "dog training" search on YouTube yields more than two million results. These are all short video clips that show owners the positive and negative basics of dog training, such as sit and stay, and no jumping or barking.
DIY dog training is free and perfectly doable. But keep these tips in mind:
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- Devote the time. It takes a lot of time and consistent effort to train a dog. Plan to commit 30 minutes to an hour each day introducing skills and then practicing those skills in the course of your daily routine.
- Make it fun. "Training should be fun for the whole family, including the dog," says Pribble, who favors positive reinforcement to make good behavior rewarding and enjoyable for the pet.
- Focus on one skill at a time. Start with the most basic of skills and stick with it until the dog masters the behavior and then move on to a new skill. This could take several training sessions and lots of practice in between.
- Practice makes perfect. "The more opportunities you provide your dog to practice the behavior in a variety of environments, the more reliable the response will become," Pribble says. Do this by incorporating the skills into daily life. For example, when working on "sit," make the pup sit before you open the door to let him out. Once a skill is mastered, revisit it and practice it often to make sure the message is retained.