A well-trained animal is a happy animal. Training your dog or cat can give them confidence, help them feel comfortable in different situations, and create a strong bond with you.
“I’m the proud mom of a beautiful American Bulldog named Ruby,” says Steph Boll, who lives in Portland, OR. “I knew she needed an active, structured and disciplined lifestyle to thrive.” Boll, who edits a women’s fitness blog called Spikes and Heels, signed Ruby up for an 8-week obedience class.
Ruby learned basic commands like sit, stay, hold and fetch, how to walk properly on a leash and how to socialize with other dogs. The training also strengthened their bond. “My pup and I have grown so close since we took her to training,” Boll says.
Whether you want to teach a new puppy basic commands, socialize or exercise your dog, or find help with a behavioral issue, you have plenty of options and can start early.
“Many pet owners don’t realize they can start training their dog or cat when they get home,” says Michelle Burch, DVM, veterinarian at Safe Hounds Pet Insurance in Decatur, AL. This is usually around 8 weeks for puppies. You can train kittens as young as 4 weeks old, even if they are still with their mother.
You can choose group lessons, private lessons or day courses.
Group lessons. Group training is good for animals that need help with basic manners and skills. Many groups cater to young puppies and teach them basic commands like sit, sit, and come. They are also good for animals that need socialization, including young puppies.
Private sessions. If your dog or cat needs more specialized training, you can try private lessons. They will get more attention from a trainer and can work on specific obedience behaviors. If your pet has a behavior problem, private sessions are usually best.
day training. Some trainers offer private lessons at their facility or at your home, where you are not involved. They come to your house when you are at work or when you drop your pet off at their house for a long time. They do the training and then you continue by learning the skills yourself and practicing them with your dog.
Group classes are good for teaching and socializing your dog in a supervised setting, says Morgan Rivera, certified placement and transportation coordinator for the Humane Society of the United States Animal Rescue Team in Gaithersburg, MD. But they tend to be less advanced if you’re looking to teach your dog more than the basics.
“One-on-one training can be great for developing or deepening the bond you have with your dog and also for working on more complex behaviors,” Rivera says. But unlike groups, they don’t help dogs develop social skills that help them thrive in their communities.
DIY Training Videos
You can try training your dog using online resources like YouTube videos.
“YouTube videos can be a good source of information for basic training commands for your pup,” says Burch. Seeing the techniques on screen can help you visualize how to handle your puppy. You can do this from the comfort of your own home and it can save you money. “You also reduce the risk of your pup getting a disease before they’re fully vaccinated,” Burch says.
But be careful to choose the right videos. “You may come across videos that give inadequate or inappropriate advice,” Burch says. Avoid videos that encourage negative reinforcement or use punishment as a training method.
A downside to DIY training is that your pup will lack socialization with other animals, people, and environments.
If your dog is young or full of energy, you might want to try agility training.
“Agility classes provide incredible mental and physical stimulation,” says Rivera. “They also allow your dog to engage in rewarding behaviors they might not be able to perform in other environments, such as running, running, jumping and climbing.”
Agility training is a good outlet for your dog’s energy, builds the bond between you and your dog, and allows you to both get outside and be active.
If your dog has behavioral issues like excessive barking, inappropriate peeing or pooping, excessive grooming, and repetitive behaviors, one-on-one behavior training with a trained professional can help.
“Behavioral consultants can be very helpful if your dog is struggling with severe fears and phobias, through everyday stress and anxiety,” says Rivera.
One-on-one sessions with a qualified veterinary behaviorist or certified behavior consultant may be preferable.
“Veterinary behaviorists have extensive knowledge of all aspects of animal behavior,” Burch says. They also have additional training and keep up to date with the latest scientific findings for the best treatment for your dog.
To find a qualified specialist, ask your primary veterinarian for advice or visit an organization like the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists or the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.
“Cats are largely ignored when it comes to training, but they can be taught like dogs,” says Joanna Woodnutt, chief veterinarian of the BreedAdvisor.com blog. Woodnutt taught her foster cat to sit on command, lift her paw and turn, which she says helped her find a new home.
A cat trainer can help you with basic commands like following you, answering their name, fetching or even using a human toilet, says Lucie Wilkins, a veterinary nurse near London, England, and cat blogger for KittyCatTree .com. Training can also help stop behaviors like scratching furniture, jumping where they shouldn’t be, and biting.
Cats often do best in a one-on-one training situation. To find a trainer, talk to your veterinarian.