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Making the Most of Your Dog's Pro Training

Written by Jeremy Criscoe

For most owners, the decision to send their dog to a pro trainer is a big deal, and rightly so. On the one hand, there is a lot of excitement about bringing a pup to new training levels. On the other hand, there is some anxiety in the separation.

Handler training a GSP with a checkcord

Personally, I like to have clients get involved in all three phases: before the training starts, while it is going on, and after they pick up their pup. That kind of contact might seem like a lot, but it’s a winning recipe, both for clients and for their dogs. Training is a team effort, and we all have the same goal: to bring pups to the next level. Here are three tips to help make the transition.

Before Drop-off

Visit the pro before sending your dog into training. At my kennel, we start training dogs between six and eight months of age. That’s when their puppy teeth have been replaced by adult teeth. Not only is the dog ready to retrieve without harm, but the pup is more mature. If the time between when clients pick up their pups at two months and when they bring them in for training at six or eight months is well spent, training goes faster and easier.

We recommend that clients bring their pups for socializing at the kennel. Exposing the pup to kennel life is really important. They can spend time in the dog runs, in a dog house, be fed, and be taken out for periods of light work. They’ll see fields, ponds, and lakes, they’ll meet other trainers and dogs, and overall they’ll have exposure to the entire operation.

It’s also a time when I can walk clients through training objectives they can do at home. Basic yardwork commands such as come, sit, stay, and heel are the ideal commands we’d like all pups to know when they come back for formal training. Most clients come by with their dogs once a month, and that’s about right.

Familiarity with the kennel, trainers, and other dogs helps keep the pup from being stressed. Stress is the biggest issue with dogs arriving at a kennel. Dogs that are really stressed can’t focus on the work that needs to be done. Stressed dogs eat erratically and may not get the nutrition they need to work hard. The easy solution is to visit your pro and acclimate your dog to life at the kennel. Teach him basic commands while at home. When the time comes to drop him off for an extended stay, he’ll be ready to train.

While Your Pup is Getting Trained

Get trained yourself. We like it when clients come and visit us once or twice a month. Clients get to see their dogs, and those visits always help keep the pup in high spirits. That visit continues the owner/dog relationship, which is always good.

Clients get to spend time with us and their dog, and that’s the real benefit. They’ll start learning the commands we use, as well as the reasons why we use them. They can learn more about our training methods and identify behavior that is good and behavior that needs to be corrected. That trainer/owner/dog relationship strengthens and sets a strong foundation for when the dog goes home.

Most pro trainers have a combination of local clients and others who are from other parts of the country. Owners from far away might not be able to visit on a monthly basis, but if they come every other month and spend two or three days, they can pick up the same amount of information. However it plays out is fine, but it’s a big help for the dog and the trainer to have a client who learns firsthand about the methods in which their dog was trained.

After Pickup

When folks head home with their pup, we send them with a four-week plan that helps them transition from kennel and training life to their regular environment and routine. During this change, it’s important that the dog understands what the owner expects. It’s equally important for the owner to understand what the dog needs. If there is consistency during the transition, everyone wins.

I’ll send clients home with a printed document of the steps we covered during the training. I’ll also send links to videos that illustrate each of those specific steps. Then we’ll follow up via phone to make sure the transition is going smoothly. The clients have seen the training when they’ve come to work their dogs along with us, they have written explanations to review, and they have videos. All that’s left is to do it.

Training is fun, so we’ll check in with clients every little while to see how their pup is doing. It’s always good to hear about first hunts and hunt test wins, but it’s also good to know if the pup needs a little brush-up. We’re all a team, and good people with good dogs are tough to beat.

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