Should you train your dog yourself?


My answer: Absolutely Maybe


I became a professional trainer because I loved training my dog. Oh, I made tons of mistakes - but she still figured out what I wanted and she played along with my blundering. And it didn't hurt her either. And maybe that would be the same for you, too.

On the other hand, I take my car to a professional mechanic even for minor things like oil changes. Could I learn to do that? Sure I could. And I bet I wouldn't break my car either. I'd get a book, or watch a video on YouTube, or have a friend show me how to do it. So why don't I do that? Because I don't want to. I want to drive my car, not repair it. I just don't have any interest in fixing my car - it doesn't sound like fun to me even though I completely understand that it does to many others. It's simply not my thing. On top of that, for some repairs, doing it wrong could cause serious (expensive) damage.

There are other things in my life I wouldn't consider doing myself - I'd always go to a professional. Like dentistry. I have never been tempted to pull out my Dremel to drill a cavity or even to polish my teeth. Why not? I mean, I've had teeth more than 50 years - you'd think I'd be an expert on teeth, right? Of course, that's a little ridiculous.

And yet, that's sort of the way many people think about training dogs. We've had them our whole lives. Our grandparents had them, our neighbors have had them, they're just everywhere. And their very presence makes us feel like we understand them. On top of that, there's plenty of urban legend out there about dogs (for instance, that they will become dominant over their humans if given the opportunity).

So, is dog training like oil changes or like dentistry. My answer is a firm, "It depends."

Teaching your dog to sit is like an oil change. You can learn to do it. And I'll bet you won't hurt your dog or your relationship with your dog. Even if you really don't know what you're doing when you start, dogs are pretty amazing at figuring out what we want - so you'll probably be able to teach your dog to sit. And lie down. And maybe stay. And perhaps to come when called.

Of course, if I decided to change the oil in my car, it would take me all day. And I'd probably have to make a few trips to the parts store for tools I don't own. Going to a mechanic might cost me a little more money, but I'd be back to driving my car happily much faster and I'd feel more confident that it was done correctly and that oil wasn't leaking out as I drive down the street. Similarly, while I never offer any guarantees, I can usually teach all the basics much faster than most pet owners could. I've been trained to be efficient in order to save our clients money (we even call it "production training").

But there are other dog training issues which are much more like dentistry and you should always turn to a professional for those. Like aggression. If your dog bites someone, you're going to feel awful. You'll likely be held legally responsible for any injuries. And it's completely possible that the authorities will take away your dog and euthanize it. Same thing for dogs who are displaying fear - scared dogs also bite. Or separation anxiety - your dog isn't being destructive to get even for being left alone. Dogs with separation anxiety are attempting to escape because they are suffering and they deserves professional help. If your dog growls when you come near him while eating, or if he snarls at other dogs or strangers while you're out for a walk, you need to check in with a professional. It's truly not worth the risk. And these issues also require a really qualified trainer - let me know if you need help finding someone because there are plenty of trainers who will make these problems worse instead of better.

See? This isn't a simple yes or no question with a simple answer. I'm sticking with my original answer. Should you train your own dog? Absolutely maybe.


Tim SteeleComment