Life lessons for dogs and pet parents

Leash pulling, potty training issues, pet anxiety – these are just a few everyday challenges that trouble many pet parents. In fact, according to the American Humane Association, behavioral problems are in the list of top reasons dogs are put in shelters.

Dogs are always learning, whether you are intentionally teaching them or not. Teaching pets rules and using proper training techniques will prevent them from making up their own house rules and creating frustrating situations.

In order to help pets learn appropriate behavior, pet parents need to take an active role in canine education. Some of that learning can be accomplished at home, but many pet parents have found working with a professional dog trainer is much more effective for both them and their dogs.

“The goal of a good training program is to teach pet parents how to communicate effectively with their dogs,” said Debbie McKnight, training expert with PetSmart. “Positive, consistent communication helps create better relationships between dogs and their pet parents.”

McKnight says that professional training is not an alternative to training your dog at home, but rather it complements it. “Pet training works a lot like education for children,” she said. “A teacher provides her students with basic knowledge and then the student does homework to further learn the materials.”

While a number of different training methods are available, McKnight says that PetSmart’s six-week training classes are based on the effective principles of operant conditioning, which concentrate on positive reinforcement. In the simplest terms, positive reinforcement means rewarding the dog for doing the behaviors you want in order to get him to do those behaviors more often. “Not only is it the most effective way to train, but positive reinforcement is also the most humane and fun for both you and your pet.”

When you begin a training program, the Association of Pet Dog Trainers recommends that you:

Have your dog wear the type of collar and leash specified by the trainer.

Use high-quality training treats.

Wear comfortable, flat, close-toed shoes and comfortable clothes allowing you to move easily.

Make sure your pet relieves itself before class so they won’t need to go during the training session.

Forgo feeding or only feed a very light meal before training so the dog will desire the treats.

“Proper pet training is key to your dog becoming a socially well-adjusted family member,” said McKnight. “Whether you have a new puppy or an adult dog, you and your pet can both learn some new tricks that will ensure a happy, healthy relationship.”

To learn more about training programs, and to find a program near you, visit

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