When do you need a dog trainer?


I’ll start this by saying I actually think you always need a dog trainer. But what kind do you need? When should you start? How long will it take?

When it comes to training your dog there are lots of different options, so let’s start at the beginning!


  1. Puppy classes. these teach all the basics in a supportive group setting. You learn basic commands like sit, down, stay, look, as well as some little tricks like spin, plus practicing clicker training, and socialization. Plus help with potty training and crate training.

  2. Puppy daycare. This can be a great idea to teach your dog how to get used to being picked up at home by someone other than a family member, riding in a car, having playtime with other dogs and then being brought home again.

Teaching Good Manners

The Canine Good Citizen (CGC) is a certification program developed by the American Kennel Club (AKC) that is designed to reward dogs who have good manners at home and in the community. The CGC Program is open to mixed breed and purebred dogs, and stresses responsible pet ownership for owners and basic good manners for dogs

  • Accepting a friendly stranger

  • Sitting politely for petting

  • Appearance and grooming

  • Out for a walk (walking on a loose lead)

  • Walking through a crowd

  • Sit and down on command and Staying in place

  • Coming when called

  • Reaction to another dog

  • Reaction to distraction

  • Supervised separation

Correcting Bad Behavior

Reactive Rover is a course is specifically designed to teach handlers how to manage and treat dogs that bark, lunge, growl or pull toward other dogs while on-leash.

The great thing is SPCAs are nationwide so can be a great resource. Your rescue or breeder can also be a great resource for trainers and classes, as can dog-walkers and veterinarians.

Classes vs Private Training

Some dogs like ours, couldn’t handle the group classes. He was so reactive to everything and he would bark and bark, We tried hiding him behind a wall of shame in the puppy class, but to no avail.

They were so nice at puppy prep, and they didn’t kick him out of the group class, we did get through the first level, but they didn’t really recommend we take the next class either!

Not only did we have the issue with the group classes but we also then had a massive problem with our Boo Boo’s herding instinct. He would run after bikes and runners at the park and he had no recall. People yelled at me and threatened to call the police. We stopped going to that park.

We needed a private trainer.

There are lots of these around, but it’s important to find a good one, especially one that uses a philosophy of training you believe in.

Some trainers work with you in one-on-one sessions and some trainers have boarding training facilities, where the dog stays with them and gets intensive training while away from home.

Personally, I would only do something like this if I knew the trainer very well and had seen them with my dog and trusted them absolutely.

Dog-walkers can be a great resource for private dog-trainers and many times dog walkers are also trainers.

Veterinary Behaviorist

There is yet another level or behavioral training , which we needed for our dog who had serious reactivity issues in the house as well as anxiety, so we took him to a veterinary behaviorist.

Veterinary behavior is one of many specialties within veterinary medicine. It requires board certification, and practitioners provide the most comprehensive behavior assessment available for your pet.

If your pet is showing signs of fear and anxiety, aggression, hyper-excitability, sudden changes in behavior, self-injury, obsessive compulsive-type behaviors, age-related changes or if you have worked with a trainer and your pet can’t seem to learn or has plateaued in spite of positive reinforcement training, or you find yourself having to punish the behavior rather than building a positive relationship with your pet

Behavior Technicians can also provide help with:

  • Dealing with your pet’s aversion to visiting the vet or groomer

  • Desensitization to harnesses or head halters

  • Leash-handling guidance

  • Advice on how to handle fears of specific objects or surfaces

  • Help with manners, including how to ensure proper greetings or stop annoying  behaviors like stealing toys

  • One-on-one training for nuisance behaviors in pets who may not be suited to participate in SF SPCA training classes offered in a classroom setting

  • Help to deal with issues like impulse control or crate/kennel issues

  • Help with selecting the right type of pet for your lifestyle and home environment

  • Match-making for second pets