Here are answers to some of our most common questions...

but remember, every dog and every owner is different so feel free to contact us with questions of your own!

What is Positive Reinforcement?

Positive reinforcement involves rewarding your dog with something he or she likes for doing what you ask of them. Your dog learns that good things happen when they do what is asked of them. This has been proven much more effective than previously used punishment techniques because it gives your dog a choice- your dog is motivated to try new things because they know a reward is waiting for them if they do it right and they will not get in trouble for being confused!

Treats? I don't want my dog becoming overweight or spoiled with all these treats!

It is ok, they will not. First of all, the size of treat you should give is about the size of a pea for most dogs-slightly smaller for tiny dogs and a little bigger for large breeds. Second, you don't have to give your dog treats every time they sit for the rest of their life- you will learn to fade the use of them (and yes, your dog will still listen to you even without a treat in your pocket when you fade them out). Lastly, a reward doesn't have to be edible! I have known many dogs who would rather grab a tennis ball or another favorite toy instead of a piece of chicken- you will learn to understand what is rewarding for your own dog!

Why don't you use punishment techniques? I used to have a dog who did just fine with them.

Some dogs do ok with punishment techniques, but for many it can lead to aggression and other behavioral problems. Your dog can begin to fear you or worse- associate that sharp tug on the leash with the kids walking by and develop a dislike for children. I prefer to use methods that will not cause dogs to have fear, rather to build their confidence in themselves and trust in their human families- a dog who is open minded and willing to try new things is as much fun as a person who is open minded and willing to try new things!

What is a clicker?

A clicker is a small device that makes a distinct clicking sound when the tab or button is pressed down. It is used as a reward marker: it marks the moment in time when your dog does what you asked of them. This is done by first associating the clicker with good things (treats) and then rewarding them with a click and treat when they perform appropriately. The most important thing about using a clicker is timing it correctly- too slow or too fast and your dog associates the click and treat with the wrong thing. During class or a private lesson, a professional trainer can fully explain and demonstrate this technique. The benefits of a clicker are that it can be used at a distance to mark a behavior and that it sounds like nothing else in your dog's life, so they won't get confused when you call your daughter a "good girl"... If you have any concerns or questions about clicker training or simply feel it's not for you, you won't be judged at Smart Pups!

My dog behaves just fine, do I really need training classes? It seems like a waste of money.

Training classes are great for all dogs! It gives them new environment to smell and explore, and can give them good, positive social interactions with people and other dogs. It can also give him or her fun new things to learn since just like people, dogs need mental and physical exercise on a daily basis to stay happy and healthy! Training classes are also a great place for people to socialize and build their relationship with their dog!

Is Puppy Kindergarten safe? I thought it was best to avoid all interactions with other dogs until my puppy has completed their puppy vaccine series.

The way classes are structured at Smart Pups ensures maximum safety for you and your puppy. All puppies in PK are the same age vaccine-wise; by this I mean that when starting class, a puppy must have had at least 1 DHPP vaccine. By the time they graduate, most will be finishing their puppy series. This ensures that everyone is at equal risk of infection (which is quite low). I also require all dogs in my training facility, regardless of age, be up to date on vaccines and have had a negative fecal within the past 6 months. This is especially important for PK, as they will play off leash and at their young age and potty accidents are unavoidable! Intestinal parasites are transmitted through direct contact with fecal matter or in some cases, with an infected dog. For puppies, the first few months of life are crucial to social development and a delay in socialization can have a detrimental impact on their social behaviors as adults. In reality, the risk of an adult dog being euthanized due to preventable behavioral problems is much higher than that of illness in a well managed puppy class. For more information,  check out the link to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior's position statement on Puppy Classes on the Resources page.

What do CPDT and APDT stand for, and why should I choose a trainer with these designations?

The dog training field has no set standards for education, meaning anyone with access to a leash can be a dog trainer. On one hand this is good, as it allows people who truly love dogs to work with them on a daily basis and have the satisfaction of knowing they are making homes the best possible place for the dogs they train. On the other hand, it opens up the industry to individuals who may have limited or outdated knowledge about canine behavior and learning theory. Without a thorough understanding of learning theory, canine behavior, and the many differences between dogs and their wolf ancestors, it is easy to misunderstand signals that dogs give and to cause permanent psychological and physical trauma (especially using coercive or force-based training techniques). A trainer who has CPDT-KA designation means they have passed a test which assesses their knowledge of six core areas: Instruction Skills, Animal Husbandry, Ethology, Learning Science Techniques and Applications, Training and Management Equipment, and Professional Practices and Ethics. To even sit for the exam, the trainer must have at least 300 hours of documented time working as lead trainer in a classroom and private lessons; in addition they must attend seminars and conferences to gain Continuing Education Units in the field to stay up to date. For more about the test, click here. A trainer who is a member of the APDT is someone who is committed to using exclusively positive reinforcement and reward based techniques in training. Although there are good trainers without any of these letters following their name, choosing someone who does means that they have the knowledge and skills necessary to help with training and behavior issues and a network of other trainers across the globe to assist them! For more about these organizations, check out their websites: CCPDT, APDT

Amanda Abresch, B.S., ABCDT, APDT, CPDT-KA is the lead trainer and owner of Smart Pups, LLC.