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Canine Trauma

When You Send Your Dog Away for Training

By Julia Priest

Try Angie's List!

There are a number of reasons to send your dog out for training -- but only one desired result: that you get your dog back in one piece, and hopefully with a title attached. The days when Schutzhund was an individual pursuit for sport and art are, sadly, gone. In Germany, there are dozens of clubs in easy reach of most towns, and friends who will title a dog for you for the joy and hobby of it. We do not have these benefits in this country, and if you want to show, or breed, you need a title. If you have physical or logistical limitations, or just plain don't have the time, you may want to send your dog away to a professional. If you do your homework, you will have her back with better manners, more maturity, some real skills and a title to show.

Looking for a good trainer is almost like looking for daycare for your kids -- you want to know the provider you trust with your pet ( or brood bitch or show dog) is reputable, skilled, and will not do anything perverted or cruel to harm her. The best way to go about it is to ask around’ask friends who have titled dogs which trainers they admire, ask at clubs, and through the national organizations for a referral list. Sometimes trainers advertise in the breed magazines, but often they do not, and gain clienteleby reputation and word of mouth. Like any entrepreneur, they want your business, and will likely say what you want to hear. To find out if they will back up their claims, ask for references, and do check them out. Dig a little, and ask a lot of questions. Good trainers expect this and will nothave a problem answering truthfully when you ask. Some basic questions you might want the trainer to answer are:

  • How many dogs have you titled ?
  • How long ago did you last trial a dog?
  • Have you trained dogs up from puppies?
  • Have you worked with my breed before?
  • How many dogs do you take in at a time, and will you be the sole trainer, or do you have assistants to do some of the basic work?

And most importantly:

  • Can you give me the names of your last few clients, and of three other references who know how you train?

This can be members their club, judges under whom they have trialed, another trainer in the region, and so forth.

Lastly, ask to see ( live or via video) some examples of the trainer working with his or her own dogs. Do the dogs look stressed? Pressured? Miserable? Or do they appear to have a healthy bond and a happy attitude towards work. Watch the dog's body language when the trainer moves towards him’does the dog flinch, cower, pin his ears back? A well trained dog should not only perform the exercises, but should exhibit relaxed control when free as well.

These questions should not be a problem for a legitimate good trainer. Anyone who becomes defensive or evasive should be dropped from your list. Be especially wary of anyone who guarantees they can absolutely title your dog ( sight unseen) in X number of weeks or months. Good trainers know that each dog is different, and if they are under this kind of constraint, then you can bet that pressure and less than sound practices will have to be employed and the dog will likely suffer for the result. By the month or by the title? Both methods are used, and it’s a matter of choice on the trainer's part. It is reasonable to ask for a cap or limit on the amount you will have to pay before the job is done if the monthly method is chosen.

How much will it cost? This can vary considerably form one region to the next, but figure in what board alone would cost at a decent kennel, and realize that the dog must be taught in three disciplines, usually with the assistance of an outside helper for the protection work ’ and anywhere from $500-600 a month on up will not seem excessive.

Some trainers will want to take the dog for a preliminary evaluation period from a few weeks up to a month. Anyone who cannot figure out if they will be able to work with a dog in this amount of time should find another line of work. Expect to pay for the evaluation, as your dog will have to be housedand fed, and will be taking up space in the trainer's kennel. Ordinarily, the evaluation fee will be included in the overall cost if the trainer agrees to take the dog. You will be the one to pay for or provide transportation to the trainer's kennel. If they have to travel to an airport to pick up the dog, then you may be charged mileage as well.

Sometimes a videotape can be enough for the trainer to see, but buy all means be honest about any weaknesses or deficiencies, and try to show a comprehensive view. If the dog is gun sensitive, dog aggressive, or stick shy, then tell the trainer. They may be able to help train this out of the dog, but they certainly need to know about it. Remember, you are not trying to sell this person your dog, you are asking to hire their services, so it makes no sense to hide the faults. You may as well go to the doctor because you are sick, but dunk yourself in an ice bath first so he won't know you have a fever!

You have a right to expect a written contract that details what will be accomplished, and what it will cost. i.e.; "Bh , AD , SchH1, $2,800 plus expenses." The contract should also outline the limits on expenses, such as mileage to and from trials, lodging, meals, entries, etc., and should be clear as to the responsibilities of each party. You will likely be asked to sign a waiver and to give the trainer or their agent permission to get Veterinary treatment for your dog in case of emergency, and agree to be responsible for this, up to a predetermined amount. At this time you'll also want to make clear who is responsible for the cost of food, and if you request any additional supplements or special diets, how those will be charged. Some contracts are general and all-inclusive, and some ask for separate accounting every time the dog gets its nails clipped or eats apackage of hot dogs on the track.

You do NOT have a right to dictate what methods the trainer uses in teaching your dog. This person is a professional, and likely uses many different techniques for the many different challenges in training. It is understood that you believe this person to be competent, and think they know what they are doing. If you don't -- then don't send your dog. No professional likes to be second guessed. On the other hand, if you are dead set against the forced retrieve, for example, and absolutely don't want it used on your dog, then discuss this up front. If this trainer insists its the only way, then either trust them to do it humanely because they have good references, or look for a trainer who doesn't use it. ( Good luck).

Do expect regular progress reports -- a phone call or e-mail once a month or so is reasonable to ask, especially if you pay for the call. You should get an appraisal as to when the trainer thinks the dog will be ready for the first level of competition, and an immediate report of the results when he does trial. Its important to note here, too, that no one canguarantee a result. The best trainers in the world have all had bad trial days, even with some of the top dogs in the world -- their own dogs that they train intensely for years. So don't expect they can take your dog for a few months and guarantee top scores or even a pass. It's reasonable to say they should not enter your dog in an event until the dog has demonstrated on the training field that it can at least perform the required exercises.

As far as whether the dog receives a pronounced rating, again, that is the prerogative of the judge. The trainer should tell you if they feel the dog may have a problem in a certain area, and you can take your chances given that circumstance.

You should be able to reach the trainer with ease in case you have questions or information for them. Don't expect to get a blow by blow as to when the dog sniffed its first baby track, and when it first did a sendout on the field. Good trainers should be busy training and working your dog, and don't have time to be chatting you up every few days. Also, don't expect to visit during the training period. Even if you could, it would likely upset the dog and set her back in her training to see you again and then have to go through separation when you left.

What the trainer should be able to expect from you:

That you pay your bill promptly and don't bounce checks, and that you tell the truth about your dog and are reasonable in your expectations. You should provide a scorebook, proof of current vaccinations, a heath certificate, and a crate. Don't send toys or fancy collars, as most trainers don't want to be responsible for losing them. It’s a good idea tosend along a copy of the pedigree, in case someone asks about your dog -- especially if she is nice!

The best trainers are in demand and usually have waiting lists. If you have a young dog you may want to send out later, start asking around now, and perhaps you can send a deposit to reserve a space. If you know you will be sending the dog later, but it is too young yet, here are some hints to make things go more smoothly:

  • Socialization -- lots. Take the puppy lots of places, and help her become confident in many environments.
  • Solitude -- help the puppy to learn to be OK in a crate or kennel while you are away’if the first time they are separated from you is at the trainer's it will take that much more time to get them to settle down and bond so the trainer can begin work.
  • Simple manners -- inducive recall, with food, so the dog responds to her name, and holding still while being handled are big pluses. If you can teach her to lie still while the nails are trimmed, the trainer will probably kiss you.

Don't feel you have to start tracking or the retrieve -- the trainer will likely want to do it their own way; but the more exposure the dog has to the idea of listening and relating, the more smoothly the task will go.

Two to three thousand dollars may sound like a lot of money, but considering that your dog is more than a pet, this is a nominal price to pay for improving on your "investment." The addition of a Schutzhund titlemakes her much more valuable, and should you choose to breed her, the honor of a breed survey sets her apart in quality, making her puppies more valuable too. You will not do yourself or your dog any favors, however, if you "bargain shop." In this, as in most areas of commerce, you get what you pay for. But in this case, it is a living breathing creature that will suffer if your cheap pick is also a careless, inhumane trainer. Just as you took the time to find a good puppy, spend at least as much effort in finding someone to whom you entrust your dog. Research, prepare, and when you find a good trainer, you have found a valuable asset for you and your dog.

© 1998 Julia Priest, von Sontausen German Shepherd Dogs. Email to This article first published in May 1998 Pacific Northwest Regional Newsletter.

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