Dogs who dig up flowerbeds. Puppies who chomp through your stuff like Pacman. Hounds who howl as though auditioning for the Met. Bad dog behavior is cute when it’s happening on TV; not so much when it’s happening in your house.

For a new puppy or older dog with bad manners there are several steps you can take to teach proper etiquette. But sometimes even your best efforts to correct your pooch’s behavior problems may not be enough. Ingrained habits—both human and canine—are hard to break.

If you find that your new puppy or older dog is not responding to your training, it may be time to hire a professional dog trainer. A dog trainer is familiar with common behavior problems, as well as strategies to address them. A professional can also offer guidance to you on how to communicate more clearly with your dog, and how to maintain your progress once training sessions are over.

When it’s time to hire a professional, it pays to find the right person. Below are some steps you can take when shopping for a trainer.

First, talk to your vet. Consistent behavior problems can be a sign that there is something medically wrong with your pet. A dog that is in chronic pain, for instance, may be irritable and quick to lash out. Once you’ve ruled out medical conditions as the cause of your pooch’s unwanted antics, your veterinarian may be able to provide a list of recommended dog trainers in your area.

Interview candidates. When meeting a trainer for the first time, bring a list of questions to ask. You can evaluate their qualifications by asking how many years of experience they have with training dogs, and what educational credentials they have. Do they keep current by taking continuing education? What methods do they use in training dogs? And can they provide references? The Association of Professional Dog Trainers has compiled this list of interview questions.

Look for positive enforcement training methods. The first article in this series emphasized the importance of positive training methods, such as encouraging good behavior with praise. Using aggression and punishment is liable to backfire, increasing aggression in your dog. Steer clear of any trainer who uses methods such as hitting, yelling, or rolling a dog on her back and staring to assert dominance. Instead, seek out trainers who ignore unwanted behavior while rewarding good behavior with treats and praise.

Take a class. While one-on-one sessions with a trainer gets your dog a lot of individualized attention, enrolling your dog in a behavior class means she will get opportunities to socialize as well. She’ll also get practice in focusing on your cues despite numerous distractions, just as she would in the real world. To evaluate potential classes, look for those that offer different sessions for young puppies and adult dogs, as well as those that feature only positive enforcement training methods. Classes should also require proof of vaccination from all dogs, to prevent the spread of disease. And a smaller class size will offer more individualized attention while also providing the benefits of the classroom environment.

Keep up the good work. Between training sessions, it’s important to keep the lessons fresh in your dog’s mind by continuing to practice at home. Be sure all family members participate. If your dog receives consistent feedback on how she’s expected to behave, she’s less likely to backslide into naughty habits. Remember, dog training is also about training the humans in your household to be conscious of what signals they’re sending to the dog!

Although training your dog can be frustrating at times, it’s essential to having a happy, well-behaved pet. A good trainer can provide encouragement while helping you through the inevitable difficulties. For both you and your dog, the rewards of training are great: you gain a well-behaved canine family member, and she gains security and confidence in knowing what is expected of her. And by working so closely towards a goal, you develop a stronger bond with each other, one of the greatest gifts a dog can give. –Meredith Southard

An animal lover since she could shriek the word “doggie,” Meredith Southard has written for national and statewide publications on topics such as wildlife rehabilitation and rescue, conservation dogs, and the animals of Ohio’s wetlands. On warm spring nights she can be found traipsing around vernal pools with a flashlight, looking for salamanders and frogs.

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