Some pets are naturally well-behaved, and they seemingly understand humans’ ways, effortlessly finding their place in our daily rhythms and routines. However, most pets need a little help understanding what’s expected and how to coexist peacefully with humans, other pets, and the world. No matter what you suspect your pet’s outlook is on humans’ behaviors, read our Veterinary Behavior Solutions guide to appropriate training. Learn how you can greatly enhance your pet’s quality of life, and build a positive owner-pet relationship based on trust, mutual respect, and fun.

Training benefits for pets 

Through training, your pet learns how to become a well-behaved companion. However, in addition to learning where and when to eliminate and how to encounter another pet without launching into fight-or-flight mode, training provides your pet with numerous other benefits, including:

  • Safety — Trained pets are less likely to exhibit dangerous behavior (e.g., bolting out an open door, not coming when called, or lunging at passersby), which can help minimize their injury risk and lengthen their life span. Poorly behaved pets are often surrendered to shelters.
  • Confidence — Training builds your pet’s confidence by helping them learn the behaviors that earn rewards (e.g., praise, treats, toys). Clear and consistent criteria are critical to help instill your pet with self-assurance and optimism.
  • Resilience — Trained pets are more capable of handling changes in their routine, which can be helpful during unexpected life events (e.g., emergencies, boarding, travel). 
  • Autonomy — When trained with positive reinforcement methods, pets experience freedom of choice. Effective training can help improve independence and reduce reactivity. 

Training is for all pet species

Pet owners often associate training with dogs, but every species—including fish—is capable of learning and can enjoy life-enhancing training benefits. Zoos and wildlife conservatories understand and appreciate the benefits and necessity of countless species’ reinforcement-based training, using a variety of training methods to move animals safely from one area to another, provide basic veterinary care, increase mental enrichment, and provide visitors with safe educational experiences. In other words, if tigers and lions can learn how to behave cooperatively when giving blood or having their teeth examined, you can train your eight-pound cat to sit!

Training methodologies

Anyone can claim they are a trainer in the unregulated pet-training industry. Therefore, a person with no experience can bill themself as a dog or pet trainer, teach classes, coach workshops, and write articles proclaiming their training philosophies. Unfortunately, because the pet-training industry has no professional oversight, your well-intentioned decision to help ensure that your furry pal learns how to behave appropriately can end up taking you down a frustrating and unpleasant path. To help ensure you choose a trainer who will guide your furry pal effectively, consider these common training methods, some of which are ineffective and cruel:

  • Traditional (i.e., compulsion-based) training — This approach uses physical pressure and discomfort, which the trainer often applies using various tools such as a choke, prong, or electronic collar. The philosophy is to coerce a pet into performing a desired behavior. According to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB), dogs trained with aversive (i.e., punishing) methods and pain-causing tools displayed increased stress and anxiety as well as long-term consequences such as aggression, fear, and anxiety disorders. Veterinary Behavior Solutions does not recommend this training technique.
  • Balanced training — Balanced trainers describe their method as a combination of traditional and positive techniques, strategically employing pressure, discomfort, or another aversive stimulus to increase a learner’s (i.e., pet’s) clarity, while also using food or toys to reward the pet and increase their energy and drive. As with traditional training, balanced training can create short- and long-term stress, anxiety, and behavior problems. Veterinary Behavior Solutions does not recommend this training technique.
  • Positive reinforcement training — Positive reinforcement-based training draws from a science-based understanding of animal behavior and learning. In positive reinforcement training, the coach marks a pet’s desirable behavior with a mechanical clicker or another novel stimulus and then reinforces the desirable behavior with something the pet finds rewarding, usually toys or treats. A positive reinforcement trainer ignores and minimizes a pet’s undesirable behavior by creating a controlled learning environment. Positive reinforcement training is the only training method we Veterinary Behavior Solutions endorses and is also the preferred training method zoos and animal sanctuaries worldwide use.

Alternatives to traditional classes

You may equate pet training with dog obedience school-settings at which owners and their four-legged charges are put through their paces in group or private classes. However, modern dog training has evolved to include self-paced programming, coaching apps, online courses, and virtual one-on-one lessons with certified professionals. These convenient alternatives make training accessible to busy pet owners, indoor-only pets (e.g., cats), and pets who are shy, fearful, or reactive to unfamiliar people, pets, and environments.

Tips for finding the right trainer

Whether your pet’s training is done at in-person lessons or through an online program, you’ll want to select a knowledgeable and experienced positive reinforcement-based trainer, ideally, one who has undergone training and assessment through a certifying body such as IAABC, KPA, The Academy for Dog Trainers, and/or CPDT.  Finally, review a potential trainer’s free resource materials and course demos. In addition, ask to attend a class in which you observe without your dog. Doing so will help you get a feel for a potential trainer’s personal style, and how they share information and interact with the pets. Online databases can help you find a local qualified pet trainer. You can also contact our team for personalized recommendations. 

Training should play an instrumental and ongoing role in every pet’s life. However, some pets need additional help. If your pet’s behavior is disruptive to your lifestyle or harmful to themselves or others, consult a board certified veterinary behaviorist. Schedule your pet’s preventive care examination with our Veterinary Behavior Solutions team, so we can rule out health issues that may be leading to concerns with your pet’s behavior and recommend a local qualified pet trainer.