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Last night I joined an informal dog-walking-and-obedience-practice group in a town park. One of the women is an accomplished Rally/Obedience/Treiball trainer. Toward the end of the evening, she asked me where we (my mostly-obedient dog Kenda and I) did our obedience school. I answered, "PetSmart."

She looked like I'd just shot her dog and proceeded to make bitter-beer faces and badmouth their trainers and their program. She was seriously unpleasant and it took me completely by surprise. The techniques PetSmart taught us are completely positive and reward-based. I have since learned other techniques that supplement what we learned there, but everything we did there has been useful.

Is she a one-off crank, or does PetSmart have a rep in the dog training world for being terrible?
 

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I think the training at PetSmart or PetCo will be exactly as good or bad as the individual trainer.
 

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It's a big chain. So it is going to vary from store to store, and from trainer to trainer(like RonE said).

I will not go there for classes because there are better classes available closer to my house.

I did get to watch one idjit squirting the overexcited dogs willy nilly while he was talking. The dog owners were getting increasingly frustrated with a rambunctious dog and water all over their shoes and pants. Bravo trainer, bravo.
 

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Of course the quality of training will vary by location and trainer. FWIW, I think we got good (not excellent, but good) training using sound principles. I am wondering if PetSmart has a widespread bad reputation. If not, I have to assume this well-respected trainer in my area is a bit of a crank with poor impulse control. I'm trying to give her the benefit of the doubt, but that's getting harder the more I think about it.
 

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... One of the women is an accomplished Rally/Obedience/Treiball trainer...
That's the money quote. Trainers who train for Rally/Obedience/....etc are not favorably inclined toward "pet trainers" because, generally speaking, the latter haven't competed with ot titled dogs in companion or performance events. And they do feel that such a qualification is meaningful in a training environment.

I absolutely agree that ALL training is only as good or as bad as the individual trainer. IMHO, knowing that a trainer has competed and titled dogs IS an important factor in evaluating how 'good' a trainer is. Not the only factor, but an important one. Other people may feel differently.
 

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Some Petsmarts have very good trainers. Some don't. The same thing could be said of dog clubs and private sector trainers. I've had a couple of trainers offer classes at my facility who used to teach for Petsmart. Both of them are very competent. One of them is mentoring me to become a freestyle judge. Honestly, I think it is unprofessional to badmouth your competition. About the most I will say if asked about another trainer in my area is that I would, or would not recommend them. Or that their style is considerably different from my own.
 

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That's the money quote. Trainers who train for Rally/Obedience/....etc are not favorably inclined toward "pet trainers" because, generally speaking, the latter haven't competed with ot titled dogs in companion or performance events. And they do feel that such a qualification is meaningful in a training environment.

I absolutely agree that ALL training is only as good or as bad as the individual trainer. IMHO, knowing that a trainer has competed and titled dogs IS an important factor in evaluating how 'good' a trainer is. Not the only factor, but an important one. Other people may feel differently.
Really? I teach Rally/Obedience/etc but the majority of classes I teach are pet skills. I think it is great if an instructor has titled dogs, but I've also known some really good instructors who haven't (and some pathetically bad instructors who have). The ability to train a dog to a title tells you that person can get those skills on that dog. And some of the skills you need for that title may not be necessary for a well behaved pet. For instance, I put a lot more emphasis on loose leash walking than "heeling" for pet students. Heeling is a short term cued behavior. A dog who knows how to keep his leash loose without being told is a bigger prize. I'd rather see my pet students be able to call their dog away from a distraction or on the run than have them set the dog up on a sit, go out, call the dog and get a perfect front.
I DO think that if you are preparing students to compete in a competitive sport, it's important that you have titles in that sport. I have no titles in Treibball - just teaching that for a fun thing, but I do have titles in herding live critters. I teach an intro to Agility class that was put together for me by someone with multiple MACHs, but if someone wants to compete, I sent them to her, since I only nave novice titles and my skills to teach handling are not that good. Obedience and rally? No problem, as I've titled at the advanced levels in those sports.
I think instead that it is a matter of many trainers being very competitive about their market. I know even the local obedience club has told people who teach on their own that they can't come to class there. And I've had a few people come to my classes who were afraid to tell me that they were also dog trainers, because they were afraid I wouldn't allow them in my classes for fear they would "steal" my info. Quite honestly, if they're going to train dogs, it's my wish that they train with good skill and philosophy. And if they want what I have, welcome to it! One of those people is now teaching class at my school. And another, who used to work for the most adamantly collar-pop/no treats school in town, well, we were both almost in tears this week, watching her dog actually think through a problem that had previously been out of her reach. It's been a long trip for that dog who was afraid to try anything on her own.
 

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Really? I teach Rally/Obedience/etc but the majority of classes I teach are pet skills. ....The ability to train a dog to a title tells you that person can get those skills on that dog. And some of the skills you need for that title may not be necessary for a well behaved pet. For instance, I put a lot more emphasis on loose leash walking than "heeling" for pet students. Heeling is a short term cued behavior. A dog who knows how to keep his leash loose without being told is a bigger prize..
Yes .. really.

I also teach for competition, for therapy dog, and for basic pet behavior. I do know the difference between, for example, heeling, pet walking, and loose-leash control in therapy situations. In fact, I actually make a point of those differences when teaching them.

i don't knock other trainers - even the ones on TV, or the ones that I consider are doing things wrong from the viewpoint of learning theory. But the fact that I don't criticize them explicitly doesn't mean that I agree with what they are doing.

I am also sorry to say that I do not agree with a lot of what goes on in some those big-box training classes. And I suspect the reason is that the background of the trainers is lacking something. Maybe it isn't their relative lack of any sort of competition experience, but that does seem to be a common thread.
 

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We took petsmart classes when Cider was a puppy. We had an awful and a good experience. They packed the puppy class with 14 dogs in their tiny area the second week. Our original trainer was fired. The replacement was horrific. I was bitten twice by a rottie puppy with enough force that I was bruised through a sweatshirt as the dogs were packed in like sardines. Wanted out of the class, fought with management they wouldn't refund us. Made it clear what we thought of the classes which weren't purely positive as they pushed prongs on half the class and they did refund the remaining classes...

A few months later we got a call from the area training rep. She offered a set of free classes taught by her. Class was 4 dogs. She was fantastic. Had taught SDs, had dogs in commercials. Was a great set of classes. We learned a lot it helped us towards 'better' trainers.

While the regional rep was amazing, the first two trainers we encountered first were terrible. I've moved and the trainers locally now at petsmart are also horrible. There are some great individuals out there who happen to work at petsmart. Most seem to move on to places better if training is something they enjoy.
 

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I've seen good, and bad in any training venue, but not so much good in the petsmart type classes. Most of the dogs I see coming in or out of those classes are not under control and the owners have no idea how to control them at all, nor do they seem to get that advice. Or if there's a major issue where the owner doesn't know any better and the dog is going to get into trouble, the instructors don't seem to bring it up.

I know a GSD that took those classes, he was shy from day one, and to this day at nine months she still will sit and baby talk him when he's acting scared of things. She now avoids going near people or other dogs though, instead of from day one going into those situations and getting him used to them, he's learned to be just as shy as he was. There's also the time I was in petsmart and the instructor was right there (I was with a rescue dog), the dog I had had aggression issues with some dogs - mainly those that came rushing into her face. This little pitty did just that, dragged her owner to 'meet' the dog I had on leash and I quickly got her collar and muzzle so she wouldn't pounce. The instructor just said 'oh she doesn't like other dogs' but never reamed out the owner (who didn't have a clue) for not being more careful. She was a sweet little dog but not all dogs would love her dragging and acting frenzied in an attempt to kiss them, and to me the instructor didn't seem to clue in and talk to the guy or didn't care. If it was my student, I would have said 'keep your dog's nose to herself, remember???' since that's one of the first lectures they get from me.
 

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I think most trainers at PetsMart are recent graduates of PetsMart 'retail' training, where the goal is to follow the rules, pass out coupons, and pass the dog on to the next class after 6 weeks. I don't think that all PetsMart trainers are like that, but enough are that I make that generalization.
 

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I am currently in week 4 of class at PetsMart. I feel I get the same reaction from people when I tell them where we are taking our first class at. I would say our trainer is good. She only uses positive reinforcement and seems to be fairly knowledgeable. I don't think I've really learned anything I haven't already read on here, but just hearing it and seeing it in person helps. I searched everywhere in our area for group classes and these were the only ones close by I could find. I don't regret taking the class, but I do plan on taking our next level somewhere else. The only thing I don't really agree with is she put a gentle leader on a puppy that was having trouble loose leash walking. But this was the first time she had been introduced to it and she's in a loud busy pet store. Can't expect her to be perfect right away.
 

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I have never taken classes at a chain supplier, but I have been witness to a negative reaction to the training program. For me, I wouldn't want to take a class at Petco or PetSmart because I don't think the hiring criteria for trainers is high enough and this leads to lots of variances in quality of classes. I prefer to point people towards the APDT website where they can find a certified trainer that has been tested on dog training principles and has the experience to back it up.
 

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I don't know how a national retail chain can really hope to have any kind of consistency in the quality of their trainers across all their stores. I've known some people who have had very, very positive experiences training at PetCo or PetSmart as well as people who have had very, very negative experiences - and everything in between. Which, you know, they're not exactly a training club or whatever - they're stores first, so it's going to be somewhat hit-or-miss.

Having said that, if someone told me that So-and-So at Location X PetSmart was a really good trainer, I wouldn't diss them just because they happened to work at PetSmart. It's just not necessarily the first place I would look - although I'm spoiled in that where I live there are tons of trainers and training clubs.
 

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Well, everyone is all about positive enforcement, clicker training & the like. Im all for that stuff for pups, but im sorry but it doesn't work for some dogs. I use balanced methods, have for yrs & I find it funny that I have never had any dogs with: DA, barrier frustration, leash reactivity, pulling, aggression etc... I have seen good & bad trainers at PETsMART I just hink that they are more worried about offending ppl then what is the best method for an individual dog.
 

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Well, everyone is all about positive enforcement, clicker training & the like. Im all for that stuff for pups, but im sorry but it doesn't work for some dogs. I use balanced methods, have for yrs & I find it funny that I have never had any dogs with: DA, barrier frustration, leash reactivity, pulling, aggression etc... I have seen good & bad trainers at PETsMART I just hink that they are more worried about offending ppl then what is the best method for an individual dog.
That's ridiculous. . .it will work for all dogs if the trainer is good enough and wants to do it. It's a matter of what the trainer wants to do. Even if you don't like a method, it doesn't mean it doesn't work. I don't think you quite understand the principles behind learning (which apply to all creatures capable of learning).

Anyway, I don't think I would want to go to training classes at the local Petsmart. Just the location of the training ring and the constant distraction of the store would put me off, even if the trainer was great. But I don't know if that's the standard set-up or if other stores are different.
 

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I am currently doing a dog trainer course, and from learning more about socialisation, I have come to believe that most puppy classes are a waste of time. Socialisation is not about running around with other puppies and meeting some new people in class. That could be part of it, but if you never do that and socialise your puppy in other ways, the puppy won't have missed out.

The most important part of socialisation is to expose the puppy to as many new environments and situations as possible. That means taking the puppy with you wherever you go, when possible. It means exposing it to trains, traffic, heavy machinery, kids etc etc. It should also hang around many many other dogs and people *without* playing or interacting with them. Interacting and playing is part of socialisation, but learning that you don't always get to play is probably just as important.

When I go through the puppy thing again, I probably won't bother with puppy classes. They were fun with Obi, but from what I have learnt about socialisation, they didn't really do that much good for him. And he went to 3 different puppy classes over 2 months, and still developed fear aggression. He's fine in class, because he went to so many, but he's fear aggressive/reactive on walks, because we didn't go out in public and expose him to real life much until he was about 5-6 months old.
 

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Well I think it depends on the puppy class. If all you do is go and let the puppies play for an hour a week... yea, not sure that is worth much. The puppy class I did with Squash had a lot of information, exercises, and homework every week that we were responsible for doing between classes - which included socialization and basic manners stuff. Not that anyone could really enforce it, but the instructor really stressed that the work we did outside of class was super important although he was a resource and we did good exercises in class, too. I don't think it was a waste of time at all. Like everything else, it just depends on the class and the instructor.
 

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Well I think it depends on the puppy class. If all you do is go and let the puppies play for an hour a week... yea, not sure that is worth much. The puppy class I did with Squash had a lot of information, exercises, and homework every week that we were responsible for doing between classes - which included socialization and basic manners stuff. Not that anyone could really enforce it, but the instructor really stressed that the work we did outside of class was super important although he was a resource and we did good exercises in class, too. I don't think it was a waste of time at all. Like everything else, it just depends on the class and the instructor.
True, and I do know a puppy class that is really good that I would do, which is held by the main instructor for my dog trainer course, so he knows what he's doing. It's too far away for us to be able to get there weekly unfortunately, but at least I know what to look for in a puppy class now.
 

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Maybe it isn't their relative lack of any sort of competition experience, but that does seem to be a common thread.
I've known some competition people who were pretty scary. And some non-competition people who were pretty good at teaching pet skills.
 
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