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    Back to Pet School: Training for Dogs and Cats

    By Jodi Helmer
    WebMD Magazine - Feature
    Reviewed by William Draper, DVM

    Fall is here, and kids aren't the only ones who need to go back to school. Education is also important for domestic animals. In fact, "behavior problems are the No. 1 reason people relinquish their pets," says Sandra Sawchuk, DVM, clinical instructor at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine in Madison. "A well-trained dog makes life easier for him and his owners."

    You can find a training class for every need, whether you have a puppy that needs to learn the basics, a well-trained dog that loves learning new things, or a dog that requires remedial education to correct bad habits. With classes that range from group programs at pet stores to one-on-one sessions at home, how do you choose which one is right for your pooch? Sawchuk offers some guidance:

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    If your dog needs to: Learn the basics

    Sign up for: Puppy preschool

    These group lessons are designed for puppies under 6 months old. Dog parents, with the guidance of trainers, help their four-legged charges learn basic commands like "sit," "stay," "come," and "leave it." As Sawchuk explains, "These classes are structured opportunities for puppies to learn obedience, get mental stimulation, and provide an outlet for their energy."

    Look for small classes (five dogs or fewer per trainer) where trainers use positive reinforcement such as treats and praise. Make sure all "students" are required to have their first series of vaccinations before coming to class.

    If your dog needs to: Burn off energy

    Sign up for: Agility classes

    Dogs learn to navigate obstacle courses, weave through poles, run through tunnels, and jump over hurdles. All are done off-leash, so Sawchuk recommends agility training only for dogs that already know basic obedience commands. "It's a great activity for dogs with a lot of energy because it requires both mental and physical focus," she says. While border collies and Australian shepherds are known for their agility skills, even energetic small dogs can participate. "You see dogs of every size and shape doing agility," Sawchuk says.

    If your dog needs to: Work on a specific skill

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