Dear Old Trainer: Sam, a 9-month-old mixed breed I adopted, is smart as a whip. I use your column to teach the basics and he learns instantly. I took him to obedience school because I thought we would both learn something useful, but when anyone asked the guy running the class how to solve a problem, he always had the same answer, "put the dog in a crate." I found it insulting. Are all obedience classes that bad?
-- Kathleen, Sacramento
A: Few are as bad as the one you describe. There is not a competent trainer in the country who believes you train a dog by using a crate.
Finding a reputable obedience class is tricky. There are certain people who feel a compulsion to proclaim themselves experts at something -- anything -- and obedience classes are a refuge for these folks.
They are like Tim Robbins in the movie "IQ." He plays an auto mechanic who poses as a brilliant physicist in the hope of dating Meg Ryan. The movie is hilarious, but there is nothing funny about allowing incompetents to teach obedience classes. They do great harm, and the dogs pay the price.
Far too many dogs end up in shelters because owners take them to classes taught by one of these self-proclaimed experts. When the dog learns nothing, the "trainer" tells the owner it is the fault of the dog, and the dog winds up in a shelter.
He could admit the truth, but he won't because he wants the money. Remember my General Rule No. 1 -- Anyone who has to resort to hustling money off dogs is not smart enough to trust with your money or your dog.
I advise people to avoid these classes altogether unless you know for a fact the trainer knows what he is doing.
If you can't be sure, here are 10 signs the person running the class is incompetent:
1. He advises using a crate as part of training.
2. He fails to explain, in the first lesson, how canine psychology is different from human psychology and why that difference is so important in training.
3. He advises using a short leash for training.
4. He does not allow the dogs to socialize and play prior to starting the class.
5. He does not let the dogs sniff each other prior to training.
6. He tells you to take your dog to the side of the path and order him to sit anytime you approach another dog.
7. He cannot explain, in a few short sentences, how to stop your dog from barking.
8. He advises you to put a muzzle on your puppy.
9. He tells you your dog should stay behind you on your walks.
10. He tries to sell you additional training or equipment, or to talk you into showing your dog in a dog show.
If any one of the above occurs, demand your money back and get your dog out of there.
Jack Haskins writes as The Old Trainer. A trainer for more than 30 years, he has rescued, trained, and placed more than 2,000 dogs. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.