Sit, Shake, Assist! 4 Tips to Choose the Right Puppy Training Program

The old saying goes, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but that isn’t exactly true. Dogs are capable of learning at any age; however, enrolling your puppy in an obedience training program early on will yield better results and help you build a strong relationship based on trust.

It’s better to start by teaching good habits early versus having to worry about breaking bad habits later,” says Dr. Pamela Austin, DVM and owner of Westbury Veterinary Clinic.

Not sure where to start? Here are four tips to help you choose the right puppy training program for your new four-legged friend.

1. Training Method Matters

Look for a program that utilizes positive reinforcement training. You may also hear this referred to as operant conditioning or clicker training. This method is based on behavioral science research that indicates behaviors that are rewarded will continue. Your puppy will learn basic commands (come, sit, stay) by realizing that whatever he is doing at the time he hears the click is correct and will earn a reward. Steer clear of programs that teach using aversion training, which can illicit fear and intimidation and can be detrimental to your relationship with your dog. The bottom line is that puppies will learn best in a safe and comfortable environment.

2. Ask for Certification

Any reputable dog or puppy training program will be certified by a credible organization. This information should be prominently posted on the program’s website or at their facility. If not, make sure you ask. The course at Westbury Veterinary Clinic is an AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy Course designed by the American Kennel Club — an organization dating back to 1884. Upon completion of AKC S.T.A.R. training, your puppy will receive an AKC S.T.A.R. medal and puppy manual. This is also the first step toward Canine Good Citizen certification, and all puppies are listed in the AKC S.T.A.R. registry regardless of whether they are purebred or not.

3. Meet the Instructor

The course instructor is equally important as the curriculum of the program itself. Dog trainers should also be certified by a credible organization to ensure they possess the knowledge, training and skills to properly teach your puppy. Prior to enrolling, ask to watch the instructor work with another dog to make sure they are a good fit. If an instructor refuses, find another.

4. Know the Vaccine Requirements

As with any situation where your dog will be around other pets, make sure that the puppy training course requires up-to-date vaccinations for all participants, not just your own. A quality program will require documented proof from a licensed veterinarian to maintain high-quality health and safety standards.

Westbury Veterinary Clinic offers an AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy course at its facility in Summerville for puppies ages three to eight months. The course includes six one-hour weekly sessions taught by Sue Krom — who is certified by the National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors (NADOI). Krom is also an AKC evaluator and judge for the Companion Dog Sports Program (CDSP).

For more information or to enroll visit or call (843) 873-2761.