I’ve spent a lot of time here emphasizing the importance of teaching your dog the proper skills in order to be a good pet. Regular readers know that I think that going to class is best for most pups. There is nothing like an educated coach to help you guide your puppy. When you can, get to class!

However, a comment on a recent blog that I wrote reminded me that every aspect of our lives — even puppy training — can be affected by the economic downturn that our country is facing. So, what do you do about training your pup when times are tough?

Find the Right Person

Finding a good coach will help you get off to a good start. You can find information about finding a good trainer here: How to Find the Right Trainer for Your Pup.

Working with a talented, skilled, positive reinforcement trainer gives you the tools that you need to teach your pup correctly from the beginning. Take at least one full puppy class.

If it is within your budget, take a refresher private lesson or class with your trainer about once every 6 to 12 months until your pup is 3 years old so that she can see how you’re doing. Some trainers offer "drop in" classes, where you can come to one class if it fits your schedule and pay for that single class instead of a set of classes. This is usually offered if the pup has already fulfilled the prerequisites for that class.

Get Accurate Information

After class, ask the trainer which books or DVDs she recommends to further your pup’s training. You can purchase used books and DVDs online. When you’re done with them, you can sell them yourself to make a little bit of your money back. You can also download books as e-books onto your smartphone, electronic reader or iPad.  You can find my two favorite puppy books, which are both available as e-books, here: Recommended Reading for New Puppy Owners.

Listen Carefully

Try to listen to what the trainer says when you are working in class. It is very easy to tune out while she talks about concepts in between training exercises, but you are trying to get every penny’s worth here. Keep a small pad of paper and a pen with you so that you can write down your questions. If you don’t understand something, ask her after class. You never know when this concept or idea will be helpful to you and your pup.

Make Your Treats Last

Treats for most pups should be about ¼ of an inch in diameter. For small pups like Chihuahuas I generally try to break them even smaller. That means that most commercial treats are much too large. Just by breaking up your treats properly, you can make that one bag last and last and last.

Expose Your Puppy to Other Dogs

Some of the skills your puppy would have acquired in class would be dog social skills. The downside of training your pup alone is that he will not be getting the exposure to other pups, as he would normally get by taking a class, so you’ll need to make sure that you expose him to friendly dogs of all ages before he reaches 16 weeks of age.

As you know if you read this blog, the socialization period ends at 12-16 weeks so you have limited time to make a good impression. You can learn more about the socialization period here: The Magic Pill for Puppies and Puppy Socialization, Part 2.

To well socialize your pup, get him out to see and play with other dogs at least twice a week. Make sure that the dogs are friendly, dewormed, and well vaccinated. Do not take your puppy to the dog beach or the dog park where you can’t be sure that the dogs are healthy or safe.

Take It On the Road

Take a field trip at least once a week so that your pup can be exposed to the types of things he would see in a class. You can take field trips anywhere, such as the pet supply store, a strip mall, the post office, or to parks. You don’t have to go inside the buildings. The purpose of these visits is not necessarily just to expose him to the sights and sounds, but instead to work with him in a positive way using treats or play to make sure that his emotional response to stimulus is a good one.

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Most of us are contracting our spending and living on a budget. That doesn’t mean that our pups can’t get the proper exposure and training so that they can be good canine citizens. What ideas do you have about how you can train on a budget?

Dr. Lisa Radosta

Image: dogboxstudio / via Shutterstock