I adopted my dog from the local pound. At the time of adoption, I was told he had behaviour issues, including not walking on a leash, not being house trained, food aggression, and that it was highly recommended to take him to dog training.
I decided to take him to Pet Smart as it was affordable to do dog training there and I couldn't afford training anywhere else. I have done the Beginner, Intermediate and Advance Classes with my dog. Albeit, my dog is not perfect but he is so much better than what he was when I first got hime. Any issues he has now is really my fault as I haven't been as consistent with training as I should be, especially since dogs need consistency and repetition in their lives.
It's interesting, about all the treat and clicker talk. I was at a dog behaviour seminar and the place I went to was not Pet Smart, but another accredited dog training facility in Calgary.
What I found interesting is that dog training is not regulated and people can be trained anywhere. That being said, I was happy with Pet Smart trainers and felt they knew what they were doing. The trainers said they had intensive training and it did show.
Like Pet Smart, the dog seminar I went to encourages food training at first, as it's an instant gratification. Like people, we want instant gratification and for dogs, it's food (and for some people it's food too - ex. potty training!).
However, the trainers do eventually ween dogs off of food and clickers. It was interesting to learn about dog behaviours and why they do what they do.
As for clicking, it's based on Pavlov's theory. Pavlov would ring a bell and then place food out for the dogs and the dogs would then salivate. Eventually, the food was removed and when he rang the bell, the dogs would automatically salivate. The clicker idea is like the bell, where a dog will automatically associate the sound of the clicker with doing something like sitting. In Pavlov's case, it was salivating.
Part of training is good socializing and manners for dogs. Pet Smart addressed this.
I do agree that larger dogs should not wear halters, as the large dogs will continue to pull and dog owners have issues controlling their dogs. I even learned that at Pet Smart and in the seminar.
What I liked about both facilities is that they encourage positive reinforcement and I think both places discourage shock collars, pinch collars and choke chains as these are negative reinforcements and could cause problematic behaviours later on.
Both facilities also combined hand motions and words when training your dog. This makes sense, and it was nice to see that an accredited training facility and Pet Smart used the same techniques. After taking the seminar, I was happy to see that the training at Pet Smart and at the facility were very similar.
I know someone commented about having the dog training in the middle of the store. I thought this was a great idea, because my dog got distracted at off leash parks and would never listen. Having the class in a distracting environment, my dog learned how to listen to me and he started to learn to ignore the distractions. After the classes, I found my dog listened more at off leash parks. However, I do think it's time for a refresher, as his listening skills are not as good as they were when he was in classes!
By no means am I a dog trainer, but I have worked with dogs and have seen the consequences of what happens when dogs are not properly trained and aggression issues can kick in - with people and/or other animals. At the end of the day, the dog gets blamed and put down but the blame should be placed on the owner for not training and controlling the dog.
I think by not training your dog with people who have experience and not socializing your dogs in a safe and controlled manner (prior to off leash parks) can create future problems.
You may be able to buy a book and train your dog by yourself, but having your dog meet new people, new dogs and have distractions causes your dog to listen and focus on you more than he/she would at home. Like I said before, training in a group also allows your dog to socialize and learn about good behaviour and manners.
To be honest, I think any dog training is better than no training (as long as it's mostly positive enforcement - there are some cases for negative enforcement, namely when dog's chew electrical cords).
At the end of the day, if you can only afford Pet Smart, do it. I enjoyed the classes, and my dog loved going. We got homework so we could practice and review the skills daily (again for repetition) and I enjoyed the different class levels. I have nothing but positive things to say about the training and I've recommended the classes to other people who wanted affordable training.
If you are not comfortable with the Pet Smart environment/trainers, I am sure there are different trainers available that are affordable. Check out your local humane society, as it may provide training classes that are affordable for dog owners. I would also check your local pound as they may have classes (Calgary's pound does not provide classes) or resources/information regarding affordable dog training classes for people.
Hope this helps and have fun training!