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You just brought your puppy home and you can’t wait to get started with puppy training. And some of the most accessible programs are those offered at the national pet chain stores, Petco and PetSmart. But which one should you choose?

With Petsmart and Petco locations all over the country, it makes sense to check into their programs. Are there differences between their classes? And if so, how do you determine which is a better fit for you and your puppy?

The truth is there can be big variables between any two different puppy training classes. Let us sniff it out for you!

What to expect from puppy training at PetSmart?

PetSmart offers a puppy class for puppies aged 10-weeks-old to 5-months old. Their class is a combination of obedience skills, socialization, and problem-solving for typical puppy behaviors. Their program is based on positive reinforcement techniques.

PetSmart now also offers a Stess Less program, which is a 3-week class managing anxiety-related puppy behaviors. 

PetSmart certifies their own trainers, which basically means they give them their own stamp of approval once they prove they know the curriculum. This is different than, say, a CPDT-KA, which is through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, though I have met trainers with this certification that work at PetSmart.

If you’re looking for a complete comparison between Petco and PetSmart, we’ve made one which you can read in our post, Petco vs PetSmart: Which one is better?

What to expect from puppy training at Petco?

Petco offers two levels of puppy training. Puppy Level 1 and Puppy Level 2 are both 6-week classes for puppies aged 2-months to 4-months. Classes focus on socialization and beginning obedience cues. Methods are based on positive reinforcement.

Petco also offers a puppy Separation Anxiety Course. The course goes for 4 weeks and costs $99.

Petco also certifies their own trainers, but they also require that trainers be certified as Canine Good Citizen Evaluators (through the American Kennel Club). Their National Dog Training Manager is Darris Cooper, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA), Fear Free Animal Trainer, and AKC Canine Good Citizen Evaluator.

petco vs petsmart training infographic comparison

What will my puppy learn?

Both Petco and PetSmart introduce basics like sit, down, wait, walking nicely on a leash, coming when called, and leave it. They also both offer help for common puppy issues like housetraining, mouthing, and jumping. And they both offer time for socialization.

Petco’s Puppy Class Level 2 proofs behavior and makes it stronger, which is key when dealing with young puppies. They also offer the American Kennel Club’s Puppy S.T.A.R evaluation, which is a fun motivational tool to work toward with your dog.

Be sure to read our new eye-opening post, Is Pet Insurance Worth It: 5 shocking facts you need to know... You might be in for a shock!

Here are the things a dog-handler team is working toward when they are planning to take the Puppy STAR evaluation:

Owner:

  1. Maintains puppy’s health (vaccines, exams, appears healthy)
  2. Owner receives Responsible Dog Owner’s Pledge
  3. Owner describes adequate daily play and exercise plan
  4. Owner and puppy attend at least 6 classes by an AKC Approved CGC Evaluator
  5. Owner brings bags to classes for cleaning up after puppy
  6. Owner has obtained some form of ID for puppy-collar tag, etc.

Puppy:

  1. Free of aggression toward people during at least 6 weeks of class
  2. Free of aggression toward other puppies in class
  3. Tolerates collar or body harness of owner’s choice
  4. Owner can hug or hold puppy (depending on size)
  5. Puppy allows owner to take away a treat or toy
  6. Allows (in any position) petting by a person other than the owner
  7. Grooming-Allows owner handling and brief exam (ears, feet)
  8. Walks on a Leash-Follows owner on lead in a straight line (15 steps)
  9. Walks by other people-Walks on leash past other people 5-ft away
  10. Sits on command-Owner may use a food lure
  11. Down on command-Owner may use a food lure
  12. Comes to owner from 5-ft when name is called
  13. Reaction to Distractions-distractions are presented 15-ft away
  14. Stay on leash with another person (owner walks 10 steps and returns)

To read about the difference between Puppy School and Obedience Training, be sure to read our post about which one is right for you.

Cost difference between Petco Vs PetSmart Puppy Classes

PetSmart’s puppy class runs for 6-weeks and costs $124. Then you go on from there enrolling in more advanced classes, ranging from $79 for Stress Less training to $139 for Brain Games, Advanced, and Therapy Training courses.

Petco’s 6-week class is $149. But keep in mind that is for one class (level 1). For both puppy level 1 and level 2, you wind up paying $298 for 12 weeks of classes. They also offer a package where you can take 3 classes for $379. So you can group the puppy classes together and add an additional adult-level class.

Petco’s complete puppy package for $379 also includes a 45-minute private lesson and they also get the AKC Puppy Star Test (which includes a puppy medal and certificate).

Petco Vs PetSmart Puppy Class Training Methods

Both stores’ core curriculum is based on positive reinforcement philosophies. Sometimes, though, you can be at the discretion of the instructor in that store.

While they will be teaching the positive reinforcement curriculum that is given to them, you want to be sure that the instructor you have has a solid understanding of how to correctly apply it for questions students may have.

So for that reason, I always recommend asking if you can observe a class of the instructor who will be teaching your class.

However, in October 2020, Petco stopped selling electronic collars in their stores, deeming them inhumane. This, coupled with Darris Cooper’s Fear Free certification shows a dedication to positive reinforcement methods.

What about continued training options? Petco Vs PetSmart

Training is a lifelong endeavor. So many times when looking at where to take your dog, you want to see where you can go after puppy class!

PetSmart wins this category, hands down! However, Petco now also offers a larger range of choices for continued training, but as you can see below, PetSmart is still the winner.

PetSmart offers the following continued training options:

  • Stress Less Training (3 Week Course) – For anxious dogs
  • Beginner Training (6 Week Course) – Introductory course for basic manner and impulse control (loose leash walking).
  • Intermediate Training (6 Week Course) – Basic cues, including training distance, duration, and distraction.
  • Brain Games Training – Lesson hyperactivity, mental stimulation, improve communication, and reduce boredom.
  • Advanced Training (6 Week Course) – Faster cue response, advanced heel, and distractions.
  • Therapy Dog Training (6 Week Course) – Learn skills required for therapy dog evaluation. Advanced training is required beforehand.
  • Private Classes
  • Online Classes
  • Trick Training (6 Week Course) – Teaches tricks and improves communication.

Petco offers the following continued training options:

  • Separation Anxiety Course (4 Week Course) – Create healthy habits and teach your puppy to be happy alone.
  • Adult Level 1 (6 Week Course) – Communicate better with your older puppy or adult dog.
  • Adult Level 2 (6 Week Course) – Introduction of more advanced training environments.
  • In-Store Private Lessons – Can be tailored to your training needs.
  • Online Group Lessons.
  • Online Private Lessons.

I also want to point out that there are many things that aren’t covered by Petco or PetSmart in their puppy training courses, and so we’re filling this hole with our online course put together by an independently verified dog trainer (unlike trainers at both Petco and PetSmart), so be sure to check it out here.

After your puppy course, Petsmart offers Intermediate and Advanced Classes to sharpen and expand obedience cues. But they also offer classes that focus on things like brain games, tricks, and training to become a therapy dog. These are some great options to keep your dog learning.

Petco does offer Canine Good Citizen testing, which is a great perk. And they are offering online training sessions. While this is not ideal for a puppy (they need socialization), it is a great option to keep you working with your dog from the convenience of your home.

Online Training Options

Both Petco and PetSmart offer online training sessions.  Petco, however, offers a larger range of options and wins this category. They both offer one-on-one training sessions, and Petco is more expensive for this option.

Petco Online

Petco offers Puppy Basics, which is a 4-week introductory online group, focussing on manners, puppy biting, chewing, toileting, etc. They also offer the 4-week Puppy Separation Anxiety course for $99 online as well. 

On top of this, Petco also offers one-on-one private lessons. The first 45-minute lesson is $59, and then for 4 more private lessons, the cost is $229.

PetSmart Online

PetSmart has no online group sessions, and offers virtual dog training sessions one-on-one, with an introductory session costing $35. This session allows you to meet the trainer you’ll be working with and go through what you and your puppy will learn.

Following on from that, you will pay $126 for four 30-minute one-on-one sessions with your trainer.

Although online learning is great, these options miss out on the vitally important step of socializing your puppy. The socialization window for your puppy is only open from around 5 to 16-weeks old.

If they miss out on adequate socialization during this time, they could potentially have lifelong behavioral issues that can be difficult to overcome.

So which class is better?

That depends on what is most important to you because each program has some pros over the other. A lot will come down to the trainer you will have at your local store. So it’s important to go in and see if you can meet them in person beforehand.

As Petco and PetSmart train their own dog trainers, this can leave a large spectrum of quality training, which is why we recommend you use these stores for socializing your puppy, and after that, search out an independently verified dog trainer.

Overall, for the quality of courses offered, and pricing, PetSmart would be our choice between the two.

Petco-v-Petmart-Comparison-Infographic

Final Word

It was very reassuring to me that both chains have committed to positive reinforcement training. Their core programs are solid, if properly taught. Positive reinforcement training is extremely powerful if taught by someone who has a good understanding of the science behind the methods.

That said, the instructor can make or break the class experience. Many can execute the exercises in the company dog training handbooks, but when things don’t go by the book, they are lost.

For instance, a friend of mine was having trouble getting her puppy to complete a down. He didn’t want to put his chest on the floor. Each time she pointed it out to the trainer she was told to “Keep trying! He’ll get it eventually.” With some simple tweaks after I sent her a video of an alternative method, his down was, well, a down!

Her trainer was probably well-intentioned, but likely inexperienced. And that could cause unnecessary frustration. How do you make sure the trainer at your chosen store has experience?

There is no simple answer to that. There are many trainers at both Petco and PetSmart that have earned additional certifications that prove additional study. And then there are others that haven’t.

So besides the differences listed above, the most important thing you can do is meet the instructor. It is even better if you can see them teach a class. Watch how they interact with both the dogs and the humans. Does everyone seem comfortable? And focused? Or frustrated?

Also, try to see if you can talk to other students after the class. Customer experience is one of the best ways to determine if a class is worth your time and money.

Be sure to also read through our complete puppy guide which covers the most important aspects of raising a puppy: 7 STEPS: Your Complete Guide to Puppy Success (New for 2022)

Or we also have this one you might like: Calm Down Your Puppy: Complete Guide

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