Working as a professional dog trainer, I have met people on all levels of the spectrum when it comes to previous experiences with trainers or behaviorists. Some of these were positive experiences, and some were unfortunately negative.
The dog trainer profession is an unregulated one. That means anyone can simply call themselves a trainer, regardless of any education, expertise or professional certifications. It’s extremely important, therefore, that you find out as much as you can about the profession and any possible person you hire to consult or train with you and your dog. Here are some tips to help you navigate the waters!
- What is the trainer’s philosophy? Does the trainer use aversive techniques or corrections? Or does s/he focus on positive reinforcement techniques? While we do believe that telling a dog “no” is important, we use positive reinforcement to get a desired behavior, rather than punishments that suppress behaviors. Corrections can work against a dog, building fear that can lead to reactivity (and possible aggression). It will also cause the dog to not offer behaviors you may want because of fear of being punished. By focusing on building basic manners and skills to get behaviors you want rather than don’t want, you are encouraging your dog to think and building communication skills with him. This is what leads to loving success!
- What type of education and experience does the trainer possess? Did s/he complete any schooling or possess certifications that take commitment and work to gain quality knowledge? Is s/he always striving to learn by being mentored by or shadowing other trainers and behaviorists, or by taking continuing educational seminars and programs? There are many options for trainers to learn so it’s important to know how your trainer obtained his or her knowledge, and how s/he maintains this knowledge. All quality trainers take the time to continue learning to ensure they’re knowledgeable about the most up-to-date scientific methods in dog training.
- If they have a facility, is it clean and sanitary? If you’re looking at group classes, make sure to check out the facility to ensure it is clean, professional and well-kept for the health and safety of all participants.
- How large is the trainer’s group class? Again, if you’re looking to take group classes, it’s important to ask how many are in the class. This can affect the quality of the class and the safety of its participants.
- To what professional organizations does the trainer belong? Trainers who network with others and belong to organizations that promote the profession and provide continuing education have an edge over those who are more solitary in their approach, as they’re able to tap other resources and are, as earlier stated, committed to an attitude to “never stop learning.” They can also help refer to other quality trainers in case your needs are something they cannot meet. All trainers are different and have their own areas of expertise (i.e., behavior modification vs. agility training). A trainer actively involved in professional networking can be a great resource in many different ways.
- Is the trainer suited to your needs? Again, all trainers have their areas of expertise. Some concentrate on sporting events, some like working in groups while others prefer one-on-one coaching, and others may provide pet therapy training. There are many subcategories of training and trainers who fill them. What are the goals for your dog and who best fits meeting them? It’s also important to consider what your own training philosophy is, and that you are comfortable with the trainer’s own philosophy and methods.
- Speak with the trainer and ask for references. While you can find out a lot about a trainer through his/her own website and other materials, it’s important to dig deeper and get past the jargon. Talk to the trainer on the phone or through email exchange. It’s also okay to ask for references! You can also see if the trainer has reviews on Yelp!, Angie’s List or other online review sites.
- Beware of “guarantees!” There may be some trainers or franchises out there that have a lifetime guarantee on their training, even after just one session. We are wary of such claims, as we know dogs have the ability to make their own decisions and every dog is different. If someone guarantees their training session will completely eliminate a problem, that’s a red flag to us. Animal behavior is complex and there are never guarantees for 100% compliance forever for cues or always-perfect behaviors. A good trainer knows it’s all about building a positive, trusting relationship and that takes time–and lifetime effort–to build. It’s about a relationship with a dog, not a “quick-fix!”
Finding a good trainer can take some work, but it’s well worth it in the end to ensure the health and safety of your dog, and your own happiness with your four-legged friend. We’d love to be your trainer of choice! Contact us today for more information and to learn more.
Thank you and happy training!
Owner, Delightful Doggies