Choosing a good dog trainer can feel a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack.
There are a whole lot of trainers and dog training classes out there. Their quality can vary widely too. While there are plenty of courses and certifications for trainers these days, this part of the pet care industry doesn’t have much in the way of regulations. In other words, any hack could start their own dog training business—they just need to say they’re a trainer.
Because of this, taking the time to learn about different dog trainers becomes extremely important. It can make the difference between your dog or puppy getting proper training and potentially getting hurt or mistreated. Here are some good guidelines to follow when searching for a dog trainer.
1) Ask Yourself: Do You Need a Trainer at All?
The first step is the most obvious one: To determine whether or not your dog even needs a trainer.
If you’ve had your dog for a while, you’ve probably developed a strong rapport with them. There are plenty of good books and helpful online information that can give you an idea of how dogs think and why they behave certain ways.
If your dog has major behavioral problems, however, you may need a professional trainer to deal with them. The right trainer will have far greater knowledge and hands-on experience than any typical dog owner.
No matter how well they mean or how much they research, pet owner can fall prey to a variety of common mistakes. They can end up sending the wrong messages to their dogs. That’s why you might need to seek out the services of a good dog trainer.
Of course, training a dog can be a considerable financial investment. You might understandably feel that your money might be better spent in other ways. And you could be right.
In the end, you need to think carefully and be honest with yourself. Don’t just assume that you know your dog best—know your own abilities and limitations. You don’t do yourself or your pet any good by taking on more than you can handle.
2) Know Which Dog Trainers You Should Avoid
Let’s say you decide that you really do need a dog trainer. The next step is to find one that’ll work well with your dog. This is where things can get tricky.
Here are some major red flags when it comes to a dog trainer. No matter what anyone else—even your veterinarian—might say, don’t go near a trainer is he/she does one of the following:
1. The trainer uses choke collars, electric fences or electric prods.
Discipline for dogs is important, but using pain or punishment is a definite no-no. Not only does it feel bad to see your dog get hurt, training tools like electric shocks and choke collars simply don’t work very well. Research has shown that using pain and fear to train dogs is far less effective than positive training and reinforcement.
Good trainers genuinely care for animals; they wouldn’t risk injuring a dog that they’re trying to train. If a trainer uses any of these methods, move on right then and there.
2. The trainer focuses too much on leading and dominance.
If a trainer tosses around phrases like “pack leader” or “dominant” and isn’t being ironic, it’s a good sign that they don’t know how dogs behave.
Dogs do need leadership, of course. And when it comes to pets, we need to fill those shoes. But recently, it has become clear that a lot of people in dog training circles don’t really understand how dominance and pack theory work. More often than not, people who use phrases like these follow outmoded and potentially harmful dog training methods (see red flag #1).
3. The trainer has bad references or no references.
Good trainers should have a list of references that are ready and willing to sing their praises. If they don’t, it’s not necessarily a deal-breaker—they might just be starting out as a trainer. If that’s the case, however, you need to really dig into their training philosophy and methods before taking a chance on them.
You might also talk to the people who’ve trained them too. If they can’t or won’t tell you who taught them, look for somebody else.
Also, be mindful of what a dog trainer’s references say. If they indicate that the trainer uses physical punishment, move on.
4. The trainer isn’t interested in your dog’s history.
This one should be pretty obvious. After all, how can a trainer expect to address dogs peeing and other behavioral issues without knowing why those issues arose? If someone doesn’t ask about your dog’s history or doesn’t seem to care, they probably aren’t a good trainer.
3) Research Any Dog Trainer Thoroughly
Now that we’ve gone over trainers to avoid, let’s look at the good ones. Here are some points to consider:
How They Set Up Their Classes
Generally, pet training classes are set up either for groups or for one-on-one sessions. Trainers can come to your home or have a special facility.
Which of these options are the best? That could depend on your dog’s needs, your schedule and your budget. Whichever option you settle on, make sure you and your dog can commit to it. If the one you pick doesn’t seem to work, find another option. Otherwise, you’ll just waste money and get poor results.
How They Train Their Dogs
As we indicated earlier, the best trainers will use positive reinforcement in their classes. They should have dogs play games as well as give them toys and food. As far as discipline for dogs goes, they should prefer more humane, non-threatening methods like taking away rewards or giving time outs.
What Kinds of Equipment They Use
Nylon or leather dog training collars (and possibly dog harnesses) are vastly preferable to choke chains. And again, trainers should have different fun toys or obstacles. Frankly, trainers who really know their stuff don’t need much else.
Their Experience and Credentials
Dog trainers should be up to date on their fields’ best practices. Ask prospective trainers about their favorite books on pet training and conferences they’ve attended. Also, it’s a good sign if they hold certifications from such organizations as:
- Animal Behavior Society
- International Association for Study of Animal Behavior
- Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers
- American College of Veterinary Behaviorists
- International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants
Certifications like these require exceptional skills and knowledge. They also demand ongoing education.
4) Talk with Dog Trainers Face to Face
When choosing a dog trainer, be sure to factor in how you personally feel about them. Sit in on one of their classes, talk with them one-on-one and have them meet your dog.
If you like the way a trainer deals with you and your pet on a personal level, that’s a very promising sign. If you’re not 100% comfortable with someone, you should move on to another trainer. After all, you’re going to be spending a lot of time with your pet’s trainer, whoever they are.
Finding the best trainer for your dog can take a lot of work, but it’ll pay off in the long run. By doing research and asking the right questions, you’re sure to make the right choice for both you and your pet.