How to find the perfect dog trainer

It seems almost anyone can become a dog trainer…Being a dog trainer is a “hot” profession right now. Celebrity trainers have made the profession sexy and appealing, and  there is no required schooling, although there are plenty of correspondence schools of questionable integrity.  Licensing is unheard of, and this service business is also not taxable unless involving the sale of material goods.

In a flailing economy where jobs are scarce and pet ownership on the rise, it makes sense that dog training would be a natural draw for the jobless and those seeking a career change. A love of dogs is not necessarily the primary motivator.

Dog owners need to remember that despite claims, there are no quick fixes to training. Training takes time, consistency and patience. The major question all owners should ask themselves is “What will this trainer do to my dog to get the desired behavior?”

Owners should familiarize themselves with positive and humane training and understand what it is and is not.  This method of training relies on the principles of earning all rewards which may consist of food, praise, play or freedom to enjoy an activity or item.

Positive reinforcement training is preferred by veterinarians and scientifically proven.  It developed in the 1950’s and has been used successfully to train many species of mammals, starting with marine life and more recently with dogs.  The dog works for all rewards including praise, play and treats, as owners learn to communicate and establish a relationship with their dogs based on trust, respect and patience.

The newest buzzword is “balanced” training which basically means even though a trainer may use positive methods sometimes, they may also use heavy-handed approaches as well.

Beware “balanced” trainers that often advocate showing the dog who is boss through positive punishment and lots of correction.  These trainers promise fast results but often leave behind timid, submissive nervous dogs that are often more prone to aggression or in “shut down” robot mode.  The dog may be corrected or punished for a behavior it has not been taught, or did not understand.  Instead of focusing on training the dog for the behavior, and training the human to give the correct cue, the dog is punished for attempting the behavior even if it doesn’t understand.

What do corrections do?  For people it gives them the thrill of having power. They jerk the neck and the behavior stops. But what is it doing to the poor dog?  In a few months owners may wonder why their dog seems so sad and listless. 

How can you be sure that your trainer is perfect for you and your dog?  If you are comparing local trainers ask to see their group classes. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about how they feel about the methods of training described here.   Does the trainer have you perform the activity with your dog so that you can practice on your own? Is everyone in your family involved with the training?

In general, if a trainer claims to have experience in an area, I like to see that they have either earned a title or have competed. For instance, if they are teaching obedience how advanced are their own dogs?  What activities do they do for fun?  Do they participate as volunteers on therapy visits or merely teach therapy classes in order to make money? I will only train others in areas that I myself have excelled and have experience in. For fun I do tracking, sheep herding, skijoring, paddle boarding, kayaking and hiking with my dogs. And they go everywhere with me in public. They have ridden subways and elevators and have dined out with me on many an occasion.

What kind of fun do you imagine having with your dog?  Why shouldn’t your times together including training, be stress-free and fun? And why can’t old dogs learn new tricks.  We learn every day don’t we?  For me, training take place every moment I am with my dog.  Their lives are short, and their innocent, kind natures beg for patient and intelligent training based on humane scientific methods.