Choosing a Dog Trainer
Updated: Nov 1, 2020
Choosing a trainer can be confusing and frustrating.
What do all these catch phrases really mean?
Dog training is an unregulated industry, meaning anyone can call themselves a dog trainer.
Here are some tips to help you navigate the process.
Positive reinforcement, force-free, balanced, humane, science-based, correction based, punishment based, dominant training, are some key phrases you'll likely come across.
Did you know that some training methods have been proven to increase fear and aggression in animals? Studies are here and here. A summary of resources can be found here.
Put simply, you want a trainer who uses positive reinforcement.
To screen a trainer you can ask "What will happen when my dog gets it right?". You're looking for an answer along the lines of "They will be reinforced". Reinforcement can come in the form of food, toys, play, petting, or access to something the dog wants. Reinforcement increases the frequency of the behaviour being reinforced.
You can also ask "What happens when my dog gets it wrong?". You're looking for answers along the lines of "The behaviour will be ignored", "Reinforcement will be removed" (a jumping dog will not get attention for jumping), or "An alternative behaviour will be taught" (a jumping dog will be taught to sit when greeting visitors).
There is no room for physical punishment or corrections in dog training. Punishment damages the relationship between a dog and their owner. Punishment increases aggression and the risk of a dog biting. Get more info here.
Because the industry is not regulated, there are many different courses, certifications, and credentials. Ask a potential trainer about their educational background, what training methods were taught, what training methods were most recommended.
All dog trainers should have a thorough knowledge of all training methods, but this doesn't mean they use them all. You can ask "What methods do you use? What methods do you not use?". You want an answer along the lines of "I use methods that increase the frequency of behaviours we want to see more of". More info on the operant learning quadrants here.
Trainers should be continuing their education regularly so they stay up-to-date on the latest science, methods, and protocols.
Just as there are many different educational routes a trainer can take, there are also a variety of organizations a trainer may belong to as well. Generally speaking these memberships allow a trainer to be listed in the organizations directory, the organization may publish articles or newsletters, members may have access to webinars and other educational resources, and many will require a trainer to adhere to a specific Code of Ethics.
You can look into these organizations to get a better idea of the style of training a potential trainer may use.
There is no guarantee in dog training! If a trainer offers a guarantee that your dog will be 'fixed', keep looking.
Success in dog training in reliant on many factors, including but not limited to: owners ability to practice consistently and regularly, dogs ability to focus and learn effectively, dogs overall physical and mental health, owners overall commitment, and time.
Training takes time. Training takes patience. Training builds a lasting relationship between a dog and their owner. This can not happen overnight.
No collar, harness, bag of pennies, spray bottle, or magic potion will solve a problem long term.
Many professional organizations actually prohibit trainers from offering guarantees in their Code of Ethics.
A trainer should be transparent and realistic about the level of commitment required by owners for their specific set of issues and their personal training goals.
Do what feels right
It is your job, as a dog owner, to find the best fit for your dog and family.
Call around, ask a lot of questions, read over websites, ask other animal professionals (veterinarians, groomers, dog walkers, etc) who they recommend.
And then follow your gut.
Inviting someone into your home and life to change your dogs behaviour can be scary. You may feel embarrassed by your dogs behaviour, worried that the trainer may judge you (they shouldn't!!!), and nervous about investing your time and money.
Read reviews and testimonials of others experiences.
Our testimonials can be found here.
Choose a trainer that makes you feel most at ease and comfortable.