Dog Blog

7 Things To Do Before You Choose A Dog Trainer

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Most people wouldn’t hire a personal fitness trainer or a tutor for their child without first doing some careful research. They’d interview the person, look at their credentials and contact other clients who might serve as references.

But when it comes to finding a trainer for that new puppy or aggressive older canine, many pet parents simply take Daisy or Bowser to the nearest establishment that says it offers dog training services. This is a big mistake, because dog training is an unregulated industry. “Anyone can print business cards and charge for her services, regardless of background, education or experience,” warns Stephanie Gibeault, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT), in a blog for the American Kennel Club.

Even well-educated dog trainers with legitimate credentials often differ in their training approaches and areas of expertise. Some trainers may work best with certain breeds or age groups; others may specialize in teaching a particular skill such as agility jumping. Many dog trainers today use positive reinforcement methods, but there are still some who favor choke chains or other forms of punishment. Finding a trainer who’s a good fit with your dog, training needs and personal beliefs about humane animal treatment is essential to achieving a good outcome.

Here are 7 steps that will help you choose a qualified professional trainer who’s got the right education, experience, skills and personality to help you and your dog meet your goals.

1. Know What You Want Your Dog To Learn

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It might sound simple, but before you begin your search for a trainer, have a clear picture in mind of what you want the training to accomplish. Are you looking to teach basic obedience commands to a puppy? Or do you need to break an older dog of an unwanted behavior such as barking or house soiling? Maybe you want more advanced athletic training that will help your pup get started in a sport such as Flyball. Knowing what you’re looking for will help you ask the right questions and evaluate the trainer’s ability to meet your needs.

2. Check Out The Trainer’s Credentials

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Choose a trainer who is certified by a professional dog trainers’ association. Although certification doesn’t necessarily make someone a talented trainer, it ensures the person has at least had to meet some basic requirements and achieve a certain level of experience and professionalism. It’s a good way to begin your search and narrow down candidates. The Animal Behavior College, a vocational school for dog trainers, offers a list of graduates who have completed its program’s requirements at Certified Dog Trainer Directory. Other organizations that maintain lists of certified trainers include: The Association of Pet Dog Trainers and the Certification Council For Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT)

3. Ask About The Trainer’s Specialties

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Does the trainer concentrate on puppy classes, or is she experienced training adult dogs and seniors? Are there any breeds she particularly enjoys working with? Does she train dogs for show competitions? Athletic or tracking competitions? Has she won any awards? Does she offer individual lessons as well as group classes? Does she include the whole family in the training process, or would she prefer to work with one person? A trainer may have an excellent reputation and credentials, but based on answers to questions like these, you might feel she’s not the right fit for you and your dog.

4. Find Out What Training Methods They Use

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At one time it wasn’t uncommon to see choke chains, shock collars and other forms of physical punishment used to train dogs. But today there’s a growing consensus among pet professionals that positive reinforcement – rewarding a dog with treats or toys for performing a desired behavior – is not only more humane, it’s also a much faster and more effective way to meet training goals. Many professional organizations such as the Animal Behavior College (ABC) and American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) advise pet parents to work only with trainers who use reward-based methods. “ABC teaches positive reinforcement in its dog trainer program,” says Samantha Jonker, Animal Behavior College Program Manager. “Dogs are rewarded for performing desired actions, which makes this method no only ideal but enjoyable and rewarding.”

5. Get Personal References And On-Line Reviews

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The best way to gauge a trainer’s effectiveness is to find out what others who have used his services think of him. Obtain the names of some of the trainer’s previous clients who you can contact for references. ABC’s Jonker advises asking them the following questions: Was the trainer dependable and professional? Was his attitude friendly and helpful, or impatient and short-tempered? Did the trainer successfully establish their dog’s trust? Did their dog’s behavior improve as a result of the training? On-line ratings and reviews can also give you helpful feedback from former clients.

6. Observe A Class

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Attending a class is a great way to see firsthand how dogs react to the trainer and her teaching methods. Do the pups seem happy and enthusiastic, or are their tails down? Are they enjoying the class, or do they appear frustrated and confused about what’s expected of them? Some trainers are great with animals, but lacking in people skills, so take advantage of the opportunity to observe the pet parents too. Is the trainer communicating well with them, or are they having a hard time understanding or implementing the training exercises? Do they appear satisfied that their dogs are learning, or upset with their pets’ performance and maybe even scolding them? How does the trainer handle any problems that arise – does she remain calm or get flustered?

7. Arrange A One-On-One Meeting – And Bring Your Dog

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Even if everything checks out, you should request an appointment with the trainer before making a final decision. See if you and your dog feel comfortable with her. Can you talk to her freely? Does your dog greet her enthusiastically and seem relaxed in her presence, or is he cautious and wary? If there’s any doubt, continue your search. Trust your gut instinct – and your dog’s.