In my previous post, I discussed signs that implicate that you are in need of a dog trainer. However, how do you know if the dog trainer you’ve chosen for your dog is the perfect one or not? If you are having trouble answering this question, you are at the right place. Keep on reading to find out how to look for the perfect trainer to train your dog.
Why do you need a dog trainer?
So, you and your pup have come to the conclusion that you need professional assistance from a dog trainer. Don’t worry; many times, the help of a dog trainer is needed for training the dog. There are many reasons why you may need professional help for training your dog. You may be struggling with a specific command, or your dog may be struggling with all the commands. Alternatively, your dog may display signs like
- Separation anxiety
- Excessive barking
- Extreme disruptive behavior
- Failure to follow basic commands
- Resource guarding
- Excessive jumping behavior
- Excessive leash pulling
- Recall issues
- And others
Now that you have decided that a dog trainer is needed, you must find the perfect one to help you train your dog. Another scenario where you may need a dog trainer’s help is when you do not have the time to train your dog. Whatever be the reason, you must ensure that you find the perfect dog trainer for your pup.
When you discuss getting a dog trainer with your friends, family, and other dog parents, they will have many suggestions and advice. However, how do you know if their perfect dog trainer is the ideal trainer for you? Finding the names of dog trainers is not a problem. But, finding out which trainer will be perfect for your pup and you is the primary step in the correct training process for your dog.
Before you get started with dog training, look into the following:
Make sure your pup is healthy
You do not enroll in the services of a dog trainer to train your dog the moment the dog enters your home. Your first responsibility is to ensure that your dog has received all the required vaccinations and is not suffering from any health risks. Do not start the training process if your dog has an underlying medical condition. Get your dog treated first. Once your dog is completely healthy, you can get the help of a dog trainer to train your dog.
Start at the right moment.
Even though there is a common saying amongst dog trainers, “the younger, the better,” however, it is not valid in all cases. For example, when you bring your puppy home, they will not have all the necessary vaccinations. Therefore, you must first get your puppy vaccinated. Once the puppy vaccinations have been done, you can enroll your puppy in puppy training courses. If your pup is between 8 to 16 weeks, the puppy training course is adequate for your dog. However, if your puppy is around six months old, you can enroll them in regular classes.
If you are finding it hard to train your pup on your own, you will require the services of a certified dog trainer. However, before you finalize a specific dog trainer to train your dog, you must check the trainer and verify that they meet your requirements. Here are a few things that you should check out when hiring a dog trainer to train your dog.
Are you in need of individual training or group classes?
Whether you opt for individual training or group classes, each has its own benefits. If your dog is in the puppyhood stages, you should go for group classes. The group classes will provide many opportunities for your dog to socialize with other dogs. Dog socialization is crucial in the growing stages of a puppy. Your puppy will learn many behavioral cues from its peers. These behavioral cues are something that cannot be taught by you since you are not a dog. Furthermore, if you decide to go for public classes, they will be much less expensive compared to the individual training prospect.
However, if you have decided that you need a dog trainer who will take individual classes, it will be expensive but might be worth it since you will receive personalized attention and the training would be focused on specific problem areas in which you are facing difficulty in training your dog.
General training or specific problem resolution?
If you do not have time to train your dog and require a dog trainer to conduct the general training process, you can either opt for puppy classes or get a general dog trainer. However, if you are facing difficulty with a specific problem like jumping on others, bolting, separation anxiety, aggressive behavior, excessive barking, etc, you will need the help of a dog trainer who has expertise in that specific area. You can also go for dog behaviorists who have experience in dealing with the specific problem that you are facing with your dog.
Short-term or long-term training?
If you want to better understand the cues of your dog and keep your dog happy, you will go for short-term training opportunities. The short-term training opportunities aim to get you and your dog in sync with one another and teach your dog the basic commands and behavioral cues needed to communicate effectively with you and enjoy living with you and your family.
However, if you have specific goals like agility competitions, dog shows, obedience competitions, etc., you will need a trainer to help you with long-term dog training. Alternatively, some people prefer their dogs to receive regular exercise and training so that the dog’s mind can stay sharp, but they themselves do not have the time to invest in their dog. Under such conditions also, you will opt for a long-term dog training opportunity.
What to look for in a dog trainer?
Go for a dog trainer who provides the type of services that you are in need of.
This may seem like the most obvious thing to check. However, not every dog trainer belongs to the same school of thought, and not every dog trainer will train your dog in the same manner. Therefore, you must find a dog trainer who will train your dog, help you train your dog or solve the specific issues you are facing in the training process.
Which type of training method will the dog trainer employ to train your dog?
As I mentioned before, trainers work along with two different schools of thought. Therefore, different trainers have different approaches towards dog training and use different methods for the training process. Not all of these techniques that are employed by dog trainers are humane, kind, and gentle.
Therefore, when you are selecting a dog trainer for your pup, you need to understand which of the training methods are effective and humane. When selecting a dog trainer, always make sure that they are following the positive reinforcement and reward training methods. I’d advise you to stay away from dog trainers who use severe training methods or negative reinforcement methods to train your dog.
Negative reinforcement methods
Negative reinforcement methods do not establish a positive relationship between the trainer and the dog. Since these methods made use of punishment and aversive training methods [like using shock collars pinch colors, kicking, hitting, etc.], your dog tends to become fearful and distrustful of the trainer. It may even lead to an increase in the aggressive behavior of the dog. Thus, if you want to establish a positive relationship with your dog, do not go for a trainer who uses military or negative reinforcement methods to train your dog.
Positive reinforcement methods
Positive reinforcement method works by rewarding the dog for every correct behavior. This is not only humane and effective, it is also a fun way to train the dog. Dogs are very intelligent creatures. They live to please. Therefore, when you use positive training methods, your dog follows commands much more quickly because in return they would get a treat, praises, hugs and love all of which are very enticing for the dog. Every type of command, ranging from basic commands and manners to the agility training level can be mastered using the techniques of positive reinforcement.
It should not be difficult to look for trainers who use positive training methods to train your dog. Even positive training methods happen divided into two schools of thought. One of these is the lure and reward while the other is clicker training. Both these reward systems use food as the driving force in the training of the dog. Thus, both of these methods are extremely effective and have delivered excellent results time and time again.
How to find out if the trainer uses positive or negative reinforcement methods?
When you ask a potential dog trainer about the training methods they employ to train the dog, listen to the answer very carefully. Even though positive reinforcement training methods have become very common in the dog training scenario nowadays, there are many trainers who prefer to use the traditional negative reinforcement methods. Such trainers may also refer to themselves as positive trainers.
To identify if the trainer whom you are interviewing uses the negative reinforcement method or not, ask them for a detailed explanation of training the sit command to the dog. Furthermore, inquire about how they deal with potential dog training problems like the dog being distracted, the dog misbehaving or displaying aggression towards the trainer during the training process, etc.
Words you should pay very careful attention to.
There are two different types of dog trainers: classic dog trainers and positive dog trainers. If the trainer describes themselves as a classic trainer, they are more likely to use prong collars, alpha training, shock collars etc for training the dog. Positive trainers on the other hand, will use toys treats and other non-immersive correction methods like not paying attention to the dog if the dog jumps etc.
To make it easy to identify if the trainer belongs to the classic school of dog training method, look out for the following phrases or words:
- Leash corrections
To identify if the dog trainer belongs to the positive school of dog training method, look out for the following phrases and words:
- Positive reinforcement
- Positive methods
- Clicker training
There is also a chance that your trainer may use words from both the classic and positive training methods. For example, I tend to use the word ‘command’ a lot. However, I have never ever used the negative reinforcement method to train Delta or any of my foster kids. In my observation, dogs are so food- and love-driven that they would do anything to get the treat of their choice. Thus, all you have to do is use the right kind of treat and your dog will respond.
Check the people skills of the trainer
A dog trainer has many roles to play in the life of a dog. They will behave as the teacher, therapist, communication expert, and problem solver. Finding the right trainer is more than just about training the dog a specific set of commands.
The right trainer will also help you deepen the bond with your dog, establish a trustworthy relationship and make sure that your dog is living a happy life. Therefore, your trainer is not only responsible for dealing with your dog, your trainer has to deal with you as well. Sometimes, training needs to be continued even in the absence of the trainer. Under such conditions, the dog’s parents have to get involved and continue the training process.
How do you figure out if the trainer who behaves well with the dog is adept at teaching you as well?
The best way to find out if the trainer is suitable or not is to ask for a demo class. Check the chemistry between the dog trainer and your dog during the dog training process. Is your dog happy, relaxed, and enjoying the process? Ask the trainer to explain to you, what they are doing during the training. Are you able to understand the explanation that the trainer is giving you? How did the trainer handle the problems that they came across? Did the dog look puzzled, frazzled, or frustrated at any point in time during training?
However, the most important characteristic to look out for is to identify if the trainer has proper explanation skills. The trainer should be able to explain to you where you are going wrong in the training process if you asked the trainer to help you with a specific problem. Helping you with such a predicament will require the trainer to have good personal skills, communication skills, observation skills and diplomacy.
The support and explanation that the trainer provides you should not be demeaning in any manner. The dog trainer should be unable to understand and pinpoint your mistakes in a supportive manner. In other words, the trainer should not only be able to positively reinforce the behavior of the dog but the behavior of the dog parents as well.
Check the experience level of the trainer
It is not necessary that a person who has been training dogs for 10 years would be fit for the job. A person who has no certification may also be very good at dog training. However, having prior experience gives you a scale to gauge your decision. I would not say that you should disregard a person who is freshly certified or has only been conducting dog training for the last two years.
You may come across two trainers, one with less experience and one with years of experience under their belt. However, the one with less experience may be more adept at training your pup and may use positive reinforcement methods, while the one who has years of experience may prefer to use negative reinforcement methods. Therefore, you should go with the trainer who uses the positive reinforcement methods, has excellent communication skills, and brings creativity and energy to the class that your dog might enjoy.
A case where a less experienced trainer would not be preferred would be training that indulges in activities requiring a deeper understanding of the canine behavior. For example, off-leash socialization activities. During such an activity, the trainer will be responsible for watching over the interaction process while keeping the dogs from harming one another. Thus, experience may help in this regard. Similarly, if you are looking for a solution to a very specific issue like dog aggression, you should go for a trainer who has experience in dealing with such behavioral problems in dogs.
How to find out the experience level of the trainer?
Ask the dog trainer directly, how long have they been working in this field? If you are looking for a dog trainer with regards to a specific behavioral issue of your dog, ask the trainer if they have dealt with this specific behavioral issue previously? How did they tackle the problem and how is the dog doing now? A good trainer will be forthcoming and will tell you the methods they employed to deal with the problem and will also accept if it is a behavioral problem that they have not dealt with before.
Convenience and cost
Most dog parents want dog training classes that are both convenient as well as affordable. Many dog parents look for advanced training options as well. The first and foremost thing you should figure out is if you can afford the classes or not. If you cannot afford the classes, you will not stick with them. Therefore, go for classes that are within your budget and that you can continue in the long term.
Now you know what you should look for in any good dog trainer. Does this mean that your responsibility as a dog parent has ended once you enroll your dog in the classes? No. Your responsibility is far from over. Your dog is your child. Would you send your child off to the school and not bother if your child comes home sad or hurt? Similarly, in the case of the dog training process, you have to stay alert to changes in the personality of the dog and the dog trainer.
Unfortunately, we live in a deceitful world. You may come across dog trainers who may tell you that they are a believer in the positive reinforcement method and they will only use reward-based training methods to train your dog. However, when your dog upsets the trainer or is being distracted, your trainer very quickly switches to negative reinforcement methods to get your dog under control. Therefore, as a responsible dog parent, it is your responsibility to keep an eye on the training process at all times.
If you land up with a dog trainer who has less experience, they may not know how to cope with every type of canine behavioral issue that may arise. They may not know how to positively train each and every dog. In an ideal world, your trainer will tell you beforehand if they have not dealt with such a situation. However, we do not live in an ideal world. Chances are, to get the job, your trainer may tell you that they have dealt with the problem before and they know how to handle the situation. But, when your dog starts to display an extraordinary level of disrespect or stubbornness the dog trainer may switch to aversive training methods. Therefore, keep a careful eye on the training process at all times and if your trainer starts to use negative training methods, find another one.
The most important advice I can give you is to trust your gut when you are looking for a dog trainer. Despite less experience, if someone clicks with you and more importantly, your dog, that person should be a good match. However, if you do not trust the ability of the dog trainer to help your dog, you will feel less inclined to follow the instructions that the trainer gives you. This will inhibit your chances of success with the dog training process.
Questions to ask your dog trainer
What training philosophy do you use?
Every trainer has a different training philosophy. Some people prefer to use positive training methods while others prefer to use military or negative training methods. It is advisable that you go for a dog trainer who only uses positive training methods and does not prefer to use negative training methods. Negative training methods like shock training, hitting, leash pulling, etc only increase aggressiveness, fearfulness, and panic behavior in your dog.
If the trainer says, they will use a science-based method, ask the dog trainer, what is the positive reinforcement method of dog training?
Your trainer should know about the operant conditioning method for training the dog. This is a psychological method that uses reward-based training. This training style is based on the fact that when dogs are provided with treats or things that they want, it increases the chances of the positive behavior occurring again.
Does the trainer have the required dog training certifications?
There are numerous dog training certifications available. Different training certifications required different numbers of coursework hours and animal behavior experience. Ask the trainer which certification they have and check the certification on the website to validate. Also, enquire to look at the hard copies of the certificate. This is because the trainers must be re-certified every three years to keep the certification.
Is the trainer aware of the recent changes in the dog training methods?
Continued education is crucial to growth. There are numerous studies being conducted all the time on dog training and different certification programs are being released. Thus, it is within your rights to expect that your dog trainer would stay updated on the latest news and training styles that are available.
Can you sit in for a class?
Most dog trainers will let you sit in for a demo class while they are training a dog [not your dog]. Thus, you can figure out if the training style of the dog trainer matches your philosophy or not. Alternatively, you can also check testimonials from previous clients of the dog trainer. Testimonies are a great way to figure out and understand the trainer’s dog training style and whether the specific dog trainer is perfect for you and your dog or not.