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I’ve been asked many times to recommend a trainer.  While I have opinions about training methods, I feel that it is best for people to find a trainer that suits them best.  With that in mind, here’s a list of guidelines and criteria I use when looking for a trainer.  I also use the word handler and trainer interchangeably.  Almost all trainers handle their own dogs in dog sports (except in conformation).  The person handling the dog is usually the one that also trains their dog.  More often than not, those handlers also have trainers. 

 

  1. At a dog sports trial, I look for handlers and dogs that consistently perform well.  I ask them where they train, and more often than not, those great handlers have the same trainer.

  2. I hang out at training facilities and watch how the trainers interact with their students (both dogs and humans) .  If a trainer yells or looses his/her temper with students, I avoid.  The first rule of dog training is that if you are angry or upset, stop training and cool off first.  Dogs and people will pick up that you are upset.  That’s going to send mixed signals to the dogs and confuse them.  

  3. I also look at the trainer’s personality and interaction with the dogs.  Is the trainer a leader (all mental, not physical)?  Physical force is not needed to be a leader.  Confidence is needed.  Do the dogs find the trainer fun and interesting without the use of food?  Does the trainer motivate the dog and the owners?  I watch the trainer’s body language. You’ll notice that successful trainers walk confidently with their heads up high and their dogs following their lead.  Unsuccessful trainers seem slumped, draggy, and seem to be pleading with the dogs to pay attention. 

  4. Most if not all training methods are available online or in books.  Finding the knowledge is easy.  Many programs certify trainers as having said knowledge.  Finding someone with the personality, temperament, and experience to be a good trainer is an entirely different story. 

  5. I talk at length with trainers about their methods and their experience.  If a trainer cannot fully understand the different concepts of training methods, I avoid.  If a trainer doesn’t understand the difference between classical conditioning and operant conditioning, I avoid.  Classical conditioning and operant conditioning are the basis of dog training.  Both concepts are taught in Introductory Psychology classes. 

  6. I avoid trainers that only have “one” method.  These trainers tend to not be as successful as trainers who have more than one skill in their tool box.  These trainers often get stuck in a rut when the only method they advocate does not work with all dogs.  Having been trained in research, I’m well aware that there is no such thing as one method or theory that will solve all dog training problems.  Sorry, just isn’t true.  Different dogs need different methods. 

  7. I watch trainers and their own dogs in public.  If their own dogs are well-behaved in public, that’s a good sign.  If their own dogs are NOT well-behaved in public, avoid.  Being in public is key.  Having a dog that is trained at a facility, but not in other locations shows me that the trainer does not know how to proof their dogs. If I ever hear the words, “But Fido is soooo good at home,” I run away fast.

  8. I ask the trainer about the function of each step in training.  Each step has a function. Each word, each treat, each command, and every single praise has a function.  If a trainer replies with, “That’s just the way I do it,“ I avoid.  The trainer might know what to do, but if he/she cannot understand why, he or she cannot understand or offer advice on complicated issues.   These types of trainers might be able to offer a quick fix for small problems, but not create a strong foundation for training. 

  9. I avoid facilities that offer training without the owner.  Most dog training is training the owner.  Sometimes that is the more difficult part.  Most of the time, behavioral problems are owner problems, not dog problems.  In my opinion, there is no point in training a dog when the people having to live with the dog cannot implement the training.

  10. I look for trainers that are interested in developing a relationship with my dogs and myself.  Dog training is a lifetime commitment, not an 8 week commitment.  I want a trainer who understands and cares about the well-being of my dogs and doesn’t just treat me like a customer.  A good trainer should want to make you a better dog owner for the lifetime of your dog, not just for the duration of the class or consultation.

  11. I also look for trainers that keep improving and keep learning.  I avoid trainers with that know-it-all attitude.  Every dog is different, and new training methods are being developed every day.  A good trainer should be open to new ideas and trying new methods if an old method doesn’t work.  You wouldn’t buy a cell phone that is 10 years old because there are probably better ones on the market.  You wouldn’t only train with methods that were developed in the 1940’s now would you? I may use old methods in my training, but I also use new ones when appropriate.

  12. When I train, I look for trainers who also show in canine sports including obedience, rally, agility, or etc…While many people say that they just want their pets to have manners, good manners are built on a strong foundation and a strong relationship between dog  and owner.  Trainers that show are constantly being tested as they must show off their training skills.  They must not only have a dog that behaves in at home, but also in public and with many distractions.  The dogs must truly understand the concept of particular commands, and they are also proofed so that they can perform regardless of their environment.  They must also perform many of the exercises off –leash on a single command.  That type of performance can only be achieved if there is a strong handler/dog bond.  Many trainers can teach a dog to sit and down on command in a controlled environment, but not many can train and handle a dog in a canine sport.  However, not all trainers need to show in canine sports to necessarily be a good trainer.  Not all trainers that show in canine sports are good trainers. 

 

Regardless of what you are looking to accomplish with your dog, I urge you to look for someone that has the knowledge, experience, skills, and personality that fits what you and your dog.  Happy Training!