How to choose a dog trainer

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It’s easy to “become” a dog trainer.  Really.

Because dog training is an unregulated industry, anyone can call themselves a trainer. This makes it difficult for the dog owner, as you don’t know whether the “trainer” you’ve heard about actually knows their stuff, or if their expertise is based on the fact that they managed to housetrain their three year old Flugelhound after pouring through the pages of “Dog Training for Dummies.”

Choosing the right dog trainer is the critical first step in the training process, so knowing what to look for is vital. In this first of two segments, we’ll look at how you can find a qualified trainer.

The first thing you want to find is someone with experience. Every trainer has a mental toolbox of tips and techniques they draw from. The size of the toolbox varies greatly with the time the person has been training.

A self-proclaimed trainer, just starting out, who has successfully trained a dog or two of their own, may only have a child’s lunchbox full of tools, while the experienced professional has one of those huge red rolling models. This is important, as dogs don’t always do what is expected of them. A qualified trainer knows what to do when “Plan A” doesn’t work and can move seamlessly to “Plan B” and beyond.

This experience will also have exposed the trainer to a wide variety of dogs of different breeds, ages, sizes and backgrounds. A novice trainer might characterize the ankle nipping of a Corgi as aggression, when in fact it is usually herding instinct passed down to them genetically from cattle chasing ancestors. When you’re interviewing trainers, ask them how much experience they have training other people’s dogs. If they don’t have much experience, or are evasive or defensive when answering the question, you might want to look elsewhere.

Knowledge goes hand in hand with experience. A good trainer is constantly reading and exploring to make use of new findings in dog behavior. The trainer should be attending workshops and seminars to increase their knowledge, and researching new products, techniques and methods.  This helps them to continue to grow as a professional.

One way to assess both the knowledge and experience of the trainer is to find out if they have any sort of certification, and to ask where the certification comes from. There are many programs available over the internet that train and certify trainers with no proof that they have ever actually touched a dog.

Some of the large pet retailers teach and certify their own trainers in house. The Association of Pet Dog Trainers explains the difference between a certificate and a certification. “Certificate Programs are educational programs designed to teach … a certain set of skills or knowledge. Upon graduating from the program, you receive a certificate, which is also often known as a certification … The main focus of a certificate program is education and the educational process begins and ends with the program… A Certification has a different focus – that of assessing skills and/or knowledge. Certifications are run by organizations that are independent of the actual educational process and their sole goal is determining if you meet a set of criteria demonstrating the attainment of a level of skill/knowledge. A certification is designed to show that you have met a set of standard skills/knowledge in your profession. In order to maintain a certification, further education from independent organizations is required, usually in the form of Continuing Education Units.”

Finding a trainer with certification from an independent agency can be a good way to find someone truly qualified to help you.

Ask the potential trainer about the methods they use to train dogs. Dog training has evolved through the years and those who are passionate about dogs understand that humane methods of training and reward based training, are the best methods for working with dogs.

The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior states, “AVSAB endorses training methods which allow animals to work for things … that motivate them rather than techniques that focus on using fear or pain to punish them for undesirable behaviors. Look for a trainer who uses primarily or only reward-based training… trainers who routinely use choke collars, pinch collars, shock collars, and other methods of physical punishment as a primary training method should be avoided.”

There are other aspects of a trainer you should consider, such as their passion for dogs, teaching and communication skills and the facility they use.

Next week, we’ll explore these issues, and prepare you to find the right trainer for you and your dog.

Karlene Turkington, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, is a lifelong animal lover who has been training dogs for over 20 years. Readers are welcomed to send their questions to: info@TrainMyK-9.com This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it for possible inclusion in future columns.  Information provided here is a basic overview of issues. Specific health or behavioral concerns should be discussed with your veterinarian or qualified animal trainer or behaviorist.

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