Woman training her dog | what makes a good trainer

A nice personality, experience, and patience.

Ask any dog pawrent why they choose a particular dog trainer and you will likely hear those three words.

However, if you go by those three words alone, you will end up with a list of hundreds, if not thousands of dog trainers that seem like the ‘perfect’ fit for your dog!

To narrow that list down to a manageable 5-10 dog trainers, you need a vetting process that is very… thorough and fine-tuned to you and your dog’s needs.

And that’s what this article is about – to help you trim your list of potential dog trainers to a manageable few that you can comfortably choose from.

But first…

Do You Really Need A Dog Trainer?

I mean, there’s YouTube and Google, if you run into any behavioral issue with your dog, these two can help you fix that, right?

Ermmm, no! That’s not always the case.

While you can learn a lot about dog behaviors from YouTube and Google, nothing beats live lessons from an experienced dog trainer.

Besides, judging from the number of shelter dogs with one behavioral issue or the other, I’d say YouTube and Google aren’t the perfect dog trainers one can get.

So, how do you find the perfect dog trainer for your dog?

Here are 6 steps to guide you.

6 Steps to Find the Perfect Dog trainer.

1. Ask Around.

Dog owner teaching dog to heel |  How to Choose the Perfect Dog Trainer.
Image by Katrin B. from Pixabay 

Your best resource for finding a reputable dog trainer are the pawrents around you.

Simply start a small chat with them to find out who they’ve entrusted their dog’s training to. 

While at it, find out the method of training they use (must be force-free), where and how the training is conducted, what the trainer is like, and if they’ve noticed improvements in their dog’s behavior. 

Also, find out if the class was/is fun and enjoyable.

2. Perform a Background Check!

The dog training field is not strictly regulated.

That means anyone can claim to be a behavior specialist, an expert dog trainer, a dog “whisperer” and all sorts of bogus claims.

Anyone can become a ‘certified’ dog trainer by studying for and passing an online course even without handling a dog! Don’t be mesmerized by the number of acronyms (or alphabet soup) a person has after his or her name because ‘GTP’ could be ‘Glenn’s (Online) Training Program.’

The first step to determining what a certificate is worth is to check it out on the Association of Pet Dog Trainers website or Sophia Yin’s website. These two will help you identify who has handled over 300 behavioral cases and who is just a trainer by name only.

However, looking at certificates can be quite tricky because there are some really good dog trainers who started training dogs long before a certificate was available.

And, they just haven’t bothered getting one or they consider themselves “too old” for school.

If their methods are force-free and in line with the modern, recommended practices, then you should give them a look.

3. Get to Know the Method of Training.

Man walking a dog after training
Image by Katrin B. from Pixabay 

First things first!

As soon as you meet the trainer find out what training methods they apply when teaching or modifying a dog’s behavior.

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It would be great if you research the different dog training methods (see this video) before this meeting so the terminologies don’t just fly over your head.

More often than not, the dog trainer will describe their approach to dog training in a simple language you can understand. 

Vague descriptions like “alpha”, “pack leader”, “positive reinforcement”, etc. do not offer any valuable information as to how the trainer achieves results.

A dog trainer that is familiar with, and embraces modern, reward-based dog training methods should be able to explain how pain and punishment are bad for dogs as well as give you a reassurance that they only use treats, play, or whatever motivates the dog to imprint the desired behavioral changes.

4. Do You Need to Bring Anything?

What do you need to bring to training

Ask the dog trainer what you need to bring for your dog’s lessons. Outdated trainers will make mention of words such as “e-collars”, “slip leads”, or “correction collars.” 

These specific types of collars are mainly used for punishment-based training methods. 😟

A force- and punishment-free dog trainer will tell you to come along with your dog’s favorite toys, treat pouch, and treats to make the training easier. 😊

5. What Are Your Goals?

What are your goals for training your dog

Talk to your potential dog trainer before signing up to ensure that you both have aligned goals. 

If all you want is a polite dog that you and your family members can have fun with, then there’s no need to sign up for a class that teaches advanced commands you’ll probably forget.

If you want to stop your dog from mouthing random objects while outdoors, then you have to communicate these to the dog trainer. 

This way they can focus on obedience training with your dog, so when you say “stay”, “leave it”, or “drop it” your dog will comply.

6. Observe Their People Skills.

How does the trainer relate with humans

Most dog trainers are fantastic at communicating with their canine students. However, some of them fail to connect as much with the people who sign on the dotted lines.

The best trainers are those that can engage both dog and dog pawrent by offering advice, feedback, and corrections at each level.

Find a trainer that offers support when things get challenging and frustrating, because, trust me, training a dog can be very frustrating.

That’s why I suggested you ask other dog owners if the class they attended was fun and enjoyable.

After discussing your goals with a potential trainer, evaluate how you feel. 

Do you feel excited to begin immediately? Do you think your dog will get the needed training here? Did you feel respected? Did the trainer ask about your dog’s history or did it seem like they were more interested in getting you to sign up?

If your instinct says “Move on!” then do so!

You and your dog are learning a new language, and for this to work, your dog’s trainer should be your ally. 

If you feel different, then keep looking.

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How Can You Tell If You’ve Found the Perfect Trainer for Your dog?

1. They Learned from the Best Teachers.

one quality that makes a good dog trainer is that they learned from the best teachers

I already mentioned that the dog training field is loosely regulated. There aren’t many credentialed university or college programs one can attain.

However, there are courses ranging from a week to several months that instill varying levels of expertise. Lots of dog trainers learned through experience, seminars, and other trainers, but not in a school – everything was practical.

Some great, positive reinforcement trainers who have their own education and certification programs are Victoria Stillwell, Pat Miller, Karen Pryor, and Jean Donaldson.

It’s a good sign if your potential dog trainer studied with any of those listed above.

2. Unless They Are Behaviorists, They Won’t Call Themselves That!

Good dog trainers do not claim to be behaviorist if they aren't
Image by Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay 

Unless you have a CAAB (Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist) which you earned after your name, it is misleading to call yourself an Animal Behaviorist. That’s because an Animal Behaviorist has:

  • An undergraduate degree.
  • Completed post-graduate education receiving a Master’s (2-year full time) or Ph.D.(4-year full time) degree in behavioral science, or DVM or VMD degree with a behavioral residency.
  • Passed written and oral examinations given by their faculty committees.
  • Articles published in scientific journals.
  • Supervised, hands-on experience with animals.
  • Met the course work and experience requirements for certification as set forth by the Animal Behavior Society.

Here are the full criteria

And, a list of the less than 60 people who are Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist. 

Unfortunately, this doesn’t stop many trainers from referring to themselves as “Animal Behaviorist” when they aren’t.

The list is less than 60 people (as at the time of publishing this). 

If you meet someone who claims to be an Animal Behaviorist, simply take down their full name and search the directory for their details.

If you don’t find them, then that’s a red flag – avoid!

3. They are insured – Very Important!

Choose a dog trainer that is insured to mitigate damage

There’s a quote that says “whatever that can go wrong, will go wrong at the worst possible moment” – Finagle’s Law.

Any “true” professional working with a dog, whether in a classroom or in the owner’s house should have dog training insurance because they know that a dog’s behavior is not guaranteed to remain the same.

For instance, if one is teaching a dog basic obedience, it might seem like the risk of something bad happening is small. But, suppose a dog jumps on or injures another dog or person in the class. 

The same is true if a dog with aggression or biting issues is brought in for behavior modification classes.

Someone has to pay for the damages.

A trainer needs to indicate that their business (or practice) is insured and should be able to provide proof if asked.

4. They Don’t Apportion Blames.

Serious question, when has pointing fingers ever been productive?

It never has!

Whatever issue you and your dog have is neither your fault nor your dog’s. It’s the result of poor communication between you and your dog. And, that’s what the dog trainer is supposed to help you fix.

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If they can’t do so they should speak up!

A good dog trainer should be able to look at your situation as a unique problem that needs to be solved and come up with a solution that works for all parties involved.

Other Important Things You Must Consider.

1. Consider the Cost and Convenience.

While it’s true that you get what you pay for, for most of us a dog training class needs to be affordable and convenient in order to be of any use.

I mean, you’re training your dog to be a ‘well-behaved’ dog, not a Lawyer or Computer Engineer.

So the cost should be low and the classes should be convenient because without these two you likely won’t stick with the class.

2. Changing personality?

Unfortunately, most people have a Dr. Jekyll personality before they take your money and Mr. Hyde right after you give it to them.

After you’ve chosen your trainer and started the classes, keep your eyes peel for a change in personality or dog training philosophy.

This will require you to be very perceptive!

If at any point in time it seems like you and your dog frustrate the trainer or are pushing against their canine-problem solving limits, you should consider taking a breaking and starting all over.

Less experienced dog trainers (or those who are merely pretending to be adherents of positive dog training methods) may not have learned to deal with every type of dog behavior issues or personalities in a positive manner.

If your dog trainer begins to apply force, no matter how light or subtle, citing your dog’s extraordinary “disrespect”, “stubbornness”, or any other justification for their forced-based methods.

LEAVE!!!

Believe me, it’s not your dog! It is the trainer.

There are dog trainers that will manage your dog’s behavioral issues in a positive manner without the use of force. Find them.

And, finally.

Be Realistic.

Be realistic.
Image by David Mark from Pixabay 

Nothing in life is guaranteed – well, except death and taxes!

Only snake-oil salesmen (and there are many who hide under the guise of dog trainers) will guarantee you results just to make a sale.

Don’t fall for this cheap marketing gimmick!

The perfect dog trainer will promise to do his/her best, but won’t guarantee you results because to do will mean that every dog is the same. 

And, that their technique works on all dogs irrespective of the different families, breeds, temperament, and other variables surrounding said dog.

What if the owner cannot commit to their part of the training? What happens when the trainer’s work is done? Is regression considered a failure?

What you should look for is someone that guarantees to use their knowledge, guidance, and professionalism to teach or iron out behavioral changes you wish to see in your dog.

That is someone I would consider as an ally!

And the first step in that direction is asking the right questions before someone guides you down the wrong path.

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