The Ultimate Guide to Finding a Good Dog Trainer

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Selecting a dog trainer can be a bewildering task—you want the very best for your dog, but in an industry that is largely unregulated, how do you separate the pros from the quacks?

In honor of dog training education month, we’re bringing you some solid advice on how to choose a dog trainer who’s right for you AND your dog. But first things first: let’s take a look at why you need a professional trainer in the first place.

 

Why you need a dog trainer (even if you don’t think you do)

dog with trainer

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It’s time to change the way we think about professional dog training. Rather than a luxury reserved for pampered pooches, every dog owner—and every dog—can benefit from working with a pro.

If you’re concerned that hiring an outside trainer reflects poorly on your own dog-rearing skills, please set those fears aside. Working alongside a professional dog-trainer in no way implies failure on your part. On the contrary, it shows your willingness to invest in your dog’s well-being.

 

Reasons to hire a dog trainer:

  • You’re a first-time dog owner, and you’d like someone to hold your hand through the daunting process of puppy training 

  • You want to address some bad habits, like your dog jumping on guests or begging

  • Your dog has stopped following commands, and he needs a refresher

  • You want to socialize your dog

Benefits of hiring a professional dog trainer:

  • You’ll be a more confident dog owner

  • It will strengthen your owner/dog bond

  • You’ll learn how to communicate more effectively with your dog

  • You’ll get an objective, outside opinion—your dog trainer can help you spot problems or interpret your dog’s behavior in a new way

 

Where to find a reputable dog trainer 

Dog Trainer with dog

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As you can see, there’s no denying the benefits of a good dog trainer. But where do you begin your search? Some ideas to get you started:

As you gather recommendations, highlight the ones that have some credentials attached to their name. While there’s no standard certification required for dog trainers in the United States, certification through an organization like the CCPDT is a pretty good indicator that a trainer takes his profession seriously. A trainer who invests in keeping up-to-date with the latest research on dog behavior demonstrates passion for the field—and that’s just what you want.

 

Be clear on what you want from a trainer

Dog reward

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There are several different formats dog training can take, and every trainer offers different services. Before you commit to a trainer, figure out exactly what you want by asking yourself the following questions: 

  • Do you want to participate in group classes, or do you prefer one-on-one lessons?

  • Do you mind taking your dog to a facility for training, or would you prefer to have a  trainer come to you?

  • Are you interested in general training or are you looking to address a specific behavior? (if it’s a specific problem, you can look for an expert who specializes in that area)

  • What’s your budget? Some trainers will charge more than others, depending on what services they offer. Private, in-home lessons, for instance, will cost you more than group classes at a facility.

 

7 things to ask prospective trainers

Dog shake

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So, you have your list of names. You’re clear on what you want. Time to make sure you and any prospective trainers are on the same page. Here are some questions you can ask a potential trainer to help you make your decision.

  • Be sure to ask your trainer about their preferred training philosophy. The American Kennel Club recommends going with a trainer who uses positive reinforcement. By the same token, the CCPDT warns dog owners to steer clear of trainers who use techniques based on dominance or submission. Run—don’t walk—from any trainer who is still using antiquated punishment-based methods.

  • Ask about their credentials and/or experience. Some trainers will have an academic background, while others may have gained their skills during an apprenticeship. Both are valuable. Even better? Trainers who are actively furthering their education with ongoing courses. This shows commitment to understanding the science behind canine behavior, and it’s a trait you’ll see in the best dog trainers.

  • Ask for references from other clients to get a feel for how other people have felt about the trainer’s work.

  • Speak with the trainer to make sure you’re comfortable with her. Since you’ll be working together quite closely, a trainer’s people skills are just as important as her understanding of dog behavior. Ultimately, the trainer is teaching you how to train your dog. She must be able to communicate clearly and demonstrate techniques so that you can repeat them at home with ease. If she’s rude, unclear in her instructions, or makes you feel uneasy—find someone else.

  • Ask if you can observe a class before you commit to working with a trainer. Pay special attention to the other dogs and their owners in the class—do they look happy? Does the trainer get easily flustered, or is she generally calm, cool, and collected? Observing a class can give you a good sense of how the trainer approaches dog training, and allows you to make an educated decision about enrolling your pup.

  • Look for a trainer who encourages family involvement. A good trainer is willing to work with all members of a dog’s family, including children.

  • If you can, opt for a trainer who’s willing to be accessible after formal training ends. If a concern arises or you need clarification on something, you’ll be more at ease knowing there’s someone you can call.