Picking the right dog trainer for you and your dog can really be a field of landmines. The career of dog training and behaviour is becoming an increasingly popular one and often a natural progression for some dog walkers. But how do you know who to trust with your dog’s training? Unfortunately, the dog training and behaviour industry is an unregulated one, and Joe Bloggs off the street who has never even owned a dog can set up and call themselves a trainer. The average owner therefore has no one easy way to access all the details of trainers in their area. So where to even begin?
Firstly, you need to have a look at who is being recommended locally by your friends, family and fellow dog owners. Once you have a list of names then check out their websites and facebook for reviews, testimonials, but also the content of those pages. A trainer or behaviourist who is actively engaging with the public and sharing dog training information is likely one who enjoys learning and keeping up to date with modern training methods.
Are any of these trainers accredited with a dog trainer organisation? As I said earlier, there is no official regulator for the dog training industry but there are respected organisations that train and assess their members. For example I am training with the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) who advocate force-free training methods. There is also the Institute of Modern Dog Training (IMDT), Pet Professional Guild (PPG) and the Association of Pet Behaviour Councillors (APBC) all who are well respected by many trainers and behaviourists as they advocate ethical and positive training methods. What ever methods used, you at least want someone who is adequately trained and competent in using them.
You also need to like the person who is going to train you and your dog. Make sure you call and have a chat with the trainer of your choice to get a feel of their personality. You will be working very closely with this person, so someone that annoys you isn’t going to benefit your dog. You will find yourself questioning them and unwilling to train and will ultimately find it a waste of money. You also need someone who will be reliable and follow through with the training programme they lay out and continually support you. Dog training is an on going process so a trainer that flies in and shows you some tricks then disappears off the face of the Earth is a big red light.
Know that you can say no. If you go with a trainer and the methods they are using make you feel uncomfortable, or don’t mesh with your thinking, then speak up for yourself and your dog and if needs be, politely walk away. Some trainers prefer more hands on methods with dogs and use corrections or other ‘aversive’ ways to stop a dog’s problem behaviour, others prefer a hands-off approach and using only positive reinforcement, some use both. There is a spectrum of ways to train a dog, for me it comes down to two things, ethics and your relationship with your dog. If the training methods go against your ethics, walk away. If you think the methods will be detrimental to your relationship with your dog, walk away.
I’m serious; there isn’t a timeline on dog training. This is a sentient being we are talking about, not a robot to programme. How you progress on your training is ultimately up to you and your dog. Don’t beat yourself up about it, or get dragged down by the set backs (you will have these). A good trainer also knows how to work with the person as well as the dog, positive reinforcement is a powerful tool for humans too!
A great sign of a good dog trainer is one who communicates and works with other trainers in their area. There is a great deal to dog behaviour and training, and trainers have strengths and weaknesses in various areas. A trainer who will be happy to admit that they aren’t too experienced in that area and are either willing to refer you to someone else or bring in another trainer to help, shows commitment to your dog’s wellbeing over pride and everything else.
I hope this has helped you see the wood through the trees if you are struggling with finding a trainer. Whether it be myself, or one of my colleagues, make sure that you go with your gut when choosing a trainer and do what’s right for your dog! Dog trainers are owners and dog lovers too, so we can understand you putting your pooch first.