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How To Choose the Right Dog Trainer: Our Top-Five Tips

With so many dog trainers available these days, choosing the right one can become a bit of an overwhelming task! If you're trying to figure out how to narrow down your list of potential trainers, check out these helpful tips on how to find the best dog trainer for you (and your dog)!

Pro Tip #1

Certifications and/or experience matter.

With as many dog trainers as there are today, one would think that there was an organization that certified and held all dog trainers to the same standards, right? Wrong! There is still no one single organization that certifies dog trainers. Anyone can grab a leash and a treat pouch and say they're a dog trainer. To protect you (and your dog) from being a new dog trainer's "first experiment," look for a trainer that has either a training certification or and/or a great deal of relevant experience.

If you're searching for a trainer with a certification, make sure you research the certification. There are quite a few online certifications that simply require aspiring dog trainers to send in a few videos and read a book or two, whereas a trainer that has attended a dog training school or apprenticed at a dog training academy in order to earn their certification is going to (generally speaking) have much more dog-related experience and knowledge to share with you.

Certifications aside, some of the greatest dog trainers of our time were 100% self-taught, so holding a certification shouldn't necessarily be a deal-breaker. For trainers that aren't certified, look for relevant experience. When we say relevant experience, we mean experience that can aid you in resolving your dog's issues. Military/police canine handlers were just that.... Handlers. A dog trainer trained their military/police dog for them and taught them how to handle said dog. This does not qualify them to train dogs. Furthermore, military/police working dogs are very different from your pet dog. This is an example of irrelevant experience. Make sure you find a trainer that has experience (3+ years is best) working with dogs just like yours and owners just like you. Positive testimonials and/or before & after videos can be great indicators of a trainer's level of experience.

Pro Tip #2

Make sure you feel comfortable talking to and/or questioning your dog trainer.

Lots of people can train a dog. Some people can train a dog well. Very few people can train another person to train a dog well.

When you hire a dog trainer, you're not just hiring someone to train your dog. You're hiring someone to train you how to train your dog (in group classes or private classes), or you're hiring someone to train your dog and then train you on how to maintain your dog's training (board & train). When you're interviewing dog trainers, it can be difficult to tell how skilled they are at teaching, but there are usually a few indicators you can look for...

  1. When you ask them training-related questions, they answer said questions in detail, and their answers make logical sense to you. If their answers leave you with additional questions, you may want to continue your search.

  2. You feel comfortable talking with them and asking them questions. While you and your trainer should always maintain a professional relationship, it is important that you feel comfortable enough to ask questions. We always say that if you don't look silly when you're training your dog, you're probably not doing it right. If you're worried about messing up or looking silly in front of your dog trainer, you may want to continue your search.

  3. Their conversation style is similar to yours. If you're a blunt person and prefer short and to-the-point conversation, a trainer that takes 15 minutes to answer one question is probably going to annoy you. On the other hand, if you're a more talkative individual who appreciates in-depth explanations, a blunt trainer that gives you "yes" or "no" answers with very little explanation is probably going to annoy you. Find a trainer that you enjoy conversing with.

Pro Tip #3

You should feel comfortable with your dog trainer's training approach.

If you're looking for a specific type of training (purely positive, balanced, etc.), it's important to hash this out with your trainer before you hire them so there are no surprises from either party. If you want your dog to learn a specific skill, make sure you ask the trainer how they plan on training this skill. For example, if you want your dog to come back when called off-leash, ask your trainer if this is attainable for them and how they plan to teach and proof this skill. Make sure you're comfortable with the answer. If you want your dog to stop jumping on your house guests, ask your trainer how they plan to make this happen. Make sure you feel confident in their solution.

Pro Tip #4

You usually get what you pay for.

As with most goods and services, you usually get what you pay for. Dog training is typically no different. Skilled dog trainers with years of experience are usually in pretty high demand, and they charge accordingly. While you don't need to choose the most-expensive dog trainer simply because they're the most expensive, it's probably best not to settle for the cheapest option either. Your dog is going to be a member of your family for 10+ years, and training should (if done correctly) be a one-time investment. Choose wisely from the start, and you'll save money in the long-run. If you pick a low-quality trainer just because they are the cheapest option, you're going to end up spending more money getting more training because you didn't get the quality results you were looking for to start with.

Pro Tip #5

Be wary of "quick-fix" guarantees.

As much as we'd love to tell you that dog training is an easy, quick fix... Put simply, it's just not. It takes time for dogs to learn bad behaviors, and it takes time for dogs to unlearn those behaviors. Fair, effective training takes time and doesn't happen overnight. Dogs need multiple repetitions to learn a new skill, and then that skill must be "proofed" in various environments around various distractions to ensure that it will stick. Any trainer touting a one-lesson guarantee is, in reality, going to either be really unfair to your dog, or they aren't truly going to fix the problem (they may just slap a band aid on it). Generally speaking, the fastest fix usually isn't the best fix. However, don't get caught up in the never-ending lesson trap that some trainers will attempt/recommend. You should be able to tell a trainer your training goals, and a good/experienced trainer should be able to give you a very accurate estimate on how many lessons it will take to reach those goals (give or take a lesson or two at most). To summarize this tip... If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

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