Yellow Lab with his dog trainer and KONGTraining 

How To Choose the Right Dog Trainer for Your Puppy


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Your new puppy Max is the sweetest, smartest, cutest golden retriever that you’ve ever seen. But he doesn’t understand anything yet and needs training.

You’ve decided to hire a trainer to get Max off on the right paw.

But where do you start and how do you know that you’re hiring the best trainer for you and Max?

This article will describe what to look for in a trainer and how to choose the right dog trainer for your puppy.

Yellow Lab with his dog trainer and KONG

It’s important to do your research in determining the correct trainer for you and your dog.

There are no certification requirements or regulations governing dog trainers. It’s truly caveat emptor.

Don’t be fooled by impressive ads, brochures, or business cards. Anyone can buy those.

And just because a trainer indicates that he’s loved dogs his entire life doesn’t mean he can train them.

Do You Need a Dog Trainer?

You have a sweet, intelligent new puppy. And this isn’t your first rodeo. You’ve trained other dogs.

So, do you need a dog trainer? 

Hiring a qualified trainer will help you get off on the right paw with your puppy.

Remember: a dog trainer should be training you as well as your puppy.

Reasons To Hire a Dog Trainer

A great trainer will possess knowledge and training skills that even an intelligent, well-meaning owner won’t.

And each pup is unique even within the same breed. 

So even if you trained your last dog yourself, the right trainer can help you establish the best relationship with your new pup and avoid pitfalls.

The sooner you establish appropriate communication with your new canine, the more successful your life-long relationship will be. 

And you’ll be likely to avoid serious behavioral issues you can’t manage.

The financial investment and time commitment will pay off for a lifetime of a great relationship with your new puppy.

Training Options

There are many options to choose from when deciding how to train your puppy. Before hiring a trainer, make sure that she offers the type of training you require.

Depending on your needs, you may hire a trainer for private training or classes.

The benefits of private training include that you and your pup get all the attention and the lesson can be tailored specifically to your needs. And the lesson can fit in with your schedule

Some trainers offer on-line private training or group classes. .

But private training usually costs more than classes do. And working alone with a trainer doesn’t provide the socialization and real-life distractions that a class does.

Classes are a great option for most people. 

A well-run puppy class will offer not only training of commands but also a safe environment for your puppy’s socialization to new puppies, people, and experiences.

The downside to classes is that they are offered at certain inflexible times that must agree with your scheduling needs. 

But classes are often less expensive than private training is.

Some trainers offer board-and-train, where you drop off your puppy for a certain amount of time (usually a week or two) and he’s trained at a facility.

Of course, you’ll still need to learn from the trainer how to work with your own dog.

I caution people who want the board-and-train option. 

You don’t see how your puppy is treated the whole time he’s at the facility. And, especially with a puppy, the time you spend with him not only helps him learn desired behaviors but also provides a bonding experience between the two of you.

If you choose this option, check out the trainer and facility regarding the methods they use and how the dogs are treated. They may even have video cameras so that you can watch how your puppy is treated.

Types of Training

Make sure that the trainer you hire has experience in the type of training you need.

If you require training for your puppy, make sure that the trainer has successful experience working with puppies.

If you’re looking for specialized training, make sure that the trainer has the proper background in that area. 

For example, even though a trainer may be great working with puppies or basic obedience training, she might not have the proper background to teach competitive obedience. Or rally, agility, or trick training.

Review the Dog Trainer’s Methods, Credentials, and Experience

It’s important to review the trainer’s philosophy, methods, and credentials. 

You want to ensure that the trainer uses science-based methods.

Ethical trainers are honest about their experience and limitations.

Acceptable and Non-Acceptable Methods

First and foremost, make sure that the trainer uses science-based methods when training a dog or engaging in behavior modification.

Of course, they should use positive reinforcement when training and working with your beloved puppy, 

The training methods used should be kind, humane, and gentle.

A trainer who uses punishment and harsh methods doesn’t use science-based ones. 

Avoid trainers who use intimidation (of you or your dog), physical punishment, or fear.

Good trainers understand the misconceptions of dominance theory. They learn about the canine experience from the dog’s point of view.

A good trainer understands the dangers of using punishment as a training tool. Doing so can lead to fear-based behaviors, including aggression.

Avoid trainers who use shock, prong, or choke collars. Also, steer clear of those who talk about dogs as being spiteful or defiant.

You shouldn’t use a trainer who uses alpha rolls, kicking or poking, leash jerks, or any other physical punishment of your dog.

These horrific, abusive methods have been proven by science to cause more damage than positive training tools and techniques do.

Beware of a trainer who says she uses positive methods but doesn’t actually. Actions speak louder than words.

Also listen when references use those terms to describe the trainer.

Credentials and Experience

There are many institutions and businesses that certify a dog trainer’s credentials. 

Some are legitimate, others aren’t. Some actually test a trainer’s knowledge of behavior, training techniques, ethology, and other pertinent information.

But be aware that even those who test a trainer’s knowledge often don’t test the actual way a trainer works with dogs.

I know of some trainers who constantly jerk a dog’s neck even though they passed tests demonstrating knowledge of science-based training. 

Don’t just look at the letters after the trainer’s name supposedly demonstraining a certain type of knowledge or education.

Very few organizations follow up with the trainer’s actual skills and methods.

And make sure any certification is made by an independent organization, not the one the trainer works or worked for.

And don’t assume that a trainer is a positive trainer just because they belong to a certain organization. 

Many just require paying a yearly fee and do no investigation regarding a trainer’s knowledge or training methods.

Although independent certifications aren’t all you should inquire about, legitimate ones can serve as a starting point when you’re investigating who to hire to train your precious puppy.

When inquiring about where a trainer got her education and experience, also find out how long they’ve been studying and training.  And ask if they keep up with current theories and techniques. Education should be on-going.

Also look at a trainer’s experience in the real world. 

Questions to ask include:

  • How long have you been studying dog training?
  • How long have you been training dogs?
  • What’s your experience with certain types of training (puppies, basic training, advanced training, or specialized training such as for therapy dog work)?
  • Do you belong to any organizations?
  • Do you have any certifications?
  • What’s your training philosophy?
  • What techniques do you use to train?
  • How many dogs have you trained? With what success?
  • Have you ever not been able to work with a client or train his dog?
  • What type of training do you do (puppy, basic, specialized)?
  • How much do your services cost?
  • Do you have any dogs?
  • What training have they received?
  • Can you demonstrate what your dogs can do?
  • Can I sit in on one of your classes?
  • Can you provide any references?
  • Do any vets, rescues, shelters, or other pet professionals recommend you?

Of course, these questions are just an outline of some things you’ll want to know. It’s important to ask pertinent follow-up questions to determine whether a trainer is a good fit.

As far as the trainer having trained dogs of their own, in my opinion a trainer should be able to show or even discuss that their own dog’s trained.

Practically speaking, a trainer may have recently lost an older dog to health issues or may have only a senior dog currently which doesn’t necessarily demonstrate what he was taught when younger.

But you get the idea: good trainers usually have a well-trained dog. 

When I do classes, I often bring a “demo dog” not only to show how to do a command but also to show I am really committed to training and able to train proficiently. And my dogs show that they were trained using positive methods.

Even if a trainer’s dog is well-trained, look at whether the pup performs tasks happily or looks fearful and sad. A fearful, sad dog was probably trained using harsh methods.

Once you’ve chosen a trainer, periodically reassess whether you’re making the desired progress. And decide whether you feel comfortable with the trainer.

Even a great trainer won’t be effective if you don’t feel comfortable with her. Trust your instincts and get another trainer if the relationship isn’t working out.

Important Traits of Great Dog Trainers

In addition to having the right credentials and experience, a great trainer should have additional qualities.

The trainer should have good communication skills. She should have good people skills and be compassionate and respectful.

A trainer should listen to your concerns about your dog’s habits and temperament and not minimize or ignore them. She shouldn’t put you down.

The right trainer should pace the training to meet your needs if privately training.

A good trainer should take a full behavioral history of your dog. 

I do this with my clients and have a very detained behavior questionnaire that clients fill out. 

When meeting with them, I also ask any follow-up questions so that I fully understand the situation and can help the client to the best of my ability.

Trainers should provide client references and even encourage you to seek out prior clients to determine whether they are the right trainer.

A trainer should want to train your entire family. And she should explain what she’s doing and why and answer any of your questions.

You should also be able to watch the trainer in action. Good trainers welcome prospective students (without their dogs) to sit in on a class.

The dogs and people should be relaxed and look like they’re having fun. 

The class should be well-run and dogs and their handlers should be far enough apart that there aren’t problems with a dog or person interfering with another dog or individual.

In puppy classes, puppies are usually given some time to play and socialize together. 

A good trainer should monitor that play and not allow any bullying and should interrupt any inappropriate play.

Good trainers should have liability insurance too in case anything goes wrong. And they should ask for proof of appropriate vaccinations so that all dogs in a class or group setting are protected.

How To Find The Best Trainer for You and Your Pup

There are many resources that can help you find a great trainer. But even after you get some recommendations, you’ll still want to do your research regarding the trainer’s experience and credentials.

Don’t hire a trainer just because she’s the closest to you or you’re wowed by her ads.

You can check with your vet, local shelter, rescue groups, and friends to see who they recommend.

Ask what experience they’ve had with any recommended trainer and what techniques the trainer uses and credentials and experience she has.

Red Flags: Trainers You Should Avoid

There are many great trainers out there. But there are some you’ll want to avoid.

Trainers Who Use Harsh, Non-Science-Based Training

As I discussed above, don’t hire a trainer who uses abusive, harsh techniques such as alpha rolls, leash jerks, or kicking or hanging a dog by his leash.

Trainers who talk about dominance over a dog or a dog being difficult are not using science-based training.

No References

If a trainer can’t provide any references, it’s probably best to find someone else. Even newer trainers should be able to provide some references.

Guarantees

Run away if a trainer guarantees a certain result. Dog training involves the trainer, the owner’s participation and commitment, and the variables concerning the dog’s behavior, genetic predispositions, health, and temperament.

No one can legitimately guarantee a particular result. Some trainers will give guarantees they can’t necessarily meet just to get your business.

Although a trainer can’t guarantee a specific result, she should indicate that she ensures your satisfaction with her services.

Trainers Who Don’t Listen or Aren’t Respectful

Beware of trainers who don’t get the full history of your dog and your specific needs and concerns. Also, don’t hire someone who puts you or your dog down.

Just because a trainer may have more knowledge and experience than you do doesn’t give her licence to be disrespectful.

Final Thoughts

Hiring a trainer may be the greatest thing you’ll do for your puppy. But not all trainers are created equal. 

Do your homework to find the best trainer for you and your pup.

Have you ever hired a trainer?

How did you find him or her?

Was your experience a positive one?

Please leave your comments in the section below.

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How To Choose The Right Dog Trainer - Yellow Lab with his dog trainer and KONG

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