Questions to Ask a Dog Trainer
Selecting the right professional dog trainer for your four-legged family member sets both of you up for success! Every dog deserves a trainer who uses and educates owners about methods that foster mutual trust and respect to strengthen the human-animal bond and help eliminate unwanted behaviors. During National Train Your Dog Month, the following questions will help you identify professional dog trainers who utilize positive reinforcement and force-free training methods.
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- What dog training equipment is used and recommended to owners? A 6’ – 8’ leash is ideal for training (no retractable leashes, please). If your dog’s energy level is better managed with a harness, a front/back clip harness should help. Trainers that use/recommend pinch or prong collars, choke or check chains, spray collars and electric or shock collars are not using positive reinforcement methods.
- What happens during training when my dog responds appropriately? Your trainer should know what your dog values most highly – fun, attention, toys, or food – and use these to reward appropriate behavior.
- What happens during training when my dog responds inappropriately? A trainer using positive reinforcement methods should ignore or redirect your dog to an alternative appropriate behavior. Avoid trainers who use verbal reprimands or snap the leash to stop the undesired behavior.
- How does the trainer identify fear, anxiety or stress during training? Your dog should be continuously observed for signs of fear, anxiety, and stress including whining, growling, snarling, snapping, a furrowed brow, panting, ears set far forward or flat back, still legs, lip licking or tongue flicks, pacing, etc. If your dog exhibits one or more of these behaviors, the trainer should stop and reassess the situation before continuing the lesson.
- Which professional dog training associations is the trainer a member of and for how long? Members of the Association for Pet Dog Trainers use force-free principles to help you and your dog develop a bond built on trust and respect. Graduates of other training programs and members of other professional dog training organizations may use pinch or prong collars during training or punish your dog when it displays unwanted behavior.
- Are training results guaranteed? This is very important and probably the one that causes the most strife between dog trainers and their clients. Heck we have even been sued when Mrs. Johnson (name changed to protect the absent minded…) didn’t do their homework and Max refused to walk nicely on leash on the hiking trail. Think about it for a second, if your child gets into Harvard and doesn’t do their homework, the prestigious college doesn’t give you a refund. Secondly, if you sign up for personal training sessions at the local fitness club and you don’t loose weight because you head over to McDonalds after sweatin’ to the oldies and you don’t loose weight its not the personal trainers fault and they won’t give you a refund. Simply, no dog training professional should guarantee their methods will be successful. Trainers should, however, commit to working with you to achieve the most appropriate behavior changes. Every dog trainer should offer you a guarantee that they will provide you with every tool in their toolbox of knowledge to make sure you succeed in your program. Your commitment level and compliance with the recommended training methods will help contribute to successful training outcomes.
- Does the trainer specialize in one breed or multiple? Many trainers earned their chops by working with their favorite breed. If they have only worked with their Golden Retriever and they use him as their demo dog, they may have trouble working with you and your high drive Dutch Shepherd. I have trained more than a hundred different breeds and this valuable experience is truly what sets me apart from other trainers.
- Does the trainer teach what they know? If you look online you will see scores of trainers offering trick training, service dog training, therapy dog training and maybe even protection training but they went to online school to learn clicker training using Labradors. We say, if you haven’t earned a title in something you shouldn’t be teaching it.
- Where does your trainer offer classes? Do they teach group classes every Saturday in the aisles of the local big box store? Do they come to your home? Do they offer a board and train? Do they have a faculty? All of these are important things to consider when trying to figure out what is the best scenario for your dog.
In addition to these questions, you should always ask a trainer for a list of client references so you can talk with them. By asking satisfied clients the first three questions above, you should be able to determine if a trainer uses positive reinforcement and force-free training methods. Bear in mind we keep our client’s privacy in mind, especially our service dog clients. In today’s social media environment the best place to find referrals is on the trainer’s Facebook page. Look close at the pictures, not the ones that the trainer posts but the one’s their client’s post. Those are the best referrals. Also review the trainer’s website – particularly the photos or videos – to see if any of the dogs pictured are wearing prong or pinch collars and if a dog’s unwanted behaviors are ignored or redirected to an alternative appropriate behavior. Ethical trainers will not remove unflattering reviews or client testimonials. The best recommendation for finding a dog trainer I can give you is to find one that you relate to. At Alaska Dog Works we are positive reinforcement trainers but we deal with a lot of dogs with behavioral issues that require a more scientific based training method. Scientific based training methods teach you and the dog how to work through mistakes teaching the dog the desired behavior with correcting the unwanted behavior by redirecting using wanted behaviors. The best dog trainers teach both you and your dog and can adapt to changing situations, behavior patterns, and development cycles of the dog.
If you would like to schedule a free discovery session to find out how we can help you make your dog one of the best please schedule it here.