Choose your trainer wisely

Did you know? Dog training is a completely unregulated field. What does that mean for you, a dog owner looking to hire someone?

It is a complex issue, but the basics are this: anyone can call themselves a dog trainer, dog behavioralist [sic], master trainer, or any number of titles they choose, without breaking any laws, and without any oversight from credentialing bodies.

So how will you know who to trust with your dog? Who should you hire? Below I share my 4 top tips, as well as some resources from other trainers I know and trust.

Before you go on, understand that I have a background in dog training - I held certification by Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers® (CCPDT®), Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) and the Pet Professional Guild (PPG), which includes logging hours, a certification exam, continuing education requirements, and submission of recommendations from other professionals. I only recommend science-backed training (positive reinforcement) without the use of fear, force, or pain.

Shared with permission from Rescued By Training

Scan for Red Flags

Scan any potential trainers' website and social media channels for red flags that could indicate they may not be as qualified as they seem.

Such as:

  • the use of phrases like "pack leader", "alpha", "dominate", or "balanced"
  • photos of dogs wearing shock collars (also called e-collars, stim collars, etc)
  • photos of dogs wearing prong, "pinch", or choke-chain collars
  • photos of dogs wearing shock collars not only on their necks but around their abdomens
  • no mention of credentials, certifications or formal education
  • the oft-used "I've worked with dogs my whole life but have no formal education" story
  • guarantees of any kind, but especially a guarantee within a short time frame
  • pet owners not being allowed to view or partake in the training

Look for Credentials

There are a handful of educational bodies and certifications within dog training. Of course, not all are created equal, but it can be reassuring to see some letters after their name! The links below will take you to the trainer search functions of the corresponding organization:

Now, not all of those organizations or certifications may align with your personal philosophy so I encourage you to do some research, but this list is a good starting point.

Check References

Don't rely on Facebook or Google reviews alone. Actually do some digging and talk to people who have used them in the past.

Story Time.

There is a popular local dog training & boarding facility where serious abuse was uncovered. Public outcry and gut-wrenching testimonials came flooding out into public view after the story (and videos) came out. Most of the victims hadn't spoken out until then, believing they were the only ones with poor experiences. That business paid professionals to clean up their reviews online to hide the horror... and their business is still alive and well to this day.

If you want to read more on this particular story, my friend Maggie at Practical Obedience LLC has a fantastic article on the subject.

Change Takes Time

Yes, we all wish training was a quick fix, but the reality is... it's usually not. Just like it is hard for us to break a lifelong bad habit, it is hard to change the habits of our dogs after they've been practicing them for years.

Similarly, the best training doesn't just stop the obvious problem, but it addresses the underlying cause of the behavior. This takes time, and there's no way around that.

Certain issues like reactivity and aggression are often fear based, so to resolve them permanently, protocols must be designed to change the way the dog feels, or else you're just slapping a bandaid on a gushing artery.

Run, don't walk, away from any trainer who promises to "cure" a behavior in x-hours/days/weeks. Every dog is unique and trying to cram them into a timeline like that is bound to backfire.

Coming in the next issue - removing the guesswork - a Recommended Trainer List

Stay tuned for the next blog, where I'll give you a list of trainers in the area that you can count on to provide the best care, training plans, and support.