Whether you have a brand new puppy or an old dog you’d like to teach some new tricks, working with a trainer to help ensure your dog is a well-behaved and safe member of the family is always a good idea. However, considering there are so many methods and practices in dog training today, how do you choose a trainer who is right for your and your pup?
Hiring a dog trainer is one of the biggest decisions you will make in the life of your dog. It’s never cheap, but it can be either be an investment in your dogs mental stability and all around good behavior, or it can be an investment in a lifetime of insecurity for your dog with all the accompanying sinful canine behaviors that comes with this.
Do I Need A Dog Trainer?
A commonly-heard refrain among dog parents/owners is that “no one knows my dog like I do.” While that may very well be the case, it’s not really relevant to whether or not that makes them the right choice to make dog training decisions. While many dog parents might be proficient handlers, qualified dog trainers do possess a skill set and information which they have worked very hard to master, and the gap between a well-meaning, intelligent dog parent and a trained professional is wider than many sometimes believe.
While it is certainly possible to read some books or browse websites such as this one and come away with a good amount of knowledge about how dogs think, feel and learn, it does still take a qualified Behaviorist/Trainer to fully point dog/owner teams in the right direction and help them get back on track when facing behavioral issues.
Those who are reserved to hire a dog trainer sometimes resist due to a feeling that their money may be better spent on other dog related products or activities. In most cases, however, the financial investment in positive professional dog training services early in a dog’s life almost always saves time, effort, money and sometimes even heartache in the long run. What dog training is to a dog and its parent is equivalent to what education is to a human child its parents and society.
What Is Positive Reinforcement Training/Trainer?
Before conducting a search for a good dog trainer, it is important to define just exactly what a positive trainer really is. The phrase ‘positive training’ isn’t actually a scientific term, and therefore it is important to understand that for the purposes of finding a good trainer, when we refer to ‘positive training’. In short, a good dog trainer is one who avoids the use of pain, fear and punishment both in tools and techniques when training dogs. Instead, a positive trainer will rely on the power of positive reinforcement combined with an understanding of what dominance really is as well as the dangers of punishment.
What Makes A Good Positive Reinforcement Trainer?
A good trainer is a great listener and should be interested in your take on your dog’s characteristics, tendencies, personal history, strengths and weaknesses. Rather than swooping into a situation and immediately dictating who and what needs to change, good trainers start by sitting down and talking through expectations, concerns and philosophies before starting any actual training or behavior modification work.
- Be a great listener: This is crucial. You can usually tell during your first contact with a trainer – via email, phone or in person – whether he or she is willing to take the time to hear what you have to say. If you’re not able to communicate effectively with the trainer, the process will be infinitely more challenging from the start.
- Use positive methods to address negative behaviors: Anyone can teach a dog to sit, stay or come using positive reinforcement, but it takes a lot more skill, experience and confidence in positive training techniques to modify unwanted negative behaviors like aggression or separation anxiety using positive training. This is a key identifier which separates run of the mill trainers (that use both positive and punishment techniques) from truly great positive trainer.
- Take a full behavioral history of your dog: Good trainers want to know everything possible about a dog’s background so that they can more quickly and effectively identify root causes and implement a positive training protocol. Any trainer that discounts the importance of a dog’s history should be avoided.
- Provide client references: In fact, a good trainer will usually actively want you to talk to his or her previous clients. This is because there are so many bad trainers working professionally, it is even more important for the good trainers to convince you that they are in fact solid positive trainers. While it’s good to talk to references from the trainer’s list, he or she should also encourage you to find and talk to previous clients on your own. Good trainers have nothing to hide.
- Want to train the entire household. Consistency is a key to effective positive training, so good trainers will usually strongly suggest that if at all possible the entire household be available for at least the early training sessions. Doing so ensures that everyone who interacts with the dog will be using a common language and providing a consistent learning experience for the dog.
- Include you in the training: During the training process, a good trainer will constantly and effectively communicate what he or she is doing, and one of their primary goals will be for you to step in and eventually take over the actual training with your dog.
Dog Trainers To Avoid
- A trainer who doesn’t want to hear your dog’s history. In order to successfully address a dog behavior problem, one must first fully understand the factors behind the behavior. The only way to begin to understand why a dog is behaving a certain way is to gather as much history of the dog and his behavior as possible. Any trainer who discounts everything that happened before he or she arrived does not truly understand dog behavior.
- The Trainer has a dog that is aggressive, fearful or generally unruly: Ask to meet your dog trainer’s dog to know how well behaved theirs is.
- Use of physical punishment of any kind: Any trainer who uses these techniques is an old-school trainer who continues to use punishment instead of positive reinforcement even though heavy-handed techniques have been proven to be less effective, more dangerous and less humane. Don’t believe it when they tell you it’s how mother dogs correct their young (you’re a human, not a mother dog!) or that bigger, older dogs need a heavier hand to teach them who’s boss – positive training works on all dogs regardless of breed, age or drive and all behaviors, so there’s never a need to physically punish your dog. Positive trainers will provide alternative non-physical (but even more effective) humane discipline like removal of good things, time-outs and withholding of rewards.
- Use of Choke Chains, Prong or Shock Collars: If your trainer suggests you use one of these punishment-based devices, grab your dog, run away and don’t look back. It’s simple: these tools have been proven by science to be less effective and cause more damage than positive training tools and techniques. Combine that with a positive trainer’s instinctive awareness that they would rather teach dogs without the use of pain, fear and intimidation, and the choice is clear. And don’t fall for it when people say these things don’t hurt dogs – they absolutely do.
- Your Dog should be happy to see your Trainer: If your dog isn’t happy to see your trainer when he/she arrives for consecutive sessions its time you look for a new one.
You Are Your Dog’s Primary Trainer
Always remember, you are your dog’s primary trainer whether you like it or not: your dog is constantly observing and learning – not just when you’re actively training him. Every interaction you have with your dog constitutes some degree of training – you’re providing experiences and responding with some type of reward or punishment based on your behavior. Dogs learn from every experience, so it’s your responsibility to ensure that you work with people you trust to help you learn to guide your dog into making the right choices.