You may be surprised to find that the animal training industry isn’t officially governed in any way. We have no official license like a beautician or teacher. That being said, any person can brand themselves a dog trainer regardless of knowledge or practical experience. Joe from down the road, who managed to train his dog not to jump on him and fancies himself a great trainer, can very easily create a website and advertise himself as a dog trainer or even a behaviorist.

It may seem scary trying to find a dog trainer with the knowledge that it’s not a regulated industry, but there are ways in which you can research and discover qualified and respectable trainers. Our main goal is to help you find a reputable and trustworthy dog trainer who helps you build your relationship with your dog, even if it isn’t us!  Here are 5 tips to help you find a good dog trainer you can trust.

  1. Qualifications

While there are no official regulations, you can find various affiliates, groups, and certifications that support knowledgeable trainers and encourage continuing education. Here are some we recommend.

  • Veterinary Behaviorist– Veterinary behaviorists are licensed veterinarians who specialize in behavior. Behaviorists can help by prescribing medications, diagnosing illnesses, modifying behavior, and pointing you towards a trusted trainer to continue helping you and your dog. Locate a veterinary behaviorist near you. Not all people who call themselves behaviorists are created equal- look for the Ph.D. if you are seeking a veterinary behaviorist.
  • The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) – CCPDT requires passing a knowledge assessment test, training experiences and continuing education.
  • The Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT) – The world’s largest professional dog training community, APDT has a large variety of members and resources.
  • Karen Pryor Academy (KPA) – Founded by Karen Pryor, a pioneer in the development of force-free training methods, KPA is a continuing resource for trainers to educate and learn from one another.  
  1. Methods

Dog training has come a long way in recent years and from dominance theory to positive reinforcement has a wide variety of methods with which to train. The number one most important thing is that you are comfortable with the training method and how you and the trainer interact with your dog. If at any point in a class or session you become uncomfortable, speak up, ask questions, and make sure you’re heard!

Here at CCA we emphasize the importance of a relationship based training approach that encompasses positive reinforcement and connection between dog and handler. Here is a great article about minimally intrusive training techniques and their benefits.

Aversive techniques such as prongs, chokes, and shock collars do work, don’t get us wrong, but often the negative implications outweigh the results. We deal with many behavior cases and see the result of punishments on anxiety, fear, and insecurity which often creates a conflicted and scared dog and a frustrated owner.  A strong relationship can be built through mutual trust by asking WHY the dog is doing the behavior and working with your dog to show it what to do instead.

  1. Continuing Education

We can never know everything about a certain subject, including training and behavior. Continuing education through seminars, webinars, books, and classes helps trainers learn new techniques and methods to better deal with individual cases.

CCA Team with Suzanne Clothier ~ May 2016

Groups such as APDT and CCPTD host a plethora of webinars and seminars on various subjects including sports, behavior, socialization, handler/dog relationships, and so many more. Seminars are also held by private groups or trainers and can host guest speakers who specialize in certain aspects of training or behavior. If there is a subject that particularly interests you, a quick search will most likely pull up a few seminars nearby that you can probably audit for a small fee. Similarly, training academies and schools such as the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy and KPA offer multiple courses to continue education and dabble in various sports or training.

Whether it’s a seminars, webinars, or classes continuing education is really important because the science and culture of dog training is ever evolving. The more we know the better we can teach.

  1. Ask Questions

Most trainers will be happy to answer questions you have before you join a class or schedule a private lesson. Questions before you even start training can help avoid any awkward situations where you may not fully agree with the practice but you’ve already paid for the class or lesson. Many facilities and trainers will have some of these answers on their websites, but it’s always a good idea to ask just in case something hasn’t been updated!

  • Do you have any certifications?
  • What was the last educational seminar you attended, and do you intend to continue your education?
  • How long have you been training dogs, besides your own, and what do you specialize in?
  • What types of methods do you use? Positive reinforcement? Punishment in the form of prongs, chokes, shock collars, or physical pain?
  • What happens if my dog’s behavior does not get better?
  • Do you have any relationships with veterinarian behaviorists?
  • How many dogs/ puppies are in a class setting?
  • How long are the classes/lessons?
  • How many instructors are there and how are they chosen and educated?
  1. What type of training do YOU want?

When most of us think of dog training we think of either a group class filled with puppies or a private lesson for a dog that cannot be around other dogs, right? Or maybe you thought of the dream of sending your dog away to train and coming home a perfect angel? Many trainers offer a variety of options when it comes to training while some only offer one specific type. Here are some of the most common.

  • Group Classes– These tend to focus on a specific curriculum of behaviors and be a weekly class with multiple dogs or puppies in attendance. Often the most cost effective method of training, they are great for socializing with both other dogs and people as well as getting a basic outline on how to train your dog for the remainder of the week until the next class. If you have a sensitive, shy, or reactive dog these lessons may not be the best options as the stress of the environment or other dogs or people can make it difficult to learn.
  • Private Lessons– One-on-one lessons with a trainer allow for a more in-depth assessment and catered approach to training you and your dog. While often more costly than a group class, you get a much more personalized and focused training plan that covers issues that may not be in a group class. For reactive, shy, or sensitive dogs this may be the best option initially with the goal of joining a group class once certain needs are met.
  • Day Training– Day training consists of multiple sessions in which the trainer trains the dog one-on-one. The owner can either leave or be present for the training session. The goal for day training is allow the dog to be trained to an extent that the behavior is essentially plug-and-play with any person. After the behaviors are taught, the trainer will have a final lesson integrating the owner into the training and show them how to maintain the behavior. Day training is usually sold in a package (two weeks, twice a week; two months, once a week; etc.) and is usually on the pricier side because of it, but it is a great way to get a solid foundation of a behavior if the owner cannot find time to practice or if it needs to be fixed more quickly.
  • Board and Train– Board and train entails the dog being boarded and trained at the facility or home of the trainer. Board and train is often presented as the “miracle” of shipping your dog off and receiving a completely fixed dog who never regresses. What board and train does, in reality, is give the trainer the time to train whenever they like or address certain issues that are only present if living with the dog (like potty training). Board and train does not include the owner until the end meeting in which the dog is returned, and can also not transfer well if the owner is reinforcing certain behaviors that the trainer did not and vice versa . We also suggest you know and trust your trainer 100% before sending your dog to him or her. Your dog is fully in their hands for their stay, and if they use methods you do not agree with, you can’t be there to guarantee they don’t use them on your dog. Generally speaking because of the extent of training and length of time the dog is boarded this method can be very costly.

Whether you do one class or lesson or want to continue you and your dog’s training throughout your lives, it is important to find a good dog trainer you agree with on a methodological stand point as well as get along with personally. You’re much more likely to have a fun time training if you like the trainer and class that you’re taking. We at Canine Country Academy have a great time with our clients and we love them like family so knowing they’re having a good time and enjoying working with their dogs makes it worth while.