Tuesday, August 11, 2015

What to Look for in a Dog Trainer

Just what should you be looking for, when looking for a dog trainer?

I think this is something important to write about and share because when I threw this question around to a few of my friends they agreed this question is kind of subjective.

I chose the trainers that I train with based on experience and certification. I was also looking for someone who specialized in the sport of Schutzhund. Jennifer has been in the sport of Schutzhund for 20+ years and is a Schutzhund judge. To become a DVG judge you must:
  • Be a minimum of 25 years old and maximum of 55 years old
  • Be a DVG member for a minimum of 5 years
  • Have at minimum, 1 year as training director (club or LV)
  • Have been a trial chairperson for a few trials
  • Only be a judge in one organization
  • Have titled two dogs from IPO 1 to IPO 3 or (VPG) and one of these dogs (or another dog) must have a BH and an FH
  • Have been a helper (in some cases theoretical knowledge is enough)

Ryan is a level 3 helper which is the highest certification you can receive. It means that he is certified to work competitions on the National and International level. He too has 20+yrs of dog experience.

For what I want to do, both Ryan and Jennifer are more than qualified. When I first met them for training I was able to see how they worked with both my dog and I. We share similar ideals and philosophies when it comes to dogs and I am comfortable with the way they train. Jennifer has used e-collars on some of the dogs she trains but has never made me feel pressured to use one. What I like about both Jennifer and Ryan is that they treat dogs as individuals and there is no one training method they use. Most of their training is motivational reward based training but they do use some aversives. I am not purely positive but I do not use harsh corrections with my dogs. I prefer to use rewards and motivation in my training. They are happy to accommodate that and I have never been pressured to do something with my dog that I am not comfortable with.

As a person who may not be looking at a specific sport here are some things I think are important to look at when considering someone.

-What are their qualifications? Do their personal dogs seem well trained? Have they titled dogs in any sports or conformation? How long have they been working with dogs? What is their training background? How much experience do they have training dogs?
****While having titled dogs is not a requirement for teaching the basics, if this person has done nothing with their dogs - how do you know they are capable of training your dog? A title essentially shows that the person was capable and willing of putting the work in to train their dog for something specific. It is a way to show the effort that they have put in in training the dog.
-What breeds do they have experience working with?
****You want to find someone who has experience with multiple dog breeds, also someone who sees dogs as individuals and doesn't approach every dog the same. Not every dog thinks the same way.

-What methods do they use?
****Be clear in what your intentions are. Does this trainer use aversives such a prong collars, choke chains, or leash corrections? Does this trainer use a clicker? Does this trainer use positive reinforcement only? I strongly encourage researching various training methods to decide what you think is best for your dog.
-Can you audit a private session or class?
****You should be able to watch this trainer train to decide if they would be a good match for you and your dog.
-Talk to people! Meet with various trainers, talk to them about your dog and what you are looking for. You don't have to settle with just one person, interview several and then decide who might be the best match for both you and the dog.

As I said previously, what we all seek in trainers is dependent on the individual and what they need.

At this point in time, you do not have to have any special qualifications to become a dog trainer. There are schools: Starmark Academy, National k9 School for dog trainers, Florida Dog Trainer[E-collar], Animal Behavior College just to name a few. There is also certification via CCPDT. However nothing is required and anyone can claim to be a dog trainer. As a dog owner it is our responsibility to research and advocate for our pets.
****Experience is more important to me than a piece of a paper. Many trainers have years of experience under their belt but have not gotten any special certifications. I wouldn't rely on a piece of paper to determine whether or not a trainer is a good one.

I would not recommend any type of "boot camp" or training where you leave the dog with the trainer for X weeks. While it's great to send your dog off for training, YOU need to be there to learn how to train YOUR dog! Not to mention you don't know how they are treating your dog if you are not there seeing the dog daily. An exception would be a place that boards & trains, while having you as the owner out multiple times a week to learn how to work your own dog. Overall I just don't think that type of training is necessary, you are better off scheduling a private lesson once a week so you can work one on one with the trainer to learn how to teach your dog specific behaviors.

In closing, for the goals I have personally I would not seek out a trainer who did not have titled dogs. Often times the trainers I recommend to people are active in the dog world, they either do obedience or they show in conformation as well as various other dog sports. Especially for training basics I feel an obedience instructor, or someone who competes in obedience, is more than capable of teaching basic commands because obedience as a sport is just an extension of the basics - sit, down, heel, stay etc.

I hope this is somewhat helpful. I didn't want to get into it too deeply but hopefully this gives you a place to start when looking for a trainer!


  1. This is an awesome post! Great job!

    1. Thank you! It's so hard because we all want different things haha.