Are you looking to hire a dog trainer? Dog trainers are a dime a dozen; good trainers are hard to find. As your dog’s advocate, and to be a responsible dog owner, you have to do your due diligence.
In this blog post, we tell you some of the best questions to ask before hiring a dog trainer. These questions will help you find a trainer that’s a good fit for you and your dog.
Questions to ask before hiring a dog trainer:
- What are your credentials?
- How much training experience do you have?
- What is your training philosophy?
- Which training equipment do you use?
- Do you work with all breeds?
- Do you feel certain dogs are untrainable?
- Do you use corrective training collars, such as prong collars? When in the training process do you add the training collar?
- Do you teach confidence building?
- If you rehabilitate aggressive and fearful dogs, what is your approach?
- Tell me about your personal dogs? Can I meet them?
- Do you have before & after videos of the dogs you’ve trained?
- What can you tell me about me and my dog?
- What kind of continued education have you done?
Now let’s break down the types of responses you’re looking for…
1. Regarding credentials: Is the trainer certified? Where did she learn how to train? Most good dog trainers were certified through a dog trainer school or they learned from an experienced trainer. All but one of Valor K9 Academy’s trainers went through our grueling 450-hour Trainer Course and worked extensively with dogs prior to becoming a trainer. The other trainer had 10 years of full-time experience prior to joining our team. There is no overarching certification organization in dog training. Make sure your trainer has real credentials, not an online dog trainer school or experience with just a handful of dogs.
2. Experience: How many years has the trainer been training? And in that time, approximately how many dogs has she trained? Years in training doesn’t determine experience. With the exception of brand-new trainers who are just getting started, good trainers have worked with hundreds, if not thousands, of dogs.
3. Philosophy: What is the trainer’s philosophy? What types of methods does she use? We are balanced trainers. We believe strongly in the importance of a good training foundation. And we customize our training to each dog as an individual. We start by using primarily reward-based training to lay a solid foundation. We build the dog’s confidence, introduce basic commands and develop a working relationship with the dog. Then, if the dog is old enough (6+ months), we add a training collar to proof the dog’s obedience around distractions. And finally, once the dog is obedient on leash, we layer in the e-collar to work on off leash obedience. Our training focuses on communication, motivation and relationship.
4. Equipment: What types of tools does the trainer use? We use food, praise and affection. We use marker words and clickers. We use slip leads, prong collars, e-collars and muzzles. Avoid one-size-fits-all trainers who use the same equipment on every dog.
5. Breeds: We train all breeds. We never discriminate based on a dog’s age, breed or background. Some trainers are afraid of large dogs, only work with small dogs, or won’t work with certain breeds. We believe all dogs deserve good training.
6. Untrainable dogs: All dogs can be trained. Sometimes, however, the trainer and the client need to start by getting on the same page. What is the dog’s current behavioral status, and what is the goal for training? Some owners have lofty and unrealistic goals for their dogs. A dog with a bite history, for example, should never be a children’s therapy dog. A dog who has no interest in pleasing his handler will likely not be a good service dog. A dog that’s afraid of men may never love men, but he can learn to be calm and neutral around men. Avoid trainers who are quick to recommend medication or euthanasia. Too many trainers out there would rather claim a dog is “untrainable” than admit their own limitations as a trainer. It’s unethical and unprofessional.
7. Training collars: Avoid trainers who are against training collars. Training collars provide clarity in communicating to the dog what he is not allowed to do. Teach the dog what you want and what you don’t want. The prong collar and e-collar are excellent training tools when used correctly, and they can be highly effective in getting lasting real-world results.
8. Confidence Building: CB is key! All dogs from puppies to adults can benefit from confidence building. This could be socialization, exposure, agility, FitPAWS, treadmill training, toy play – anything! We include confidence building into our curriculum for every dog. If you have a reactive or aggressive dog, avoid the trainer who wants to jump straight to a prong collar or e-collar to “fix your broken dog.”
9. Rehabilitating dogs: Does your dog struggle with fear, aggression or reactivity? Does the trainer have experience in that area of training? If so, how does the trainer approach rehabilitation? The right approach starts with building a foundation first. This is done by focusing on communication, motivation and relationship. By building the dog’s confidence. By socializing the dog with balanced dogs first. By teaching him how to “speak dog.” By teaching him to trust and respect the handler. By meeting the dog’s basic needs for exercise, training and mental stimulation. Good rehabilitation takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes weeks and maybe months, but not years. Good trainers have proof of their accomplishments and abilities. Always look for reviews and before & after videos of the work the trainer has done. We have over 100 YouTube videos attesting to our abilities as a training company. And only our most experienced trainers offer behavioral rehabilitation training. It is my belief that new trainers need to perfect their skills with social/friendly dogs before moving on to behavioral training.
10. Personal dogs: Personal dogs are reflection of the trainer. What are they like? Are they obedient and well-mannered? Are they well-cared-for? Are they with the trainer during the day or left at home in a kennel? Ask to meet the trainer’s dogs. That will show you the level of training you can aspire to attain with your dog. Sadly, many trainers do not make time for their personal dogs. They don’t train them. They don’t meet their basic needs. Be wary of trainers who don’t prioritize their personal dogs. Here at Valor K9 Academy, our personal dogs are part of our every day life. They’re our assistants and help us to train and rehabilitate other dogs. They help with lessons, classes and board & trains. They train regularly. We take great pride in the way we care for our personal dogs and the life they lead.
11. Videos: Does the trainer have proof? If you’re going to spend $3,000-4,000 on training, what will that get you? The proof is in the pudding. Ask to see videos showing the results the trainer gets. Not just one or two videos, but dozens of videos of dogs just like yours who are better now because of the training they received.
12. You and your dog: A good trainer will give you honest feedback about you and your dog. She’ll tell you what your strengths and weaknesses are individually and as a team. She’ll lay out a solid, common sense training plan that will help you reach your goals. She’ll tell you what your dog is thinking and why your dog is doing what he’s doing. Good trainers are honest and professional – not rude, blunt or tacky. Some trainers are on power trips, and they tear you down to make you feel bad. They blame you and shame you. This is unnecessary and also, highly ineffective. As your dog’s owner, you may be part of the problem, but you’re also part of the solution!
13. Continued education: The best dog trainers are lifelong students. Our trainers do continued education annually. They attend conferences, seminars and workshops. They enroll in training courses within their specialty field to add more tools to their tool belt. They train and title their personal dogs. The shelf life for dog training is seven years. That means if a trainer isn’t growing and improving her skills, her methods will eventually be outdated.
Good trainers are hard to find!
A good one will set you up for success and change the way you live with your dog – for the better! A bad trainer will set you back – wasting your time, money and efforts. If you are looking for a great trainer, we’d love to work with you! We have three training locations in Boise, Chattanooga and Spokane, and we offer online training. To schedule a free training consultation, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Not sure where to start? We have a blog post on how to find a good trainer.
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By: Amy Pishner
This blog post is property of Valor K9 Academy. Do not copy, use or republish without permission.
Cover photo: “Roco” – owned and loved by the Jones family
Photo courtesy of: Whisker Tango Foxtrot Photography