Finding the right dog trainer can be essential in forming a good working relationship with your dog, helping her grow up right and ensuring that she will be a well behaved canine member of society. Finding a good one can be a challenge if you don’t know where to look and what questions to ask. Armed with simple resources and straightforward questions (see below), you can find a great trainer.
Q1. Do you have any certifications?
Dog trainers are not licensed and they are not required to have any particular level of knowledge of dog behavior before they can call themselves a dog trainer or pet behavior consultant. This can make it very confusing when attempting to find someone who is qualified. Dog trainers can also be certified through the Karen Pryor Clicker Training Academy. This particular certification requires coursework and a demonstration of skill. In general, these trainers have a higher level of knowledge of how animals learn and have a strong foundation skill level.
Dog trainers can be certified voluntarily by the CCPDT. If a trainer has CPDT-KA after her name, she has taken a test primarily on learning theory. It is not a test of skill. It is a test of basic knowledge. If she has a CPDT-KSA, her skills have been assessed by video exam. You can find dog trainers with this certification at ccpdt.org.
Some dog trainers may also have a bachelor’s degree (BA or BS) or a master’s degree (MS) in an animal related field. It is always a plus to work with someone who has academic education in animal behavior. The dog trainer may be an applied animal behaviorist (AAB). This certification is voluntary and is open to people who either have a MS or a PhD in an animal behavior related field. The criteria include, but are not limited to case report submission. You can find out more about the AAB certification at animalbehavior.org.
Keep in mind that a membership in an association is not the same as a certification.
Q2. When is the last time you went to a continuing education seminar?
No matter how much experience you have and what your profession is, there is always something to learn from others. The dog trainer should have attended at least one continuing education seminar in the past year. This does not include seminars sponsored by the dog training company for which she works. You want to know that this trainer is reaching out to others outside of her circle or comfort zone to improve her level of knowledge.
Q3. How long have you been training dogs other than your own?
Experience is very important, but it can’t replace education or continuing education. It all goes together. Trainers who don’t have a year of experience may work under someone who does have more experience. You may feel comfortable with a trainer with less experience if she is working under one who has logged more hours. If this is the case, make sure that she will be consulting the more experienced trainer if need be.
Q4. What dog breeds have you trained?
If the trainer only trains a certain breed or type of dog, she will be more versed in how those dogs react to certain types of training. She may not be comfortable or able to train all breeds. While you don’t have to hear “your” breed in her answer, you should hear something similar in size and temperament.
Q5. What type of methods do you use?
This is the million dollar question. Positive reinforcement training began to really penetrate dog training over 20 years ago. If a trainer is still jerking dogs around on choke chains, shocking them and holding them down in the dominance down, they are way, way behind. The science points to positive reinforcement training as the most effective way to train a dog AND is least likely to do your dog any harm. Would you go to any other type of professional who wasn’t up to date with the latest scientific methods? Is that how you would choose your dog’s veterinarian? Don’t choose a dog trainer who doesn’t know the latest and greatest methods-positive reinforcement.
Q6. Are you familiar with clickers, no pull harnesses and head collars?
There is no one tool that works with all dogs. While a head collar or a clicker is not needed for every dog, the trainer should know what these tools are and use them when needed.
Q7. Do you use shock or choke collars?
There is no place for shock collars in training dogs. This is a powerful tool that in one repetition can increase fear and aggression. For more information on shock (stimulation) collars, click here. Choke collars are outdated, ineffective, and difficult to use training tools which can be extremely dangerous.
Q8. Do you guarantee the dog’s behavior after it is trained?
We all want that guarantee whether it be from our doctor, our spouse, our child’s teacher or our dog trainer. Just as your child’s teacher can’t guarantee that your child will be an astronaut because your child is living, breathing being with her own mind, your dog trainer cannot guarantee your dog’s behavior. There are too many factors (you, your dog, the environment) which affect your dog’s behavior for anyone to guarantee results. Instead, they might be able to let you know how many dogs they have trained and what the results were with those dogs.