Finding the right dog trainer

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obiedience classTips to find a dog trainer who can also fit your needs

One of the most important decisions a pet owner can make is the selection of a dog trainer. A knowledgeable professional trainer can make the dog’s learning experience productive and fulfilling. Warren Eckstein explains important qualities to look for in a trainer and how to find the best match for you and your pet.

THINK OF PICKING a trainer the same way you’d pick a pediatrician, or cardiologist: You want someone with expertise, whose style you agree with, and with a personality that you like. After all, once you hire a trainer, you’ll be dealing with the end results for the duration of your dog’s life!

Another general warning: don’t expect any pet to respond 100 percent of the time – anyone who tells you that they can achieve perfect results is lying. Dogs make mistakes, too, so don’t expect perfection from them any more than you expect from yourself.

WHAT DO YOU NEED?

The first step to determining what kind of trainer to hire is to determine what kind of training you want. But any good trainer should be able to handle basic training techniques, from obedience commands to socialization, problem-solving to specific training needs. For more specific training techniques (like competition agility trials), look for a trainer who has a record of success in the specific area you’re interested in.

Group classes and individual sessions each have their place. While individual at-home sessions provide immediate interaction and feedback, class situations can really help with socializing your dog with other dogs and other people. In-home training also allows the entire family to work with your pet, whereas in group sessions, one person works with the dog during the class.

Whichever you choose, observe at least one session before committing yourself to anything.

BEGINNING TRAINING

For in-home training, you can start as young as 8 weeks old. Group classes generally require that the puppy be 4-5 months old in order to ensure that vaccinations are up-to-date.

NECESSARY EQUIPMENT

Training “equipment” is not expensive, and you won’t need much. You’ll need a simple nylon puppy collar, and a 6 foot cotton training lead.

Many trainers work with treats as rewards, but positive praise and making training fun can often be more effective. After all, if you want your dog to come to you before he runs out into the street and you don’t have a treat on-hand, your dog won’t necessarily respond! But each trainer has his own methods and the important thing is that you and the dog are comfortable with these methods.

Equipment you won’t need includes spike collars and electronic shock collars. Be wary of trainers that recommend these techniques – see below.

FINDING A TRAINER

Finding a trainer can be a tough step, especially if this is your first dog. To find some options, check with people in your neighborhood who are knowledgeable in the field. This may include your veterinarian, breeder, groomer, pet supply stores, neighbors, other dog owners, dog rescue groups, local humane society, and local parks/recreation departments. Sometimes classes are offered through the school system as part of adult or continuing education. You may get a number of different names, and from there, you can start screening them. Try to get a few referrals for your prospective trainers. Obviously, the more feedback you get, the better your decision will be.

PERSONALITY COUNTS

When evaluating a prospective trainer, first there is the obvious criteria: is the person well-spoken with good manners? As with the hiring of any individual, these factors will convey some very basic but important ideas about the person. If the trainer is weak in any of these personal areas, look elsewhere. There is too great a possibility that the laxity in his own affairs will carry over to the training of your pet.

Circumstances should never be allowed to develop where a trainer hits, kicks, or physically abuses a dog. Sharp questioning on the part of the owner will help to weed out these so-called trainers as well as those who use electronic shock collars, prong collars and similar inhumane methods of dog training. A good trainer will know that such techniques are not only inhumane and unnecessary, but that they often create more problems than they solve.

If you do not like the overall personality of the trainer, then there is a possibility that the training experience will not be successful. A good trainer is not just training your dog, but is also teaching you to train your dog. They will be able to work with your individual personality, your dog’s specific needs, and still maintain a flexible, positive and fun attitude. After all, if training your dog is tedious and exhausting, the dog will refuse to learn anything.

YOUR TRAINER’S EXPERIENCE

In many areas of the world, animal training is an unlicensed and unregulated industry. This leaves the door wide open for unqualified and fly-by-night companies. Since there is usually no governing agency, the consumer must take extra precautions, defined prior to any commitments.

Ask your trainer where they’ve gotten their experience, how long they’ve worked in the industry, under what circumstances they’ve worked, and for any credentials, if available. Good trainers will keep up-to-date on the latest behavioral research and techniques. Even if they don’t agree with new techniques, they should certainly be aware of them and explain their views on the issues. If you’re interested in more specialized training (like agility competition) make sure you get references from people they’ve worked with, and speak with them candidly about the trainer’s personality, techniques and results.

While it’s important for your trainer to have experience, even the best trainers don’t know everything, so beware of the trainer who boasts that they can solve your problem no matter what it is. If you want to address a specific behavior problem, ask the trainer for examples of others with similar problems that trainer has helped resolve.

IS GENDER IMPORTANT?

It is important to remember that good training knows no gender, so whether the trainer is male or female should make no difference as long as the person is properly qualified.

However, there are times where the question of a male or female trainer is important. Generally, this is for owner-related psychological reasons. For instance, there are many totally female households. The dog’s response to a six-foot tall man with a big booming masculine voice may not be enough to prove to the 110-pound woman that she, too, can achieve the same response. But frequently when a smaller-built person sees the dog responding to someone of his or her approximate size and weight, this provides the encouragement and incentive he or she needs to properly approach the dog’s training.

If the dog was abused by someone in the past, it may be more skittish around someone of that gender.

Regardless, the trainer should know how to handle the situation, and be able to either assist you with it, or recommend someone who can.

Even after all of these precautionary steps, there is still no way of knowing for sure if an instructor is going to be exactly what you are looking for. Remember, you must like the trainer you are selecting. Any thorough trainer will want to teach the owners of the dog as well as the dog itself.

Above all, an owner must fully consider the far-reaching effects of this decision. It should not be taken lightly. Remember, the selection of a trainer can either make or break the dog, and the consequences of poor training will be something that you’ll have to live with for the rest of your dog’s life.