Part of being a responsible dog owner is training your pet, whether by yourself at home or with the help of a professional.  However, finding a good dog trainer can be a difficult task, especially because the industry is largely unregulated.  Unfortunately, anyone can call him or herself a dog trainer, regardless of experience or certification.  Here, tips for selecting a good dog trainer are discussed.

Seek Recommendations

First and foremost it is necessary to seek recommendations from dog-owning friends and canine professionals, such as groomers, dog walkers, animal shelter staff, veterinarians, and pet store employees.  If these people are unable to provide you with options, they can certainly tell you who to avoid.  Be sure to seek out dog owners who have similar training views as your own.  If you are not okay with aversive methods such as prong collars, choke chains, or electronic collars be honest when asking for a recommendation.

Read Reviews

Next, search online for reviews regarding the particular dog trainer or facility.  Immediate red flags include any review claiming neglect, use of force, or potentially risky behavior, such allowing an untrained dog off-leash.  Dog trainers that base their training on terms such as “dominance,” “pack leader,” or “alpha rolls” should also be avoided.  It is important that the dog be looked at as an individual, and not as part of an ideology.

Ask about Certifications

Once you have narrowed your search, set up a phone call or in-person interview.  One of your first questions should regard the potential dog trainer’s certifications.  Avoid any trainer who simply cites experience with dogs.  Types of certifications include:

CCPDT

A CCPDT certified dog trainer is one who is certified by the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers.  To receive this certification, dog trainers must pass rigorous exams that demonstrate mastery of humane and science-based training protocols.  Two certifications through this council include CPDT-KA (Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed) and CPDT-KSA (Certified Professional Dog trainer-Knowledge and Skills Assessed.  Both require a minimum of 300 hours of experience with dogs, as well as passing a 250 question multiple-choice test.

VSPDT

Another certification is Victoria Stillwell Positively Dog Training (VSPDT).  Victoria Stillwell is a leading authority on positive dog training techniques.  A VSPDT dog trainer is one who is committed to positive-based dog training and has undergone a rigorous evaluation process including a written exam, background check, follow-up of client and professional references, and an in-person training evaluation.

KPA CTP

A Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner (KPA CTP) is a dog trainer who has graduated from the Karen Pryor Dog Trainer Professional program.  Karen Pryor, like Victoria Stillwell, promotes force-free positive-based training.  A KPA CTP is skilled in positive training techniques and is educated in science and behavior-based training methods.  He or she is dedicated to making training fun for both dog and human.  

ABC

An ABC dog trainer is one who has graduated from the Animal Behavior College. This comprehensive program includes an 11-stage curriculum with hands-on training and mentorship.

Vet Behaviourist

A board-certified vet behaviourist is a veterinarian who has specialized in veterinary behaviour medicine. This trainer will be able to determine whether your dog has a medical component that is causing its behavioral problem.  A vet behaviourist will have studied topics such as sociobiology, psychology of learning, psychopharmacology, behavioural endocrinology, ethology, behavioural genetics, and behavioural physiology.  A vet behaviourist has an ACVB title from the American Board of Veterinary Specialists.

Above all, however, it is important to remember that the existence of letters behind a trainer’s name does not necessarily imply competence.

 

Tour the Facility

If you will be attending a facility for dog training, schedule a tour or more importantly turn up announced.  Look to make sure that areas are clean, gates are always properly latched, yards have adequate fencing, and that staff is personable. See how the dogs who are at the facility are acting and how there behaviour seems.

Sit in on a Class

Next, ask to sit in on a class, regardless of whether you plan to use one-on-one services or a class-based system.  Observe how the dog trainer interacts with both people and dogs.  Does each dog receive the same amount of attention?  How does the trainer respond to dogs that are stubborn or slow learners?  How does the trainer respond to humans that are stubborn or slow learners?  Is the root of the problem addressed, or does the trainer look for a “quick fix”?  Most importantly, look to ensure that the trainer enables dog owners to provide the majority of the training, while being available for guidance and troubleshooting.

Check References

No matter how good a trainer sounds online or appears to be in person, always follow up with references.  This point is especially true for new dog trainers and ones without stand-alone facilities.

Avoid “Board and Train”

If you are looking for a comprehensive training program for your dog, avoid services such as “board and train.”  While the concept sounds good in theory – your dog is left with the trainer for a period of time to work one-on-one and extensively learn obedience or overcome specific problems – in reality it isn’t the best solution.  Besides uncertainty towards your dog’s wellbeing, there is no guarantee that the trainer is the person actually working with your dog, or the methods that are being used are humane.  Additionally, this set-up leaves out the most important factor:  you.  Your dog will be returned to you trained to heed the commands of someone else and you will have to spend time learning how to communicate with your pet, which will require more time and resources.

We had the opportunity to speak to a local force free Toronto based Dog Trainer on her thoughts on what tools are most important for dog training

Whenever people ask me how long will positive training take and why can’t we use something else to speed the process of training I say….positive reinforcement motivates dogs to learn fast, positive reinforcement is the best way to teach your fur companions to be confident,  builds trust without scaring your fur companions and most of all, is the fastest way to learn using what they are motivated by.
Please note I don’t discredit other training methods however I caution you about using the tools that can seriously injure your dogs and to be safe when using aversive methods. There are many animals that end up physically and emotionally  injured. If you chose to go down that way, please be trained on how to use it. Believe me it won’t be effective and it will seriously cause harm if you don’t know how to use it properly.

Suzana, I SpeakDog .ca

Ultimately, when choosing a dog trainer the most critical points to look for are recommendations, references, certifications, and a good demeanor with both humans and dogs.  Avoid trainers that don’t care about your dog’s history and simply chalk everything up to dominance and the need for the dog owner to assert him or herself as “alpha.”  Overall, always trust your gut instinct when choosing anyone who will be working closely with your pets.

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