Wondering how to find the right trainer with the right training approach for your dog? The answer is always the same: “It depends!” Rather than thinking of a single-point solution (the perfect trainer for my dog), you should be thinking more about where you are on a continuum of training needs that lasts from your pet’s puppy days well into adulthood.
There are a few foundational ideas that are relevant no matter what kind of issues your dog has. For example, always look for a trainer who:
- Uses positive behavior training techniques
- Is able to elicit an alert, interested, curious, and engaged response from your pet. This means a lot!
- Has some kind of certification, such as Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, Association of Professional Dog Trainers, or the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants
- Is able to explain learning theory in understandable and practical terms
- Is willing to work with the whole household (kids and adults).
- Asks a lot of questions about the dog’s normal routine (sleep, food, exercise, play, socialization) as these are basic needs which must be satisfied before any training can be effective.
- Focuses on the relationship between you and your dog.
The Training Environment
Beyond that, you are looking for a trainer that has experience with your dog’s stage of life and specific behaviors. You are looking not just for a who but a how. Training environments to consider as part of your dog’s training program might include:
- In-Home Inside (You, your dog, your trainer)
- In-Home Inside (your dog + your trainer)
- At-Home Outside
- Group Indoors
- Group Outdoors
All of these might be exactly right – at a certain stage of training and for certain conditions. Usually going to a facility and getting into a group class is a less expensive way to get your dog the training they need. Group training does not provide the focused, one on one experience… but you and your dog are exposed to several other dogs and their behaviors and you can learn from the owners how they are handling those situations. Plus, it’s a great way to socialize your dog and network with other owners.
Though not always as effective as direct owner training, having your dog trained by a dog trainer will do some good no matter what, so long as the trainer uses positive techniques. Sometimes dogs must learn to learn so training delivered by a dog trainer can be a very effective way to mold the dog into the type of dog the owner is looking for when they do not have the time or ability to do it themselves. Do your homework on dog trainers or board and trains, that you are considering sending your dogs to and be sure that they use only positive training techniques.
The Specific Behavior Issues
Once you and a good trainer have worked out an approach for a specific issue, that particular training will be perfect for one set of issues but not necessarily a fit for behaviors that develop down the line. Here are a few examples:
In the early days of a dog’s life, the issues are typically new puppy training issues:
- My puppy bites
- My puppy potties everywhere
- My puppy cries when he is left alone
For these type of issues you are looking for a trainer who understands how to motivate and reward a young dog that has a very short attention span and offers
training in the home.
Puppy training must be all “unicorns and glitter” at this stage of development. Young dogs need to develop a positive association with the training process in order to have effective training for the rest of their lives. So ALL the training for a puppy needs to be super duper fun and rewarding.
Later on but still all too soon, your adolescent dog may start to exhibit various kinds of aggressive behavior:
- My dog doesn’t like men
- My dog doesn’t like women
- My dog doesn’t like kids
- My dog doesn’t like loud noises
- My dog is aggressive around food
- My dog is aggressive toward other dogs
For these types of issues you are looking for a trainer who understands how to use positive association to change the negative association a dog has developed to certain triggers and offers specific training to deal with the specific trigger. As a follow-on to the initial training, you might then move on to a trainer who can train the owner/handler on how to proactively avoid developing negative association to triggers in the future and offers training for the owner and dog that keeps the dog more interested and focused on the owner/handler than in reacting negatively.
Another common pain point is anxiousness, over-eager behavior and/or over-developed behavior:
- My dog jumps up on me and other people
- My dog barks excessively whenever he hears any kind of noise whatsoever.
- My dog trembles fearfully during storms and fireworks
- My dog cries and barks when left alone
- My dog is destructive when left alone
For these types of issues you are looking for a trainer who can help you learn and teach calming signals to your dog. This trainer can show you how to use your calming signals even in new stressful/non-calm situations that you, as the handler, find you and your dog in.
The Most Important Ingredient – You
When deciding on which trainer to use, be sure they understand your life and your training capacity. All too often dog trainers believe that every client has four plus hours to dedicate to their dog’s training and this is almost never true.
Your trainer should find out exactly how much time you have to dedicate to your dog’s training and design a program around you. Can you give fifteen minutes every day? Thirty minutes every day? Do you have time in the morning or in the evening after work? The program must fit in to the life of the dog owner or, eventually, the training will fall by the wayside due to real life demands.
We must also consider the owner’s training ability and comfort level with delivering the training. Working with a dog, a leash and treats takes practice. It takes coordination and some level of dexterity, ability and timing. A good dog trainer is going to take into consideration all of these physical and mental demands when designing a training program that will work long term.
If the owner lacks the time or ability to effectively implement a training program, then other avenues must be explored.
So whether you choose group classes or one on one instruction, be sure that you are getting the training that fits your lifestyle and meets the needs of your dog in a positive, constructive way. Do your homework. Research and find reviews on the training that you are considering and make sure that they do not use harsh methods to train your pup!
The most important idea to take away from your research should be this: Any kind of training you’re doing with your dog is a win. The training promotes the relationship between you and your dog and it adds enrichment to the dog’s day that will contribute to his overall satisfaction. Better satisfaction in turn will decrease unmet-need behavior that is undesirable from the parent’s perspective. The concepts of training and relationship go hand-in-hand. One is intrinsically connected to the other in the very same way that your heart is connected to your dog’s.
Learn more about our dog training philosophy on our dog training page.