If dog training was only about dogs, it would be a pretty simple task. The truth may surprise you: dog training is largely a people-centered activity. If your dog training instructor cannot train YOU, things are going to fall apart – usually within five minutes after the training instructor leaves the room.
Dogs are typically straightforward, predictable, and easy to communicate with. People? Well, not so much. We all have different communication styles and a good trainer can either adjust to yours, or in certain cases, have the sense to refer you to someone else.
The trainer you select should use methods firmly grounded in behavioral science with an emphasis on positive reinforcement. This is a fancy way of saying the trainer should focus on rewarding the dog for doing what we want — as opposed to punishing them for what we do not want. They shouldn’t come across as secretive, nor talk to down to you. The trainer should be willing to openly discuss the methods they use. This is your dog and any unwillingness by the trainer to discuss how he/she would handle a problem should raise a red flag for you.
The most important aspect of selecting a dog trainer is to find one that you feel most comfortable working with. This is true not only during the selection process, but also after training begins. Never feel pressured into doing something with your dog that makes you feel uncomfortable. Again, we are talking about your dog. You are the boss.
Last but not least, consider the trainer’s experience and professional affiliations. Dog training is an unregulated industry. Beyond local regulations governing businesses in general, anyone can hang a shingle and declare him or herself a dog trainer. They can hang another shingle and open a school to teach other dog trainers.
Fortunately, however, there are a few reputable associations that dog trainers can — and should — belong to. Membership in these associations indicates that the trainer is interested in networking with other trainers and increasing their knowledge and improving their skills. The Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) is one of these organizations. The APDT has an article on how to choose a dog trainer (it is aimed at choosing a classroom instructor) and an excellent search engine for locating a trainer near you. Another dog trainer organization is the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC). As the name suggests, the IAABC is focused on behavior consulting, which focuses on solving behavioral issues rather than on training for good manners. The IAABC also has a member search application. A third organization is the International Association of Canine Professionals (IACP). Here is the IACP membership search application.
For trainer qualifications, the Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) offers the CPDT and the IACP offers the CDT.
If this looks like alphabet soup, that’s because it is. Letter combinations aside, assess the trainer’s willingness to discuss his or her qualifications and experience, and their creative flexibility. Avoid a trainer who seems locked into a single viewpoint – especially one that is heavily influenced by one particular person or company. Dog training and behavior modification are sciences; not mysterious arts passed down from one master to another.
In summary, do your homework when selecting a dog trainer. Ask questions, check their references, observe a class, and above all else, make sure you select someone with whom you feel comfortable.
Written by Eric Goebelbecker, CPDT from Dog Spelled Forward LLC. Eric is available for dog training and behavior consulting in Northern Bergen County, New Jersey. He is an APDT member and a member of the Board of Directors of the IAABC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 201-575-4920.
(photo credits: Poodle riding bicycle by Sailing “Footprints: Real to Reel” (Ronn ashore) Yellow Labrador Retriever by theilr Obedience class by Schockwellenreiter Biscuit on nose by pixlfarmer)