Why would you need to hire a dog trainer anyway? This is a question that many people ask
when the subject comes up. You often hear people claiming to have managed to train their
old dog without such help. These same well meaning folks will often go on to tell you
about the antiquated methods that grandpa handed down such as hitting "Old Trusty" on the nose with a rolled up newspaper, or hanging a dead chicken around his neck to teach him not to kill animals.
The person educated in the correct use of dog training and canine psychology when hearing these
types of tales will secretly be thinking, it was amazing that old "Trusty" survived grandpas abuse.
Maybe he did by avoiding being around grandpa at any cost. "Trusty" probably saw grandpa and ran in the opposite direction or low crawled his way to him with the anticipation of more abuse. Beating a dog into submission is not training! Training, when done properly, uses the intelligence of the human race to manipulate the dog into desired behavior, not our barbaric caveman side.
So back to the original question of "Why would you hire a pet dog trainer?" Most people do so when they run into problems that they fully understand they lack the knowledge to solve. Usually frustration has built up when the dog is constantly having house breaking issues, or he is destroying items in the home or yard. He may have a running away issue, or just be unruly in general. Dog training is often the last effort owners make in saving the dog from being delivered to a shelter. The most intelligent of owners however, will use dog training to solve these problems BEFORE they ever become issues. As a dog trainer, my favorite clients are the ones that call before they get the puppy. They know that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. They often will ask questions about the tendencies of their breed of choice BEFORE making the selection. This in and of itself can prevent them from starting off on the wrong foot or making the wrong choice for their situation. A good example of this is the 75 year old grandmother who lived in a condo who wanted to know if I thought it was a good idea for her to take on the Alaskan Malamute puppy that her grandchildren had bought and now no longer wanted to keep. The issues with the puppy were unruliness, destruction, and jumping up on people. The last of which would obviously been a problem for a 75 year old woman. We finally resolved the issue by deciding that the appropriate thing to do would be for the grandchildren (who were teenagers) to keep and train the dog. Grandma paid for it. The puppy kept his now happier home. Grandma lived a happier life than she would with the possibility of a broken hip caused by a well meaning but overly zealous puppy.
The aforementioned puppy was trained first at 5 months of age with all of it's basic obedience, problem solving, and home manners (stopping at doors, gates, boundaries, and coming in and laying in "place" in a relaxed down stay) as well as giving the owners proper management techniques such as the use of a crate and dog run area when they were not there to monitor the dogs behavior. As he became an even larger teenager of approximately one year of age, he continued his education into a more advanced level of training to insure that he remained manageable. This family was able to not only retain their dog but to enjoy him into old age, all because Grandma made a very important phone call and found out what she could do about a situation with a puppy that was getting out of control for the entire family.
So now that we know why people hire Pet Dog Trainers, the next question should be "How do I find a good one?" This is not an easy question to answer because it requires a bit of explaining as to how one becomes a Pet Dog Trainer. I keep referring to the trainer as a Pet Dog Trainer rather than just a trainer because there are many different types of trainers. The are for instance Movie Dog Trainers, Sport Dog Trainers (for specific competitions), Police Dog Trainers, Gun Dog Trainers, etc. Each of these types of trainers has in common that they train dogs but the applications are vastly different and most don't correlate well to Pet Dog Training. The Pet Dog Trainer needs to know how to train any breed of dog to be a good pet. This is more difficult than it sounds because it requires that the trainer be able to adjust their methods according to the individual dog (breed, temperament, size etc)
Although some trainers start out in a particular field such as Sport Dog Training, or Police Dog Training, and then move on to Pet Dog Training, this requires an addition to their education. Unfortunately many of these types never get that education and try to apply their old techniques that may have been applicable on a Sport Dog (take shock collars for instance) a clients pet Maltipoo. In our opinion, the best education that a Pet Dog Trainer can get is working for another Pet Dog Trainer for a minimum of one to two years. It is true that there are courses around that offer certification in training but few of them provide any substantial experience with numbers of dogs.
So where do you start when looking for a Pet Dog Trainer for your dog? As with most services a word of mouth recommendation from someone who has already used a particular trainer and was satisfied with the service is best. Asking your veterinarian, groomer, or other pet professional for a
recommendation would be second. Whether or not you get such a recommendation you can start with an Internet search in your area to narrow down the possibilities. Call several places but make sure you have a list of questions prepared ahead of time that you ask all of them. This helps you narrow down your field of possibilities by comparing the same issues rather than different ones. If the web sites have already given you the answers to certain questions you don't need to ask them unless you have a reason to doubt the information. Here are some critical questions you should always ask and receive satisfactory answers to:
1. How long have you been in the business of Pet Dog Training?
Make sure that you are clear that you are asking about the BUSINESS not about how long the
person has been training dog, or combined experience with their staff. This is important to
know for two reasons. First, you don't want your dog to be an experiment for an inexperienced trainer. Everyone started somewhere but I don't know a single client that wants to volunteer to
be the a first where their PET is concerned. Also, you want to be as sure as possible that your
trainer will be there for you when you come back for help or more training at a later date. Many
dog trainers hang their shingle and then go out of business in 2-5 years due to a lack of
experience in running a business or other factors.
2. What kind of methods do you use and how did you develop them?
There are three main schools of thought in dog training. The person you are talking with will
likely reveal their methods right away by how they describe them to you. First at the far left
of the spectrum you have your head halter and click and treat style trainers. These methods
are generally best suited to dogs with naturally subordinate natures. This method relies on
the giving and withholding of reward as a base method with the clicker to "mark" the correct
behavior. While there is nothing "wrong" with this method it does not work well for producing
practical daily behavior in a large number of dogs. It is best used as an introduction to commands
with young puppies and dogs with compliant temperaments. People are usually not willing to have
a clicker on them at all times. In addition head halters may look more humane than training collars
but if they are not used properly they can wrench or even break a dogs neck. Head halters
are good for controlling the head of a dog who may be aggressive, or an extreme puller but
there are other methods that work for these situations as well.
The second school of thought is the better known training collar method which can include
various types of collars dependent on the needs of the dog. Standard jerk and release training
methods are applied here. Generally ritual behavioral parameters will be set for the dog
around the house and corrections utilizing sound, taste, and smell associations will also be
applied. There should never be abuse such as kicking, hitting, or hanging, associated with
this method. There should be reward associated with this method as well. Such rewards
can be intermittent food, toy, verbal, and physical praise. This is a centrist style of training.
The third and final style of training is the far right extreme of using a shock collar as the basis
or part of Pet Dog Training. Shock collars are tempting to people simply because you push a
button to to correct the dog and do not need the physicality of using a manual correction.
The basic problem with this is that shock tends to make such an impression on the dog that
it effect the entire nervous system. Dogs with weak nervous systems to begin with can become
extremely nervous anticipating the next shock and can shut down all together. It is a sad
fact that the same pets store chains that will not allow their "trainers" to us any sort of correction
for fear of legal repercussions will sell a shock collar to an unsuspecting customer in a heart beat
simply because it is a high ticket item.
It is true that there are uses for shock collars in more advanced applications such as sport and
police dogs but the difference here is that they are utilized in most cases by seasoned trainers
and not shock happy owners who have no understanding of the proper use of this device, let
alone the consequences of using it on the wrong dog or improperly. It is our opinion that shock
should never be used by Pet Dog Owners. The possible exception to this rule is extreme dog on
dog aggression. Even in this situation the collar should be first utilized by the trainer, and the follow up training with the owner should be extensive.
3. Once you determine the method that is right for you a type of training must be selected.
There are 4 basic types of training available: Group Classes, Private On Field, Private In
Home, and In Kennel Training (this should always be followed up by lessons for the owner
preferably on the trainers field and in your home).
Group Classes: The least expensive but typically also the least effective. The reason that group
classes are less effective is that you share time with several other people and dogs. There is
also a high drop out rate due to the fact that life happens, people get ill, something comes up
with the kids etc., and the class goes on without you. Past a certain point it is hard to rejoin the
Private On Field: One step above group classes is Private On Field. These are generally offered
at the trainers field once per week but the lesson is strictly for you and your dog. Like group
classes there is very little if any problem solving because the trainer is never in your home.
The good thing about Private Field Lessons is that they are yours and therefore can be rescheduled
in most cases if you are ill or find yourself otherwise engaged. Because the trainer doesn't have to
drive to your location this is less expensive than In Home Lessons.
In Home Training: This form of training works well for problems and manners around the home
because the trainer is there in your environment to help you with these issues. As with the two
courses outlined above the training depends almost exclusively on your following your homework with
the dog daily. This training is more expensive than the courses above because it is based on
your convenience and the trainer driving to your home each week.
In Kennel Training: This form of training is the most popular with extraordinarily busy people.
It has all of the instant gratification that people want. You drop your dog off at a kennel facility,
and pick him up 3-4 weeks later trained. But it is not really that easy! First you need to make sure of the facility that you are intrusting your dog to. Make sure that the trainer actually owns
the facility or you may end up with a disappearing trainer or worse a disappearing dog if the owner
of the kennel and the trainer part ways. In addition, the trainer in this situation is only at the
kennel for a brief amount of time each day and your dog is actually being cared for most of the
day by the staff of the kennel. Since the trainer has no say in the employees performance they
can be undoing the training as fast as the trainer is training. Contrast this to the trainer who
owns the facility and is responsible for 100% of the care your dog gets. In this situation you
know who is the bottom line in responsibility for your dog, and you know that your trainer isn't
going anywhere anytime soon because kennel facilities tend to cost hundreds of thousands if
An in kennel course should always be followed by field and preferably in home lessons for the
owner. This is crucial to the success of the owner living with the dog. The owner may wish to
have a push button dog when the trainer is finished but the reality is that the training is just
fast tracked for the owner. It is still the owners responsibility to work the dog and establish
parameters for the dogs behavior within the home environment. This can be facilitated by the
trainer but cannot be accomplished by the trainer alone.
Choosing the right type of course for you has allot to do with your own temperament and trainability
and that of your dog. As funny as that sounds it is really true. Any trainer will tell you that it is much harder to train the human end of the leash than it is the dog. Your trainer should always
want to evaluate your dog and sit down and speak with you in a consultation before helping you
decide what is right for you. Beware of people that will quote you an exact price and time frame
over the phone. How do they even know if your dog is trainable? Not all dogs are. Dogs can have
genetic issues or medical issues that render them untrainable or at least requires them to visit
their veterinarian prior to starting training. Your trainer should council you as to what type of
training is right for your particular schedule and your dogs particular issues.
One final word about interviewing potential trainers. Do so with finesse. Don't approach this
process as though you were interrogating the trainer. A good trainer should not mind answering
your questions but the conversation should have the tone of give and take. The trainer may want
to ask you some questions about yourself and the dog as well. If you approach the trainer in a
fashion that is one sided they may assume that you are a competitor doing a competition survey.
This is quite common in the business and questions that are overly sophisticated may set off the
alarm bells with the person you are speaking to. It is much more pleasant for everyone concerned
if you go about your interview by having a pleasant conversation.