Happy Pups. Happy People. Happy Planet.

Choosing a Trainer

by Jimmy Maxwell

Let me start by throwing an honesty-bomb. This blog is going to come across a little strange. I am a trainer, who uses knowledge and experience to make a living. So, it would seem likely that in a blog about choosing the right dog trainer, I’m may talk about why I am the right dog trainer. Well, this isn’t going to be that kind of blog.

There are a lot of different issues that face our four-legged family members, all requiring different types of experience and expertise. Every single dog trainer has different experiences to draw from. If you do a web search for trainers in your area you are likely to come up with many different options, and unless you know exactly what you are looking for, selecting the right one can prove daunting. Here are a few considerations to make when choosing the right trainer for you.

Know Your Goals

You’ll be able to find the right trainer for you by identifying what your training goals are for your dog. When you have that first conversation with a potential trainer, he or she might ask you what you want to accomplish. It is okay if you aren’t sure, but the more general you are, the more likely you might end up hiring a trainer that is underqualified. For example, if your dog has a bite history and all you say is that he’s uncomfortable around people, you may end up hiring a trainer that has little to no experience with bite risk dogs. The best rule of thumb is to be completely honest with your concerns regarding your dog and what you would like to accomplish. Any trainer worth his or her salt will tell you if they are qualified or interested in working with your dog, as some trainers don’t work with bite risk dogs. If you speak with a trainer that says they cannot help you with your goals, always ask them to suggest another trainer so you don’t hit a dead end and get discouraged.

What are Their Teaching Methods?

There are different terms that describe a trainer’s teaching philosophies. There are essentially two basic types of trainers, positive and traditional. Positive trainers use reinforcement-based techniques which are scientifically proven to be more humane, ethical, and get better long-term results. This method uses treats and/or positive outcomes to increase the likelihood of desired behaviors increasing. For example, treating a dog for sitting in front of company instead of jumping on them. Traditional trainers, or sometimes referred to as military style, use punishment and coercion to get the dog to comply. For example, they may slap a dog for jumping on company, or shove them down. Honestly, in the moment, these methods might get a desired result, but the long-term effects are dangerous and setup a dog for failure and unhappiness. Instead of encouraging a dog to think through the consequence and making the right choice, it instills fear, anxiety, and stress. In some cases, you may hear a trainer refer to themselves as a “balanced” trainer. This indicates that the trainer uses both reinforcement and punishment in their training. Sometimes trainers refer to themselves as a positive trainer when they are actually “balanced” trainers. You can always ask a trainer how they train basic behaviors, or how they work on problem behaviors. Make sure you ask these two important questions:

What will you do when my dog does something right?
What will you do when my dog does something wrong?

No matter what type of training you go forward with, keep in mind that you are responsible for your dog’s training and well-being. If you have reservations about a particular trainer, trust your feelings. If you have already hired a trainer that isn’t using the methods advertised, it’s never too late to cut them loose.

How are the Trainer’s People Skills?

There are a great number of dog trainers that have impeccable social skills, communicate well, and are very patient. Then again, there are a number of skilled trainers who aren’t. No matter a trainer’s credentials, if they aren’t someone that you feel comfortable working with then it’s okay to look elsewhere for the help you need. A good trainer should be able to convey the right information, teach you how to understand the training, and be just as patient with you as you would expect them to be with your dog. A good trainer is compassionate to your struggles, as flexible as can be expected, and sensitive to your needs. If you have children, ask a potential trainer if they have any experience working with kids. During training sessions, have your kids work with the trainer too. This is beneficial for the dog and your children. But if you find that the trainer isn’t good with children, or struggles teaching them, it’s okay to either coach them to work with your kids, or seek another trainer that has the patience and understanding needed to work with your kids. Remember, there are a number of different personality types, and so no trainer is the same. Make sure your trainer is someone that you are comfortable working with and is a good fit for your dog and family.

Experience and Education

Anybody on the planet can call themselves a dog trainer. Currently, there is no governing body that says that someone is a dog trainer and someone else is not. So how do you know? Ask your trainer for their credentials, experience, and work history. While there is not a governing body, there are organizations that offer their own certification programs for trainers. You may find that some trainers have a string of letters behind their name like KPA-CTP or CPDT-KA. But what does that mean? Well, there is a lot that you can tell about a trainer based on their certifications. Some of those certifications adhere to specific training methods and philosophies, while others only indicate amounts of experience. Experience can be a good thing, but ten years of the wrong type of training versus one year of the right type of experience could mean a lot. So, if you see those letters, do some research, figure out how they acquired those letters and what they indicate. There are a number of good trainers that don’t have those letters behind their name, and that does not mean they are not qualified. But you may need to ask them a few more questions about their experience and education before feeling comfortable with hiring them. A certification doesn’t make the trainer, but provides you with more information regarding their abilities.

Don’t be afraid to ask a potential trainer about their experience and education. For instance, if your dog has a disability or special needs, ask a trainer if they have experience working with dogs of similar needs. If your dog has a physical disability, ask a trainer how they may adjust their training to account for those needs. If your dog is ball obsessed, it doesn’t hurt to ask a trainer if they have worked with ball obsessed dogs before and what types of training they have used in that situation that have proved successful.

Price

It’s easy for a trainer such as myself to say that price doesn’t matter. But I know what it’s like living with a budget, no matter your training needs. Price absolutely matters. But it shouldn’t be the deciding factor. Here are a few tips:

Price does not always indicate the abilities of the trainer. An expensive trainer doesn’t always indicate that he is skilled, and a cheaper trainer doesn’t always indicate that they are not skilled. However, if it’s it a trainer with a particular expertise that you need, but more expensive, this could really mean the difference in helping you and your dog be successful. Once you have your choices narrowed down to a couple trainers that you feel good about, then price may be the tie-breaker

Consultations are important. Here at Uptown Pup we offer free consultations for people who aren’t sure what type of training suits their needs, or if they are shopping around for the right trainer. Usually this time is for us to meet the dog, owner, and answer questions about our methods and philosophies. This is also a good opportunity for us as trainers to make sure you are a good fit for us as well. What we don’t do during these consults is train. Some trainers require payment for these types of consultations. If it’s important for you to have a conversation with a trainer before hiring them, then that is a perfectly reasonable expectation. If you are getting a free consult, please be respectful of the trainer’s time and answer their questions openly and honestly so they can get the best idea of what your needs are and give you the right direction.

There it is. Just a few tips on how to pick the right trainer. If you have any questions for our staff, or need help getting connected with the right trainer, please allow us to be a resource for you by putting you in touch with a trainer that suits your needs in your area. We can always be reached by emailing training@uptownpupindy.com.

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