Trainer Tales – Choosing the Right Trainer

In her inaugural post, Get Leashed’s in-house trainer, Renée Erdman talks about how to choose the right trainer for you and your pup

By Renée Erdman

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Choosing a dog trainer or behavior consultant can be a daunting task. Different designations, certifications and approaches may yield very different results depending on your choice. The terminology can be confusing to say the least, and the styles of training vast.

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The dog training industry is unregulated, meaning, anyone can set up a website and print business cards claiming to be an “aggression expert” or “whisperer.” It’s scary to say the least, especially since our canine companions cannot speak up when wrong-doing occurs. Below are some important things to consider before hiring a professional dog trainer or behavior consultant.

Certifications and education can vary from formal training to no learning theory. This is an important note, because the science of behavior is an important basis upon which trainers should build. It would be like a psychologist just “winging it” with the hopes that whatever methods they choose for your issues will work through trial and error. Good grief! This isn’t responsible or professional. Dogs and their guardians are instilling their trust in a professional who claims to specialize in helping dogs. They have a responsibility to be qualified to do so.

Humane, dog-friendly techniques should always be employed in training and there should be a focus on promoting a relationship based on trust and mutual understanding vs. dominance/submission and fear. A trainer can claim to be “positive” and “balanced,” meaning they combine reward-based training paired with punishment techniques. This is a red flag. As mentioned above, a well-versed education or background in the science of animal behavior tells us that punishment techniques are not only damaging physically and emotionally, but they destroy human-animal relationships.

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Conduct careful research of short-listed trainers such as prior education and an ongoing commitment to keep abreast of the most current knowledge of canine behavior. Are they attending seminars and lectures, taking new courses or studying new literature? If it’s been 10 years since they have updated their education…MOVE ALONG!

Attend a class or watch a session with the trainer, meet with them and observe how the dogs are responding to the training. What does their body language look like? Are owners using force or intimidation in order for the dogs to comply? An ideal scenario would be void of owners using punishment or putting their hands on the dogs. You will want a trainer or class that uses lure and reward, clicker training and shaping to yield the desired results.

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Very quickly you will be able to determine who is a humane trainer. If prong, shock or choke chains are employed…MOVE ALONG!

Trainers should be very clear and transparent in the ways they work with dogs. These 3 questions should always be asked:

1. What happens when my dog gets it right?

2. What happens when my dog gets it wrong?

3. Are there less invasive/aversive alternatives to what you propose?

If you get confusing answers riddled with lingo you do not understand…MOVE ALONG!

And lastly, if a trainer is reciting a script familiar to a television personality promoting pack mentality, again…MOVE ALONG! To clarify here, it is a myth that dogs form packs within households with humans.

It’s easy to get caught up in a sales pitch guaranteeing that your dog can be “fixed.” Animals are complex beings, as is their behavior. The right professional will answer the above questions and concerns with complete transparency, will make you feel at ease, and will improve the relationship between you and your dog while improving the behavior of your canine companion.