Choosing a dog trainer or finding a dog trainer that is going to be right for you and your canine student can be a real minefield. You need a dog trainer that you like, that can actually deliver results and above all, a dog trainer that fits with your own ethos and approach to teaching - both for you and your dog's benefit. In this guide, alongside dog training experts, Bark Busters, we'll take you, step by step, through the process of choosing a dog trainer that will be the right fit for you and give the questions you need to ask to give yourself total peace of mind that any dog trainers you shortlist will be able to deliver the results you crave.
You have the dog, you have the lead, and you’ve read all the books and seen all the videos. Unfortunately leads, books and videos don’t train dogs, you have to! You need proper advice and practical coaching from a properly trained and experienced person who will take your individual dog and your individual needs into consideration. So where to start?
You could have a private trainer at home, giving you one to attention, and working to your personal specification. This is certainly the best option for a difficult dog, or for an owner with physical difficulties. Advantages include the fact that you would be training individually in your own home and local dog walking area, and learning to socialise your dog amongst your local canine neighbours.
As long as you ensure that the trainer is professional, insured and is working to modern positive standards, the only drawback is the cost. Depending on where you live, expect to pay from £30 per hour, more for behavioural work.
Many people prefer the Club option for social reasons, but although it is cheaper and more sociable, this route can be fraught with danger. Attend in the first instance without your dog, and observe the general atmosphere and teaching methods.
Something has triggered you to seek professional help for your dog, it may be a build up of behaviour that stops your full enjoyment or it may be a particular incident. You may have taken on a rescue dog and found after a month that the quiet, sweet dog you took home has turned into a bit of a tyrant, but you won’t give up like others have done.
Photo: Tina Edwards from Barkbusters with dogs, Finn and Laska
So where do you start? The internet is a popular source of information, but recommendation is the best, but do remember that methods suiting one dog and owner may not suit another. It’s important that you gain full understanding of how the trainer/behavioural therapist will work with you and how much support you will be given. Some behaviour can be fixed in one session, but most take time and effort on the part of the owner doing some daily work to practice the techniques and follow the programme provided. Being consistent is the key and short positive sessions of a few minutes (for puppies) or a little longer spread throughout the day is better than an hour.
When you speak to the trainer, do they ask for details of the issues? Do they empathise and understand your worries? Will they be doing practical work (in a class or 1-2-1) or just writing a report? Will they coach you how to deal with the specific issues, so that you work with your dog not just watch the trainer do the work? Check how much the first and any subsequent sessions/classes will cost or whether further help is by phone or email only.
Once you have booked up and the trainer has taken a full history, ensure that you understand what the session/class will involve. Has the trainer understood your dog’s personality? Have they explained why they believe the behaviour is happening and most important, does it make sense to you!
Never allow a trainer to be physical or threatening towards your dog, including pinning, scruffing, jowling or harsh jerking on the lead. Never allow the use of vibrating, spray, shock or pinch/prong collars; these methods may make matters worse, especially with a nervous or fearful dog.
Remember, if you don’t enjoy the training, it’s unlikely that you will keep it up – training should be fun for you and your dog and if it is, you will see your efforts rewarded.
Danger spots to look out for when choosing a dog trainer:
Dogs and owners walking in a circle shouting ‘heel’. Nothing can be learned like this, and it leads to frustration all round. It also means that the Instructor is not familiar with up to date teaching methods.
Instructors shouting at owners, encouraging rough handling.
- The presence of aggressive dogs
- Slippery floors
- Lots of dogs and owners looking confused
- A general lack of calm
Outside our training workshops we have a large bin. Not for the pooper scoop bags, as you might suppose, but a convenient place for Instructors to leave their egos! Inflated egos prevent good teaching, and however good a dog trainer your instructor might be, if he/she has this problem he/she is not a good teacher.
A good Club will have small classes (no more than six people to an Instructor) the atmosphere will be calm and pleasant, no shouting or yanking on the lead, and the dogs and owners will appear to be having fun!
Can a dog club solve behaviour problems such as fighting, wrecking the house, or attacking the Hoover? Frankly no, these problems need to be dealt with in your own home by an experienced behaviour advisor. Dogs never have ‘just the one’ problem, but often it is only one of many which drives owners mad, or proves to be expensive. If your dog has any behaviour problems, sort those out first, as training will not help.
Do dominant dogs benefit from training? Eventually, but how do you spot dominance in your dog? Most dogs will assume dominant behaviour if they feel the lack of leadership within the household. A good rule of thumb is a dog who won’t be groomed won’t be trained.
The reason for this is that superior or so-called dominant dogs will not accept grooming from their inferiors. Should you find yourself in this position, get advice and sort out who makes the rules in your house. Dogs do not appreciate being in charge, this is your job, but they will take on the role if you refuse to.
What can you expect to learn at a dog training club?
Walking on the lead without pulling, returning when called, sitting, lying down and staying when told to are the basic building blocks, and you can expect to learn these exercises first. Should competition work be your goal, you will need to find a specialist Club.
Should you simply want a well behaved pet, try a club which hosts The Kennel Club’s Good Citizen Scheme, as this means that the training should be well planned, follows a well thought out route and you get to earn certificates and rosettes along the way! It also means that the Club is listed with The Kennel Club, and that it has valid insurance. The latter is important, as should you have an accident, or you or your dog suffer injury, an Insurance claim will need to be made. Well trained Instructors will show you how to use play, food, body language and voice to train your dog, and never a check chain in sight!
Experts Reveal Their Secrets to Choosing a Dog Trainer
Finding the right person to help with your dog or puppy is as important as finding the right driving instructor or personal trainer. It’s all down to personality, the right methods and most important of all:
• Ask other dog owners, vets or groomers for recommendations.
• Search on the internet.
• Check any reviews or testimonials.
• Talk to the Trainer/Therapist:-
– Do they understand the issues you have?
– What methods do they use to resolve them.
– What follow up help they provide?
– Costs per visit or per class?
– If classes, go along to watch one.
– At any time you feel uncomfortable about any techniques, stop the training and explain that the methods are not acceptable.
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