How To Choose A Dog Trainer That’s Right For You & Your Dog

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,  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.

What you will learn in this guide to selecting a dog trainer:

  • How to find a dog trainer
  • How to spot warning signs that a dog trainer may not be right for you
  • Understanding dog training qualifications (and do they matter?)
  • What's the difference between a dog trainer and a dog behaviourist?
  • How much does it cost to hire a dog trainer?
An important note about hiring a dog trainer

Anyone who calls themselves a dog trainer is a dog trainer.

Confused? Well, if you hire a plumber or an electrician, you can check that they are qualified and accredited. There are many professions where it is illegal to represent yourself as a member of that profession if you are not qualified and accredited. Dog training is not one of those professions.

This does not mean that non qualified dog trainers are automatically bad. In fact, there are many non qualified dog trainers who have decades and decades of experience and are by every measure 'better' at the skill of dog training than a newly qualified trainer.

We will dig in to the thorny issue of dog training qualifications further on in this guide, but remember: a dog trainer is not a profession that has a government standard set of professional standards.

Finding the best dog trainer for you and your dog

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?

How To Choose A Dog Trainer That's Right For You & Your Dog

Hire a private dog trainer to come to your home

You could have a private trainer to visit you at your home, giving you and your dog 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.

How much does it cost to hire a private dog trainer to come to your house?

Depending on where you live, expect to pay from £30 to £50 per hour, more for behavioural work. Some dog trainers may give you a set fee for a number of home visits. If you decide to go this route, be sure to ask for how many visits you expect it will take for your specific set of goals to be achieved.

Quick note: The RSPCA recommends that:

The Animal Behaviour and Training Council sets and oversees standards of professional competence and animal welfare in the training and behaviour therapy of animals.

ABTC Registered Animal Training Instructors have been assessed as having the appropriate skills, knowledge and experience to support you and your pet. ABTC registered professionals will teach you how to train your dog ethically and in a way that meets your dog's welfare needs.

Dog training club v private in-home dog trainer

Many people prefer the dog training 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.

How To Choose A Dog Trainer That's Right For You & Your Dog

Tina Edwards, is a professional dog behaviourist and she offers this advice to dog owners:

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.

How To Choose A Dog Trainer That's Right For You & Your Dog

Photo: Tina Edwards with dogs, Finn and Laska

So where do you start when you want to find a dog trainer?

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.

Factors to consider when evaluating a dog trainer

  • 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.

How To Choose A Dog Trainer That's Right For You & Your Dog

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.

If you are worried about the methods a dog trainer uses, you have every right to simply call an end to things there and then.

It's your dog. Sometimes people may be tempted to worry about a dog trainer's methods and yet feel nervous about questioning them. They are the 'expert' after all. Do not worry. If you don't like something, get a different trainer. This is a simple to follow, golden rule. Your dog, your rules when it comes to the methods.

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.

Quick tip: Focus on outcomes
When you're hiring a dog trainer, think very carefully about where you and your dog would like to be in 4 weeks, 8 weeks, a year. Are you happy with just fixing a particularly troublesome behaviour problem as soon as possible? That's fine. But if you focus on outcomes that have a clearly defined goal - for example:
"In 12 weeks I would like to have fixed my dog's pulling on the lead and I would also like them to be able to walk nicely to heel off the lead"
- you can then evaluate how well you, your dog and your chosen dog trainer are performing against your own goals.

Warning signs (things to avoid) when choosing a dog training class

  • 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 that make you and your dog uncomfortable
  • 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.

How To Choose A Dog Trainer That's Right For You & Your Dog

A good dog training class / 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!

Will a dog training class solve my dog's behaviour problems?

Can a dog training class or dog training club solve behaviour problems such as fighting, wrecking the house, or attacking the vacuum cleaner?

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.

Many a dog owner has encountered the problem of a dog who behaves beautifully at dog training class but at home or even in their home environment (such as your local park) all the good behaviour seen at class goes out the window.

If your dog's main behavioural issues are home-based, a private, in-house dog trainer will be able to get to the fix more adequately than a dog training class.

This doesn't mean dog training class isn't helpful. You can still do both.

Do dominant dogs benefit from training?

Dominance is one of the biggest myths in all of dog behaviour.

Please, if you think you own a 'dominant' dog and that dominance somehow explains away their behavioural issues, it doesn't.

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!

Whichever route you choose, always check for insurance, up to date knowledge, (professional development) and an ego free, pleasant atmosphere, and remember, above all, enjoy yourselves!

Choosing a dog trainer for basic obedience

You should know how integral the steps are in choosing a dog obedience trainer from what you have read above. Your dog is like a child who will be going to school to spend the day with his teacher. Thus, you must ensure that the institution will be convenient for your pet and that he will be comfortable with the trainer.

You see, obedience training classes must not be educational alone but also fun for most of the part. If your pet enjoys the classes, then, he is more likely to learn the commands easily.

When looking around for a trainer, it matters that you know who to trust and what to look for. After all, anybody can call themselves dog trainers and present their business cards to you.

Dog training qualifications

To ensure that your dog is going to get the best training that will correct any untoward behaviours, a good, suitable dog trainer must have the necessary knowledge on how to do things.

First, look into their certification and how they were able to get it. If you're considering a dog trainer that isn't presenting themselves as someone with letters after their name or multiple certificates, then you need to ask about their background, their principles, their experience and their achievements.

Above all: ask for references. Real people who have worked with this person who the trainer, if they're any good, will be happy to supply you with.

Verify the number of years that the trainer has been doing it professionally. There is a difference between trainers that train dogs as a matter of a hobby and those that do it as a profession. Although the years will not actually determine the capacity of a trainer to educate a dog.

Remember: a qualification does not automatically mean the trainer is better or worse, it just means they have a qualification. However, when it comes to any profession, a qualification from a reputable source is at least something you can verify.

What's the difference between a dog trainer & a dog behaviourist?

There is no set distinction, but the easiest way to understand the difference between a dog trainer and a dog behaviourist is to assume that a dog trainer will do more work with you and your dog to achieve specific goals, whereas a dog behaviourist will often want to examine underlying causes that may be contributing to behavioural problems and they'll be able to fully explain the reasons why your dog is behaving the way they are.

Both dog trainers and dog behaviourists can overlap in the work they do. Some dog trainers may even work by cutting you out of the loop in much the same way as a mechanic may be charged with fixing your car and delivering on that goal without the need to explain to you how they did it or what you need to do to maintain it. This is a less common approach, but these sort of dog trainers do exist and there's nothing wrong with this.

Ultimately, do not get hung up on names. Dog trainers or dog behaviourists you want to work with should be chosen because you each understand you are seeking to achieve with your dog.

Determining the dog trainer's methods

For you to be able to be familiar with the teaching methods, it is important that you attend the trainer's class. Observe how the clients and their dogs react to the methods used. Do these methods appeal to you? Are the dogs and owners happy? Could you see yourself working well with these methods?

The trainer should not only be accommodating, kind, and polite to the human students but to the dogs as well. Learning must be fun for all human and animal clients. The trainer should also give out clear instructions and provide assistance whenever necessary.

An honest trainer will tell you the advantages and disadvantages of the methods used. Check out the facilities and equipment used.

The dog trainer will normally also make sure that the environment where the sessions are to be held is safe for the dog's health. Talk to the trainers and ask around the methods that they use. Be sure to bring along your dog so it can have an immediate feel of the place. You may also see if he is comfortable with the trainer.

Summary: Choosing a dog trainer

  • Work with an experienced professional who has a personality you can relate to.
  • Don't be fooled by qualifications alone. Experience and expertise is not measured by paperwork alone.
  • Choosing a dog trainer to fix specific behavioural problems requires you to be totally honest and up front about the dog's lifestyle and your own limitations or knowledge gaps. Transparency is key in this 3-way relationship.
  • Seek referrals and references and judge outcomes based on the mutually agreed results to be expected.

Summary: How to choose a dog trainer that's right for you and your dog

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: trust.

  • Ask other dog owners, vets or groomers for recommendations on dog trainers.
  • Search on the internet for the trainer's credentials / qualifications.
  • Check any reviews or testimonials.
  • Talk to the trainer and get a feel for whether you like them or not

Prepare questions to ask your potential dog trainer

- 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.

Former professional dog trainer and K9 Magazine editor, Ryan O'Meara advises:

Dog training is a results business. It's important that you go in to any relationship with a dog trainer with a goal and clearly stated expectations.

Make sure your expectations are realistic and before you do a lick of work with the dog trainer, discuss with them what you are expecting to get out of the relationship in terms of long and short term achievements for your dog.

Be clear and concise, don't allow yourself to simply hope for the best.

If you want your dog to simply come back when called - first time, every time - or if you're looking for a much more advanced set of dog training accomplishments, discuss this with all the trainers you meet and get their feedback.

Don't be scared to talk about results, expectations and costs. You are hiring a service professional, not a doctor.

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