This is a frequent question for me between my two blogs. So I figured I’d dedicate an entire entry to answering this question. There are some necessary questions you must ask a trainer before hiring them to train your dog. Regardless of wether it’s a class, or a private lesson. All trainers are different, and use (at least) slightly different methods. It is my hope that, if anything, this blog entry inspires and educates you on how to find the right trainer for you.

First off, you’ll notice that the title of this entry is "How to find the right trainer for you?" I want to emphasize those last two words "for" and "you" because the trainer will be training "you" to train your dog, not the other way around. A common misconception is that when hiring a trainer, the trainer will come into the home and fix the dog…EEHHHH! Wrong. The trainer comes into the home to fix you! About 90% of dog training is training the owner, and 10% is training the dog. The hardest part of dog training is getting the owner to stay consistent with commands, rules, and affection. Owners need to understand that consistency is EXTREMELY important. Also knowing when to correct, when to reward, and when to give affection. Timing is also EXTREMELY important when training a dog. Yeah, there are those places where you can send your dog off and have them trained in two weeks to a month, but the dog doesn’t learn to respect and listen to you, which brings me to my next point. Leadership is also EXTREMELY important. If your dog doesn’t see you as the leader, then all the training that the boarding school taught the dog, goes right out the window. Especially in high energy dogs. So keep in mind that you’ll want to find a trainer that you get along with and respect, because they will be working to train you!

So how do you go about finding a trainer? Well, the best trainers get advertisement by word of mouth. They are so good that they leave an everlasting impression on their clients that the clients must share with others. So if your neighbor comes to you and says, "Hey, I found an awesome trainer to help me with Butch’s aggression!" Then pounce on it! Another way to find a trainer is through training clubs. Most all clubs will list their trainers on an online database that is accessible by the public. This is an excellent resource, because you know already that the trainer had to take a test of some kind to join the club (usually) and is still learning from the club. It also tells you that the trainer uses positive methods, because most clubs do not allow any harsh methods of training by their members. If that’s not an option for you, there’s always the phone book and news paper ads. Although a bit more risky, they are still a good resource for finding trainers in your area. However, you will need to be a bit more cautious and ask the questions below. (Actually, I’d ask the questions no matter where the trainer comes from). There are many good trainers out there that can’t afford club fees, schooling, or they are just starting out. If they are just starting out, they lack experience, but may have the heart. So you’ll have to use you own judgement and instincts when picking a trainer as well.

Once you’ve found a trainer in your area, you’ll need to establish the skill level, reasons the trainer trains dogs, and other important info of the trainer. To do this, you’ll need to ask some questions. Here are some that will be helpful to you in your search.

1.) How long have you been training dogs? (Don’t settle for a short answer. Try to get the trainer to tell you how it all started)

2.) Why did you get into this field? (Most good trainers would tell you they love their work, because it is rewarding and fun)

3.) What kind of method(s) do you use? (The most widely used positive method today is Lure and Reward, which is all positive. Another popular positive method is called Clicker Training. Clicker Training is an excellent method that is positive, fast, and fun. I use this method the majority of the time)

4.) How long have you used that method, and why that method? (This is an important question! You need to know if they have mastered that method, and why they decided to use it. The "why" part will tell you if they are a good trainer instantly. If they say it’s because it’s all positive and they don’t believe in harsh methods, then they are on the right track. If they fumble this question or say because it’s quicker, be wary. Positive methods are very fast, and more reliable than harsh methods) 

5.) Will you be training my dog, or me? (Correct answer: Both, unless you are boarding and training. Remember, dog training is about 90% training the owner, 10% training the dog)

6.) Do you believe in using a pinch collar? (Lazy trainers use these, and if used incorrectly they are dangerous)

7.) Do you have any referral letters I can look at? (This is a great way to determine what previous clients have thought of him/her, however, you are most likely to only see positive letters)

8.) Do you have a degree in this field? (If so, it means they are dedicated to the field and are educated professionally, if not, they may not be educated or dedicated. Super pet store certificates, although better than nothing, do not count as a degree. Currently trainers can receive accredited degrees via online schools and they are just as good as any other degree. An animal behaviorist degree is top of the line, but there are few trainers that have actually obtained this degree)

9.) Are you a member of any clubs or affiliations? (APDT, NADOI, 4H, AKC CGC, etc. Being a member of a club is a good way to gage the trainers knowledge, skill, and methods. Because most clubs today only allow for positive training methods, require a certain skill level to pass their entry exam, and continue to educate their members. They also give the opportunity for trainers to teach at higher levels and interact with other trainers around the country)

10.) Do you have any demo dogs I can see? (Demo dogs are usually dogs that the trainer owns and has trained to show clients how good of a trainer he/she is)

Well now you have an arsenal of questions to use when evaluating a trainer. These are the 10 most important questions you can ask a trainer. They are not in any order, they are all important.

It is important to be patient in your search for a good trainer. You don’t want to just hire the first trainer that arrives on your doorstep, or that you see in the yellow pages. Get to know the trainer, and the reasons they are in this field. Methodology is always important to consider as well. Some people believe solely in old school harsher methods because that’s what they know. Keep in mind that positive methods are scientifically proven, more reliable, and less stressful to the dog. Dogs want to learn when it’s fun.. just like kids. If the dog learns in a positive way, then the dog is more likely to repeat the behavior for the rest of his life. With harsh methods the dog may only perform the behavior while you are around to enforce it. Or, if you use a harsh method to keep the dog from doing something, it may not work when you are gone.

Trainers can help you solve behavior problems and teach you anything from obedience to Search and Rescue. Make sure that the trainer you hire knows what he/she is doing before hiring them. Otherwise, you will end up with a confused dog, a fearful dog, or a dog that just gives up and won’t motivate for anything. If you are confused while working with the trainer, ask questions. Make sure that you understand what the trainer is telling you before the lesson is over. Most trainers will make sure every one of their students understands the lesson, and will be available before and after class for questions. If you are working with a trainer in private lessons, then the trainer is there just for you to utilize, so do so. Make sure the trainer you choose is patient. Frustrated trainers will not be helpful to you or your dog.

Well, there you have it. You now know how to find a suitable trainer. I hope this helps you understand how to go about finding a good trainer that will help you and your dog. If you have any questions, or experiences with trainers you’d like to share, please do so by adding a comment. I love to read about other’s experiences with their dogs and trainers.