With the field of animal training still being highly unregulated, it’s no wonder at all that so many people with absolutely no business being around dogs (or any animal!) are calling themselves dog trainers, behaviourists and behaviour consultants.
Doing your research before you hire a dog trainer is absolutely essential, and, thanks to the internet, is quite easy. But just as easily as you can click on a website, someone else can type in false or deceptive credentials. Here are a few questions to ask a potential trainer before hiring them.
What is their theoretical and practical knowledge?
It may seem more logical to ask how long a trainer has been working, but that may not be indicative of skill and expertise, as there are many “old-school” trainers who still use outdated, ineffective and/or inhumane methods. Ask what kind of schooling or apprenticeships they’ve attended, and do your research on these sources. If you’re looking for lessons in Obedience, Agility, Schutzhund, or any other competitive discipline, ask what titles they have obtained in said sport.
Do they pursue ongoing education?
Professionals in any field should be constantly looking to update their methods and techniques. Be wary of trainers that claim to know all there is to know and are set in their training ways.
What methods do they use?
This is a tricky one to answer, as training catchwords may be confusing to decipher. It may be more helpful to ask what well-known trainers they respect and emulate, and do some research on said trainers. If you don’t understand a term, ask for clarification or examples of the method at work.
Who will be working with the dog?
Since you will be the one living with your dog, it isn’t helpful if you aren’t taught how to work with your dog. Don’t let any prospective trainers convince you that it would be best if they worked privately with your dog. You should always be included in the lessons, and most times, the trainer shouldn’t even need to hold the leash.
For group classes, is it possible to observe a class?
There should be no reason as to why you shouldn’t be able to observe a training lesson. Hesitation to allow prospective ‘students’ to watch the trainer in action should be a big red flag.
For group classes, how many dog and handlers per lesson?
This one is pretty straightforward: the smaller the class, the more one-on-one attention.
What is your general impression of them?
Trust your instinct! Is the trainer happy, polite and open about their work, or does something feel off? True dog trainers love to work with dog owners as much as the dogs themselves, so don’t be afraid to ask questions until you’re blue in the face!
With the internet at your fingertips, it’s a snap to form an initial opinion without leaving your home, thanks to reviews and directories, such as Yelp.
Good luck, and happy training!