What makes a great dog trainer?
Training your dog can be a great way to tackle behavioural issues that may be concerning you about your dog, as well as to get to know each other and develop your relationship. But that doesn’t mean literally any
dog trainer will be suitable for you and your dog.
In fact, you might be shocked to learn that at the time of typing, there’s no government regulation around dog training. This means anyone can call themselves a dog trainer, even if they lack appropriate knowledge and experience or use out-of-date, cruel methods.
Around 40% of my clients come to me after trying other dog trainers first and don't get any success with them.
The onus is on you, then, to research dog trainers and know exactly what makes a great dog trainer.
Here are the things to look out for, then, in the next dog trainer you choose.
AVOID: "You will only need 1 session"
If you are told by a trainer that you will only need 1 session for something like dog-dog reactivity, separation anxiety, resource guarding or any aggression type behaviours then RUN! Usually, this will mean that they are going to force your dog to do things that they aren't comfortable with. Yes, it will look like the behaviour is fixed, but it will be temporary and your dog will most likely become anxious and possibly even depressed by their methods.
A good dog trainer or behaviourist recognises that you are not a trainer, and will need support. To get real success with your dog training, a good dog training will offer you a program or package, or at the very least, tell you from the start you are going to need more than 1 session.
Are their methods up to date?
As I have mentioned above, there are some red flags to be wary of when looking for a dog trainer. Poorly educated trainers, or trainers that have learned everything from long term trainers who learned everything from long term trainers, usually use very out of date methods. Now we call these out of date, as educated trainers know and scientists/researchers have proven they don't work long term and/or aren't in the best interest of the dog, they often lead to issues that can damage their mental state and even physical wellbeing.
So here are 2 things to ask:
Q: What if my dog makes the wrong choice?
A: The answer you want is something like: "the goal of training is to set your dog up for success and if they make the wrong choice, a step back is needed to re-evaluate so that they don't make the wrong choice next time". If you hear: "we will correct/punish their choice" then avoid this trainer.
Q: How would you define your training style?
A: There are several different definitions that dog trainers use, the most common that you want are "LIMA aka least intrusive, minimally aversive", "Force Free", "Purely Positive" (although not many good behaviourists will use this title) and finally "science-based".
The one you want to completely avoid is "balanced". Again, this is very outdated dog training, they mean that they will punish the bad choice and reward the good and they usually fail to understand basic dog psychology.
Personally, I choose to use LIMA - Least intrusive, minimally aversive. Basically, I will try everything I can before using any intrusive or aversive methods, however, I am not of the opinion that dogs should be put to sleep or rehomed where an intrusive or aversive method could pave the way to change the dog's emotional state around the issue. My goal is for both owner and dog to be content by the end of our training and live a happier life.
A strong reputation and reviews
Of course, a good reputation alone doesn’t tell you everything about the potential suitability of a given dog trainer for you and your dog. It is, though, an important starting point.
An easy way to check a dog trainer’s reputation in the Internet age is to look up reviews of their services online. I have a page of my website dedicated to reviews of my own dog training services, for example. On my page, I have over 180 positive reviews!
Furthermore, I’m pleased to see that when I perform a Google search for “reviews for south shields dog trainer”, plenty more great reviews of my services show up.
This touches on a really important point – don’t just trust the reviews the dog trainer might have on their own website. Also look at platforms like Google and the dog trainer’s Facebook page, if they have one, as this will give an insight into dog owners’ direct experiences of the trainer’s services.
Relevant training, accreditations and certifications
This is a big one – the dog trainer you’re considering should be unafraid to tell you about their background and qualifications and to display the evidence of this proudly.
Again, you don’t necessarily need to talk to them directly to start researching this. If you go on the dog trainer’s website and see the logos of trusted bodies like the Institute of Modern Dog Trainers (either IMDT or IMDTB badge) and the Dog Training College Approved Dog Trainer (which also checks and verifies the dog trainer), that’s a good sign.
You should also check the accreditation bodies website too, as there are a lot that claims to be accredited that arent.
The same can be said if the dog trainer has a track record of winning industry awards, as well as if they have ‘member’, ‘certified’, ‘instructor’ and/or ‘ambassador’ status with other high-profile entities, such as Pro Dog Trainer or the Pet Professional Network (PPN).
There are plenty of dog trainers around, and not all are equal. Good trainers are like finding gold dust, and when they are good they have plenty of work (the majority
of dog trainers get their work from word of mouth!).
It will be clear when a dog trainer is good and in demand, as they will have a waiting list. You may have to wait a month or 2 for your appointment, but it will be well worth it!
Wide-ranging and in-depth expertise
Whether you’re browsing the dog trainer’s website or social media pages or speaking to them personally, it should be clear what skills and know-how they have.
If there’s a specific behavioural problem you would like a dog trainer to help you address, such as your dog behaving aggressively towards other dogs or people, not coming when called, or suffering from separation anxiety when you aren’t with them, a good dog trainer should be able to provide some advice on this, even before you formally take advantage of their services.
All in all, when you’re comparing dog trainers and considering which one to use, you should go with your instinct – but make sure it’s a well-informed instinct. Carefully consider the above factors, and you’ll stand a strong chance of choosing the perfect dog trainer for the needs of you and your dog.