An Overwhelming Decision
For a new dog owner, it can be daunting looking for an obedience instructor. One quick glance at the internet, and the wide variety of methods, programs, schools and instructors can be overwhelming.
To make matters worse, there are things some dog obedience instructors don’t want dog owners to know. Knowing these seven items can be a helpful tool in an owner’s search for the right obedience trainer. Read below, and when you are looking for your next dog trainer, be sure to keep these seven things in mind.
#1 – No Education Necessary
Anyone can hang a shingle and become a dog trainer without education, training or certifications of any kind. Amazingly enough, to become a dog trainer you don’t need to have ever trained a dog or owned a dog.
There is no governmental oversight or licensing when it comes to dog trainers, so buyer beware. While most dog trainers have seen to their own professional training and studies, some have not. When looking for a dog trainer, ask about the instructor’s experience. The college of “Been There. Seen That.” is the best education available for dog instructors. Instructors with years of experience will have more tricks up their sleeves to help an owner deal with unusual behaviors or difficult dogs.
A good dog trainer will happily share their experience resume with any potential client.
#2 – Tasteless Alphabet Soup
Often, professional dog trainers will attempt to lure clients by putting the alphabet soup of certifications and associations on their websites and advertisements. The simple fact is, most of this alphabet soup is worthless. Most associations can be joined by simply paying an annual fee. Any dog trainer can join these associations, and they in no way indicate a “better” dog trainer.
Many – but not all – certifications do not indicate a better or more educated instructor either. By simply passing a few basic on-line tests, a person can become a “certified” dog trainer in some programs. Some programs require no mentors, no hands-on classroom experience, no internship. These certifications are essentially worthless when it comes to hard core, on-the-job dog training.
There are a few certifications that have good programs to back them up, but in most cases, the best education is experience. As with medical doctors, even an obedience trainer with a “real” certification can be a poor trainer. The best way to find a good trainer is to ignore the alphabet soup of certifications and associations, and instead check out real-life results. Visit classes. Listen to word of mouth. Study up on the various training methods. Know the difference between positive training and punishment based methods. By doing just a little research, you can quickly begin to rule out trainers that don’t fit you and your dog.
The simple fact is the best dog instructors I have trained under do not have certifications of any kind. What they have – and they have it in spades – is experience training hundreds if not thousands of dogs. While a trainer you love may belong to many associations and have several certifications, that’s not what should influence your decision when looking for a good trainer.
A long list of associations and certifications is a way for trainers to bring in business, and many dog trainers don’t want you to see past that smoke screen to examine their experience.
#3 – Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire
Dog trainers can lie about their experience, association memberships, certifications and more. With some simple research, any potential client can quickly find out if the “boasts” are fact or fiction.
As with unscrupulous mechanics, plumbers and more, dog trainers can lie and get away with it, and some, unfortunately, do. If you are looking into a dog instructor for you and your Fido, do a quick internet search into that instructor. If the instructor claims to belong to an association, Google that association’s website and look up their members to see if their claim is true.
I know of one trainer who claimed to be a member of several associations including some that didn’t exist. With a simple search taking only a few minutes, his potential clients could have easily discovered the lies and found a more reputable trainer.
There are no checks and balances for this kind of behavior in the dog training world. Again – buyer beware.
#4 – One Trick Ponies
Many dog trainers claim to have THE one method that will train your dog. Some of these trainers are well meaning, and they do believe in their one method. The issue is that if you join their obedience class and find that method isn’t helping your dog, what then? Does that trainer know how to implement other methods? Does the trainer have only one trick up their sleeve?
A good trainer will be able to teach several methods for training any behavior. Let’s say you have a small, short haired dog who doesn’t want to lie down on command. You’ve tried to lure the dog into the down position for weeks to no avail, and the trainer seems unable to give you any other way to train that simple behavior. You may be training with an “One Trick Pony” instructor. There are multiple things that can be done to fix such a simple problem including using a clicker to “capture” a down, using the “under the knee bridge” approach to getting the behavior, changing the surface on which the behavior is being trained and much, much more.
“One Trick Ponies” often will claim their method is superior. A good trainer will start with their most successful method and move to other methods as the first method proves unsuccessful for that team. Whether the method is unsuccessful because the dog’s owner isn’t performing it correctly is not the issue. If the owner isn’t doing it right, the trainer either needs to figure out why her instruction hasn’t gotten through to the owner, or she needs to come up with an alternate training method that the owner can grasp.
Either way, it comes down to the trainer having more than one method to teach each behavior. Don’t fall for the “My Method Only” trainers.
#5 – In Life, There are No Guarantees
Recently I heard someone say that good dog trainers give “guarantees” of success. This baffles me because it is IMPOSSIBLE for an obedience trainer to guarantee success. The reason is simple. There are too many variables to dog training over which the instructor has no control.
For instance, as an agility instructor, I have no control over whether a team practices at home or not. I cannot “guarantee” success unless the behaviors are practiced and trained. It’s impossible for a dog to learn how to do the weave poles in agility through osmosis or by the owner just “wishing” his dog could weave. It takes hours of practice to learn that difficult behavior.
The same goes for teaching the simple “stay” command in basic obedience. Unless the behavior is trained at home, there is no way an instructor can “guarantee” success.
What an instructor CAN do is take the risk that the student will train at home and be willing to cough up the class fee if the owner doesn’t train and the dog never learns the behavior. That sort of “guarantee” can be given, but it would be a high risk of money lost for the trainer. A guarantee is not a sign of a good instructor.
#6 – Word of Mouth
In my experience, the best trainers are found by word of mouth. These trainers often (but not always) need to do little advertising as students flock to their doors. Obedience schools that do large amounts of advertising or seeking of media attention should be viewed warily.
#7 – Insurance Needed
Because many dog trainers can decide to open business as a sole proprietor with no need to incorporate and with little to no governmental oversight, some trainers either forget or intentionally overlook the need for insurance. Some trainers ignore costly insurance because it eats into the meager profits earned in dog training.
Before choosing an instructor, check on insurance. Lack of insurance may well indicate a trainer with little experience and slim to no business acumen. While the chance of an incident occurring under the training of a good, experienced instructor is slim, what is called among trainers as “dumb handler” insurance can give you peace of mind in case that rare incident happens to you or your dog.
How to Find a Good Obedience Trainer
The good news is in every area of the country there are good obedience trainers. These trainers care about dogs, about giving those dogs quality life with their humans and about increasing the quality of the humans’ lives as well. A professional dog trainer doesn’t train dogs. They train owners how to train their dogs, and good instructors care deeply about each human/dog team they encounter.
With a little research and a little knowledge, you can find a trainer that’s just right for you and your dog. For more information on how to find the right obedience trainer for your team, click here to read Agilitymach’s article on the subject.
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Agilitymach writes about dog training, the sport of dog agility and other dog related topics. She has been competing in agility for 15 years, and she has been a professional agility instructor for ten years. She currently competes with her Sheltie, Asher, and is training her puppy, Aenon (pictured above), in agility.