Choosing Your Dog’s Trainer
With so many people involved in the field of professional dog training today, trying to determine who’s truly qualified can be a difficult task. Your dog is a member of your family so you should make enquiries as to whom you will entrust your pet. Remember that the wrong person or techniques can have damaging consequences for your relationship with your pet.
However, a good trainer will be able to enhance the bond between you and your dog.
There is a difference between competition obedience and pet training, although they share similarities. I have worked with clients who have had a good competition dog with excellent recall if it was started in the correct position ie. a sit. However, it would not return if called from the garden or any other position. This was because it was trained for competition work only. The generalisation of training is important and should be explained by a good trainer, as should other important areas of learning theory.
Class or individual training?
If you can afford the time and cost, then personal tuition over a graded programme is ideal. The combination of personal attention to address specific training issues means training problems can be more quickly resolved and any potential behavioural problems prevented. Once the basics commands have been learnt then you can graduate to a class situation, where the other dogs can act as a ready-made distraction for your dog’s continuing training. For some owners where trainers or classes are unavailable then a residential course may be the only alternative to having an untrained dog. Check on the credentials of these trainers, the kennelling environment and the amount of time given to instruct the owners once the dog is trained. Please be wary of these courses and check the premises yourself before committing your dog to someone else’s care.
The other option is to enquire from a professional trainer as to recommended reading. There are many good books on the market but unfortunately, there are at least as many bad books based on rough handling and outdated training methods.
An excellent reputation
Shop around and get recommendations from your vet, the ISPCA, DSPCA, other humane /rescue societies, other reputable trainers (being one who can show credible credentials), or your breeder/breed club. Ask for a recommendation from these bodies and do not assume that because you have seen a flyer in the waiting room that the trainer comes recommended.
Enquire about his or her training background, years of experience, and areas of expertise. You deserve to have your questions answered, so don’t be timid about asking them.
Humane training methodology and gentle, effective handling skills. Reputable trainers are concerned about their dogs’ welfare. They also know that harsh or abusive handling methods are not only unnecessary but are often counter-productive as well. A good rule of thumb is to ask their opinion of check/choke chains. Do they have alternatives to this method of control or do they insist that all their clients use them? How do they teach control methods? When is it ok to punish your dog and how?
Extensive behavioural knowledge. Dedicated trainers keep themselves up-to-date by attending dog training and animal behaviour courses, conferences, seminars and workshops whenever possible.
Good teaching and communication skills. Trainers who have this gift make the learning process quicker, easier and more enjoyable for their students.
A sense of humour. Training can and should be fun for both dogs and owners. A positive attitude and a little laughter go a long way.
Affiliations with reputable associations, organisations and training clubs. While this is not mandatory it is certainly a plus.
Ethics before profit. Is monetary profit his or her primary motive for training dogs? Is everything this trainer geared towards making money? While financial success is great, ethics must come first.
Ask other dog owners. Who helped them train their own dog? Were they happy with the results and would they recommend them? If you have had your dog trained did you inform your vet or other body whether you were satisfied with their recommendation?
Remember, absolutely anyone can call himself a dog trainer or behaviourist. Slick ads with inflated claims, grandiose self-descriptions, and impressive-sounding titles can be very deceptive. Investigate any stated affiliations a trainer lists on his or her brochure, Golden Pages ad or web site. If a trainer claims to be affiliated with an organisation (past or present) or claims to have “studied” with well-known dog trainers or behaviourists, ask for their telephone numbers and contact them to be sure.
A common ploy for some trainers, is to attend a couple of one-or two-day seminars or workshops with a well-known dog expert (or University), then claim to have studied with that person (or at that institution).
Also, verify how many years the trainer you are considering has been training dogs professionally. While years alone are not enough to determine a trainer’s experience level in and of itself, it certainly says a lot.
Behavioural Problems. Please beware of any trainer who claims to have the knowledge and education to offer behavioural advice. This is a highly specialised area and those who have qualified would certainly not have spent up to 5 years in postgraduate study at Universities such as Southampton if it was not necessary. The Association of Pet behaviour Counsellors has a website with listed members who have joined their association by undertaking a rigorous application process. Your pet insurer will have a list of those qualified and whose fees they will reimburse.
Jim is a pet behaviour counsellor and founder of The Pet Behaviour Centre, where he specialises in solving problem behaviours in companion animals. Jim graduated from Southampton University with a Master of Science degree in Companion Animal Behaviour Counselling.
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