How to Choose a Dog Trainer
By Carol Kim, Ontario SPCA Volunteer
Seeking out the help of a professional trainer can give you the tools to properly communicate your expectations to your dog and strengthen the bond between pet and owner.
Since dog training is a largely unregulated industry, there’s no one school where all professionals receive their training. That means you’ll need to ask questions, look at the needs of you and your dog, and compare a few potential trainers.
Here are some useful tips when looking for a dog trainer:
Use of positive reinforcement
A proper dog trainer should create a positive and friendly learning experience for you and your dog. Your trainer should promote the use of positive reinforcement, which can include the use of treats, attention, play or praise. Training should never involve methods that could frighten or inflict pain on your dog. This includes yelling, choking, scruff shaking, and alpha rolling (forcing a dog onto its back).
If you’re looking for a dog trainer, the best place to start is by asking around. Talk to friends, your veterinarian, local shelters or other dog owners in your neighbourhood to see if anyone has a recommendation. Even if a trainer comes highly recommended, you should still conduct your own screening process before enrolling your dog in a class.
What are your goals?
People seek dog training for several reasons: you may be looking for obedience training, sport or agility training, puppy socialization, certification to qualify for a therapy pet program, or to treat more serious behavioural issues. Make sure you discuss your expectations with potential dog trainers beforehand to make sure they can provide the kind of service you’re looking for.
You shouldn’t choose a dog trainer without asking few questions first; for example, how long have they been practicing, where did they receive their training, and what training methods do they use. Don’t be afraid to ask the trainer whether you can contact a couple former clients to ask them about their experience with the course.
Ask to sit in on a class
A great way to see what goes on in a training class is to ask if you can sit in on a class without your dog. Look for things such as use of positive reinforcement, clear instructions, whether the owners and dogs are enjoying themselves, and whether the instructor uses a calm speaking voice and takes time out to answer questions.
Group vs private instruction
Training classes are held either as a group class or private instruction (in a training facility or in the owner’s home). Group classes tend to be more affordable and allow your dog to practice with the distraction of other dogs around—good practice for when you go on dog walks. Classes should be separated into different experience levels, and typically puppies will be in a separate class from adults. An ideal class size should be small enough to allow for some individual attention, roughly 5-6 dogs per instructor. You should also ask whether proof of vaccination is required for dogs attending the class.
Private lessons can be useful if your schedule is difficult to accommodate or if your dog tends to be anxious or over stimulated around groups of dogs. If you’re not sure whether your dog should attend a group or private session, discuss your options with the trainer.
For more information on dog training, check out the how to choose a dog trainer factsheet on the Ontario SPCA website.
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