Dog Training – Finding the Right Trainer for You

The Benefits of Dog Training
October 3, 2009
Halloween Safety for our Pets
October 15, 2009

Dog Training – Finding the Right Trainer for You

Guest Blogger, Christi Campbell, shares her professional perspective on dog training. Part one “The Benefits of Dog Training” discusses reasons why training your dog are important. Today’s article discusses how to find the right trainer for you and your dog, and describes a few types of training that may suit your needs.

Okay, I’m Convinced I Need One.  How Do I Find A Trainer?  Finding a good dog trainer is a little like finding a good veterinarian, or a dentist, or a doctor.  Talk to friends, neighbors, people at the dog park.  Find out where they took their dogs for training, and what they thought about the trainers.  Get out the phone book and make some calls.  A trainer should be willing to give you two minutes of their time on the phone to describe their training philosophy and methods.  That does not mean that a busy trainer will agree to diagnose and train you and your dog over the phone.  Keep your initial conversation limited– ask about their training style.  Do not get into your dog’s life story unless the trainer asks for that information. 

Trainer or Behaviorist?  A dog trainer can help you establish lines of communication with your dog and help you teach your dog specific behaviors (Sit, Down, Stay, etc.).  A Behaviorist can help you live peacefully with your dog by helping you to understand how your dog thinks and how to shape their behavior in everyday settings.  If you aren’t sure which one your dog needs, it is always good to start out with a basic training foundation; every dog can benefit from learning the basics.  If you think your dog may have issues that a basic training class cannot address (extreme levels of fear or aggression, for instance), you may wish to pursue some basic training with a behaviorist.  Many trainers are also behaviorists, just ask when you call.

Interviewing a trainer:  Ask about their education and experience, bearing in mind that dog training is still very much a “learned on the job” kind of profession. Membership in a professional organization is a signal, but not a guarantee, that a trainer takes their profession seriously and tries to stay up-to-date with the latest training news and methods.  There are, however, many wonderful trainers who are not members of any organization, as they may have been training for many years and the organizations are all relatively new.

Make a list of questions to ask all of the trainers you interview, that way you can compare apples to apples when you make your decision.  Some questions you might want to include:  When did they start training dogs?  What do they do to keep current on training methods and techniques?  How do they teach the Sit command (literally, step by step)?  How do they make learning fun for the dog?

Making a decision:  Most people and dogs will have their needs met by a basic group class, and, because the cost of the trainer’s time is spread over a group, these classes tend to be less expensive. If your dog is uncomfortable around other dogs, or fearful of people, or simply too disruptive to participate in a group class, having one or more private sessions with a trainer or a behaviorist is well worth your time and money, and can prepare you both for a group class in the future.

What about logistics? You need to decide what your priorities are.   Are you willing to drive 20 or 30 minutes to your dog training appointments or classes?  Is the cost of the class your main concern?  These are just some of the questions you should answer in order to narrow your list of potential trainers.

The best way to find a trainer that you and your dog will be comfortable with is to talk to them, *several* of them.  Will they allow you to come observe a training session or class?  Are they patient with you on the phone?  Do they sound like you might like them?  Trust your gut.  And don’t be afraid to leave a class and not return if things are not working out.  This is a relationship, like any other, and it must work for both of you.  As a side note, I use the Internet to find almost any service I am looking for.  You may be tempted to email a trainer to get their answers to your questions, and that is fine, but it is very difficult to “read” someone from an email, and I suggest that you follow up with any promising candidates by phone.

No matter who you choose:  If a trainer ever asks you to do something with your dog that makes you uncomfortable, STOP.  Have them explain their reasoning and what they hope the training result will be.  If they cannot or will not explain, or if you are still uncomfortable, DO NOT KEEP TRAINING.  Your first duty is to your dog.  He trusts you to make sure nothing bad happens to him.  LISTEN TO YOUR INNER VOICE AND HONOR YOUR DOG ABOVE ALL.  A good trainer is flexible and has many tools in their toolbox, they will keep trying until they find something that works for both you and your dog.  If a trainer ever tells you that there is only one way to do something, walk away.

Types of training:  Every dog (and every human living with a dog) should start with a foundation of a basic obedience class.  The basic class provides a way to start developing a shared language with your dog.  Basic classes cover things like Sit, Down, Stay, Come and Walk on a leash.  These life skills are wonderful additions to any dog’s repertoire — they are also the foundation for any advanced training you may want to do.  Many trainers will require you to attend a basic class, or demonstrate some basic proficiency, before moving on to more challenging work like off-leash training, which opens the doors to fun activities such as hiking with your dog off-leash or participating in dog sports.

After you have completed the basic training, you may want to continue your learning partnership with fun dog sports, such as: 

Agility – an obstacle course where the dogs jump over bars or through hoops and run through tunnels, over A-frames, across dog walks, teeter-totters and much more.

Frisbee/Canine Disc – dogs catch flying discs in several formats: short distance; long distance; and freestyle, where they perform choreographed moves to music.

Flyball – a relay race where dogs work as a team to be the fastest to finish each dogs’ run over a series of hurdles, catch a ball from a specialized box and return to the start.

Rally/Obedience – dogs perform a variety of obedience commands in sequence.  Rally obedience is less formal than traditional Obedience competition.

There is a dog sport or activity suited to everyone and every dog!  Lure coursing, earthdog trials, dock diving, musical canine freestyle, carting, sheep herding…  and many, many more.  Playing with your dog is a great way to keep the lines of communication open and to keep the learning fun!

Christi Campbell, J.D., has been training dogs for more than 30 years, professionally for more than 15. In her quest to understand the canine mind and body, she has taken animal communication classes, trained in TTouch and Dorn Therapy and become a Reiki Master.

Christi travels nationally and internationally teaching training seminars and judging canine disc competitions. She volunteers as a trainer for Freedom Service Dogs, Colorado Disc Dogs and several rescue groups. She lives in beautiful Evergreen, Colorado with her husband, four dogs and two cats.

I look forward to working with your beloved animals for a variety of relevant topics. Schedule your animal communication consultation now for a deeper understanding of behaviors, symptoms, and quality of life.

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