Who Trained The Trainer?

posted October 31st, 2015 by
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How to Select a Qualified Dog Trainer

By Nancy Gallimore, CPDT-KA


On two different occasions, I have been chatting with friends about dog training, and in the course of casual conversation, both people mentioned how stubborn their dogs were. I immediately questioned why they felt their dogs were being stubborn.

The answers were almost identical. “Because the moment my dog sees our trainer, he hides behind me. He’s just being stubborn and trying to avoid training.”

And this is the point where my heart falls to the floor. If your dog is not thrilled to the point of doing a happy dance to see your trainer, then something is wrong. If your dog does not see training as an opportunity to have fun with humans, again, something is very wrong.

Every dog is an individual training puzzle to be solved, and there are numerous techniques for training dogs. Modern training techniques should (and that is a huge “should”) focus on humane methods, positive motivation and teamwork between dog and handler. Nothing about training should make a dog want to be “stubborn.” And I’m here to tell you that when I’m presented with a “stubborn” dog, I can almost always replace that adjective with afraid, nervous, confused, stressed or frustrated.

Obviously, all dog trainers do not bring the same level of experience, skills and methods to the table. Dog training has evolved significantly over the past few decades to embrace positive, dog-friendly, motivation-based methods versus correction-based techniques. This transition has had a profound effect on not only training but on relationships between humans and their dogs.

Positive reinforcement training found its roots among exotic animal and marine mammal trainers. Think about it… If you can train a large predator, such as a killer whale or a tiger, by focusing on capturing and rewarding desired behaviors, there is no reason you can’t do the same with your dog.

This is especially important to consider when working with dogs demonstrating fear or aggression issues. As knowledge of animal behavior is strengthened through scientific research, the findings reveal that using aversive training methods when working with fearful or aggressive dogs can actually lead to worse behaviors. Meanwhile, the studies also show focusing on rewarding the animal during moments of appropriate behavior can alleviate fears and anxieties, boost confidence and help create more well-adjusted dogs.

This article, however, is not really about how to train your dog as much as it is about how to select someone to help you train your dog. Truth be told, anyone can hang out a shingle, claiming to be a professional dog trainer. This industry is not regulated, so it falls on the shoulders of dog owners to do their homework and do background checks.

For the dog owner looking in from the outside, it can be quite confusing to figure out which dog trainer will be the right match, which dog trainer has valid skills and ability to properly read a dog and construct a sound training plan. You look at websites; you talk with friends; perhaps your veterinarian has a recommendation.

What it boils down to is this: don’t be afraid to ask questions. You wouldn’t hire a babysitter without background information. You wouldn’t select a contractor to remodel your home without doing some research. The same diligence should hold true when selecting a dog trainer.

The Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT) is a professional organization for people who are committed to becoming better trainers through education. The organization also offers great public information about different training methods, as well as suggestions for how to find responsible, reputable trainers.

According to APDT, it’s a good idea to use open-ended questions so that trainers can explain their personal experiences, methods, and philosophies to you in depth. Here is a list of questions you can use as an interview guide, some from APDT, some suggested by certified trainers in the Tulsa area:

How long have you been a professional dog trainer?

How/why did you become a dog trainer.

How long have you been training your own dogs? What types of things do you do with your own dogs? Have you achieved any titles through competing with your dogs in obedience, agility or other events?

What is your educational background in the area of dog training and behavior?

Have you recently participated in any continuing education or attended conferences or workshops?

What methods of training do you endorse?

If you teach group classes, may I come observe a class?

What type of equipment or training aids do you typically use?

Can you provide a list of references? (Clients and veterinarian references would be ideal.)

What professional associations do you belong to? If none, why?

What are your credentials, and do you have any certifications? If yes, through what organization? What are the requirements

for certification? (For example, the letters CPDT-KA following a trainer’s name stand for Certified Professional Dog Trainer -Knowledge Assessed, a certification through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers.)

The answers to these questions can help you find a trainer who will help you achieve your goals with your dog, whether you just want a well-mannered companion, or whether you are having issues with your dog that need to be resolved.

Your dog is an important part of your family and your life. The guidance of a good trainer can help you understand the learning process from the dog’s point-of-view, so you can avoid the “stubborn dog” pitfalls and work toward nurturing a mutually-rewarding relationship.

Above all, remember that training with your dog should be fun for everyone involved. Listen to your gut. If you have a trainer asking you to do things that make you and/or your dog uncomfortable, perhaps it’s time to find a new trainer.

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