Hiring a dog trainer is an investment of time, energy and money for you and your dog so you want to be sure to hire the right trainer for you. Today’s dog training industry is unregulated so there are no standard degrees, qualifications or certifications and you will find that trainers have very differing backgrounds.

That being said, my #1 tip regarding hiring a dog trainer is to trust your gut (and the recommendations of people you trust). Your trainer will build a relationship with you and your dog so you want them to be someone you – and your dog – trust and feel comfortable with.

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Here are 8 more things to look for in a dog trainer.

2. Work with a trainer that uses only positive reinforcement techniques. That means the trainer will not recommend prong or shock collars as problem solvers, will not advocate “bopping” your dog with a rolled up towel or any other implement or recommend anything that sounds like punishment.

3. You want a trainer that uses treats to reinforce desired behavior. Its OK if they use a clicker or their voice for cues, using treats is what you want to look for because, without the use of treats, their is a danger that they use aversive methods. If your dog happens to not be treat motivated, using praise or toys is also appropriate. The key here is to use rewards for “good” behavior versus punishment for “bad” behavior.

4. Avoid trainers that talk about your dog wanting to be “dominant” over you or who suggest you take the role of “pack leader” or “alpha.” These recommendations are based on outdated scientific theories that have been debunked by modern research.

5. Look for a trainer who understands canine learning theory and communication and will work with you and your dog in ways that best suit both of your learning styles, personalities, goals and needs.

6. Look for a trainer who will customize a training plan for your specific needs and goals. Yes, your trainer will use methods they’ve used before, but you want someone who listens to you, gets to know you and your dog and creates a training plan that truly addresses your goals and needs. Training should be lifestyle specific so it works for you in real life. (This doesn’t apply if you are taking a basic manners class where everyone learns the same thing.)

7. Look for a trainer who isn’t afraid to refer you to another trainer. You want a trainer who puts your and your dog’s needs above “making the sale.” Don’t get me wrong, trainers are in business to earn a living, but excellent dog trainers will refer out cases they don’t have the expertise for. This works because excellent dog trainers build networks of other dog trainers among whom they refer cases that aren’t a great fit for their skill set. For example, a trainer might refer you to someone if you have an aggressive dog and they know a trainer who has more/better experience working with aggressive dogs.

8. You want a trainer who will tell you when you are being unreasonable. You may not want to hear it and some trainers will have a hard time sharing the news with compassion but you absolutely want to know if your expectations of your dog are currently unreasonable. If you work a lot of hours and don’t ever walk your dog and then get frustrated that the dog is jumpy and hyper all evening, you need to understand why that is happening. Not in a punitive way but because you and your dog will be so much happier once your trainer helps you create an enrichment plan that solves both your problems.

9. Don’t work with a trainer who trash talks other trainers. Yes, I will absolutely tell you that positive reinforcement training is the only way to go and traditional trainers are misguided but I won’t ever say that John Doe trainer is a terrible person. This has perhaps less to do with dog training and more to do with business ethics but you definitely want a trainer who runs a clean business.

These are my top tips to consider when hiring a dog trainer. Like any other personal service, you’re going to want to feel comfortable with the trainer as they will likely be coming to your house (with or without you there depending on the service you are using) and they will be having an impact on you and your family.

I hope you find this list helpful. Feel free to ask questions in the comments and I’ll happily clarify any points I’ve made.

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