How to Choose Your Dog Trainer

How to choose your dog trainer

Dog trainers are not created equal. How to choose your dog trainer is also not really common knowledge. It is one of those factors in training that does determine to an extent if you succeed or fail. And whether or not you’ve just wasted your time, money, and energy stuck in a situation that wasn’t going to work out in the first place.

Experience is critical, as well as the style of training the trainer does, and most of all personality. Remember that teacher you didn’t like in school? Their personality probably had something to do with it, and it’s really not different with dog training and dog trainers either.

How to Choose Your Dog Trainer - The trainer's role in your life

Dog trainers are educators and teachers first and foremost. We coach you, support you, and guide you through the process of training your dog to meet YOUR goals. This cannot be done without some level of trust and transparency. Dog training is a personal journey for everyone involved. If your partnership with your trainer isn’t one that feels friendly, or it doesn’t feel like you can safely confide in them about your training, there is something wrong there. 

You should not feel belittled, made fun of, embarrassed, or otherwise bad about your dog, about the training progress you’ve made, or have mixed emotions about how a trainer treats you. It should be a good fit. You can’t be expected to learn well from a trainer you don’t get along with, or learn effectively if you’re stressed or worried about something to do with them.

A trainer is the one person you should be able to tell about EVERYTHING that is going on with your dog, good and bad. At the same time you should feel comfortable enough with them to be able to be honest about your progress or how the training is going. We can’t help you if we’re in the dark, so picking someone you like and can get along with really needs to be considered.

Red flags when choosing a trainer

These are just some basic red flags that should tell you to steer clear when choosing a trainer to work with. Even if your working with a trainer who has some of these, it’s not too late to switch to someone better. Your dog will not be ruined, you’re not locked into a program or single method. Common red flags are:

  • Too busy to answer your messages in a timely fashion – overworked trainers is a really bad sign 
  • Doesn’t give you a call to discuss your needs BEFORE signing you up for a program
  • Promises quick fixes – solutions in just a handful of sessions
  • Dismissive of your issues, doesn’t seem to care
  • Doesn’t listen to your specific issues with your dog 
  • You do not feel like you can trust them or you feel uneasy somehow
  • You are not comfortable with the methods they use
  • Doesn’t seem authentic
  • Their personality is hard for you to get along with
  • Aren’t able to offer any help besides telling you waitlists are full
  • Offering board and train services that are less than 3 weeks in length
  • Lack of legal contract
Let’s break some of these down!

Overworked Trainers

This is a massive issue in the training industry and it doesn’t work out well for dog owners or their pets when this is the type of trainer you’ve gotten. Most times with training there is a lot going on with each individual case and it is very easy for a trainer to become burnt out and completely drained. This will affect the level of support and care you’ll be able to get from your trainer, which is what helps any owner and dog team succeed. 

Overworked people in any profession don’t perform well. Training isn’t exempt from this! So that trainer who had issues returning your email or calls, the one with the long waitlist, let me tell you a secret, it’s not going to get better. They will not be able to magically produce extra time in their schedule specifically for you. It’s just not possible. 

Promising Quick Fixes

There are ZERO quick fixes in dog training. A problem you’ve been having for months is not going to be solved in a single session. A board and train with a trainer that is short (less than 3 weeks long) is not going to produce meaningful results. There simply isn’t enough time. Likewise, if you’re in a 6 week program and have been told that it will solve that longstanding issue you’ve had with your dog, that’s false as well. There are very few problems that can be fixed that quickly, although they can definitely be made better. 

Personality clash

This is unique to each trainer, and of course to each owner. In a nutshell, there has to be common ground and you should like your trainer. This is also something that you should be able to judge for yourself before signing up with them. If you don’t like them, or you get off the phone with them and you can’t say one way or another, they’re not the trainer for you. 

With a good fit you’ll feel a connection. They will care about you, want to help, and will feel comfortable to work with. Like a friend who is teaching you a new skill and supporting you through it. 

What about certifications?

The truth is that these matter less than you’d think. For example, there are completely online dog trainer schools that will certify you as a trainer if you just study and pass their testing. Without any in person or practical training at all. There is nothing that can replace hands on experience. 

Another fact, there isn’t a standard/national regulatory body for dog trainer certification in the US. This means that it’s not like other professions where there is a standardized process. Certificates truly don’t mean much when it comes to whether a person can actually help you and your dog, but this doesn’t mean that your trainer shouldn’t have any. 

Whether a person is certified or not shouldn’t be the deciding factor of whether to work with them. There are plenty of trainers out there who have plenty of certifications, but are really not good trainers. Likewise there are trainers who are highly qualified, but not certified because they’re busy busting their asses helping their community’s dogs and humans.

Dog training can be a very personal and unique journey for owners. The best course of action is to try to find a trainer who you’re most comfortable with taking that journey with. We’re here to help and to guide. 

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