If you are interested in working with a dog trainer, how do you evaluate the trainers in your area? I wrote here about how to find names of dog trainers, but what do you do once you have some people to contact?
Here are five topics to discuss. Depending on the particular situation, you can do early interviewing over the phone, but you definitely need to spend time in person with anyone before choosing them.
- What is your background in dog training? Are you a certified trainer or a member of any professional groups? How long have you been training dogs?
- What methods do you use? (Here don’t say at first “Do you use positive methods only?” because that’s a leading question that they may say yes to when in fact they do use aversive methods such as electric shock collars or yelling harshly at the dogs. If they are of the school of thought that you have to be dominant over dogs — an old idea that is still strong, even though based on bad science — then be wary.)
- After you describe the problem you want them to work on with you, ask if they have experience with it, how many dogs, and what their suggested training protocol would be. How many sessions do they estimate? Keep in mind that the actual number of sessions depends so much on your dog that if they are reluctant to guess, that’s reasonable.
- The mechanics of working together: Where would you work and could I be present at the sessions? What times are you available? What do you charge and when do you expect payment?
- Can you give me several phone numbers of people you have worked for, whom I may contact?
Take your time in choosing a dog trainer. Sleep on it, talk it over with someone you trust, and then do it if you are happy enough with someone you have found. If you aren’t, just keep your eyes open everywhere and more trainers may come into your life. It’s funny how that happens when we are looking for something. Also, in the meantime, do work on the issue with your dog yourself, to the best of your ability.
Evaluating a Trainer You Are Working With
It’s worth remembering that most dog owners are in a vulnerable frame of mind when they start working with a dog trainer. Be aware that some dog trainers can be slick about presenting themselves and their approach as your last hope or at least your dog’s last hope. So then you may have a lot riding on the success of this particular trainer. And if that person doesn’t deliver the miracles, who is likely to be blamed? The hapless dog owner, who could then have guilt to deal with as well as a dog who has been confused or frightened by the trainer.
Mighty unpleasant scenario, isn’t it? And I’m glad to say it is relatively rare. But I have received emails from dog owners who have endured something of this sort, and so I just want to give you a heads up.
Of course, plain old mistakes can also turn up in dog training as in every task. That’s something else to watch out for.
Evaluating the dog trainer you are working with should be going on in your mind as you work together. Do give them enough time, do ask questions about anything you don’t understand, and chances are you will have a better trained dog — especially if you do any homework the trainer asks you to — and a new resource in the trainer. That’s well worth the work it may take to make it happen.