If you love your dog as much as he loves you but he is just driving you crazy, it might be time to hire a professional dog trainer. Below are some things to consider when you begin to wade through the large amount of very opinionated and often misleading information out there.
- First and foremost, there is no such thing as an untrainable dog! We have never worked with a dog that could not improve with training. That said, there are some tough cases out there but if your resolve to train the dog outweighs its resolve to resist, you will prevail. Even dogs that have endured unspeakable cruelty at the hands of humans can be retrained to live in a human home. That said, before you consider a dog that has a bite or aggression history, you should be sure that you are ready for the training and management that are essential for this type of dog (experienced dog owner, no small kids in home, proper situational/environmental management, professional training etc).
- Take some time to carefully consider what you want to get out of your dog training experience. There are basically 3 ways to train a dog: using treats (bribing the dog with food), physical methods (using things like alpha rolling, pinning, prong collars and shock collars to coerce a dog to do something), and communication-based methods.
- Do you want your dog to impress your friends and family with cool tricks? My good friend John taught his dog to get him a beer out of the cooler, close the cooler and even take the empty to the trash! This got lots of “ooohs” and “ahhhs” at parties and John really enjoyed teaching his dog Shelby to do this. BUT… it took John about a year and some serious dedication to get this done. If you want your dog to do some cool tricks and he doesn’t have any behavior problems, you might consider hiring a trainer who uses treats to get dogs to perform tasks. Agility trainers and the like have successfully taught dogs to do some pretty amazing things using treats as an incentive.
- Lots of dog trainers and dog training systems rely heavily on physical intervention to modify a dog’s behavior. Physical intervention can work to resolve many behaviors but keep in mind that when you use physical corrections, you also run the risk of creating unwanted behaviors in your furry friend. For instance, if you pin and roll your dog to stop him from answering the door and jumping on people, it might work. Unfortunately, you might also cause your dog to become afraid of humans and he may become aggressive. You may also have trouble with recall as your dog might fear what will happen when he approaches you. The same is true with ANY training that uses physical means to control your dog so proceed with caution if you go down this path. With respect to prong collars, chokers, shock collars and the like, please ask yourself if you really want pain to be a major part of your dog training program.
- Does your dog have serious behavior problems like dog aggression, human aggression, barking, pulling on leash, charging, nuisance barking, toileting/housebreaking problems or separation anxiety? If so, you will need to work with a dog behavior therapist (many dog trainers are also behavior therapists). These types of dog behavior problems require you and your trainer to address the underlying issues causing the behavior. Here is the good news, its almost never the dog that is causing the problem! A well-trained behavior therapist will work with you to help YOU learn how to make your dog feel safe and to eliminate the causes of your dog’s behavior problems. Look for a trainer that can teach you the basics of canine behavior and communication. Its important that any dog training method include both positive and corrective input for the dog as they learn through a process very similar to how humans would play 20 questions. They only understand right vs wrong/yes vs no. Think of them as always looking for binary input to learn a rule.
- Are you committed to training your dog and resolving unwanted behaviors? No matter how good your trainer is, you will need to work with your dog and practice what you learn on your own. If you work with a good trainer, you will change your dog’s behaviors quickly but you must be willing practice to have lasting results.
- Do you have clear expectations that you can share with potential trainers? Sit down with your family and make a “wish list” of the behaviors you would like to improve. Make sure you share the full list with the trainer and that the trainer is comfortable addressing all of the issues you raise. This will help to avoid frustration for you and for your dog trainer.
- Where do you want to do the training session? The idea of sending your dog somewhere and getting back a new shiny model sans any behavioral issues is a great concept but it is generally not a realistic one. Dogs are pack animals and YOU are your dog’s pack and you need to become its pack LEADER in order for it to feel safe and calm. If you want to have a happier home life with your dog, at least some portion of the training should take place in your home.
- Go with your gut. When you interview trainers, trust your instincts. If the trainer is pushy or your dialogue feels uncomfortable with respect to personality, training methods, pricing or for any reason, keep on looking. There are lots of trainers out there.
- It goes without saying these days but reviews matter. Check each trainers reviews on their website and on sites like Google, Yelp, Thumbtack, NextDoor etc. Its also worth seeing if the trainer has video content to share so that you can see before and after results, client testimonials etc.
- Find out what type of guarantees the trainer or their company offers. If you don’t see results, do you still have to pay? Many trainers will agree to waive their fees if you don’t see results during your first session or two. What is their support guarantee after the initial sessions? What if your dog has new problems down the track, how will they help (phone, video or live support etc)?
- Last but certainly not least…. Will it be FUN?? Training your dog should be a blast. Find a method that makes you feel like smiling when you practice.
I hope you find these tips helpful. Finding a dog trainer can be a daunting task with so many options to choose from but if you do your research, the field will narrow and your choice should be clearer. Good luck!